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Olympic Hopeful Represents United States in Iraq

By Pfc. Mathew McLaughlin, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 31, 2004 – While American Olympians represented the United States in Athens, Greece, one U.S. Olympic hopeful is representing his country in Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Nathan Thoreson, Company D, 110th Military Intelligence Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, hopes to wrestle in the next Olympics. He has been wrestling since he was 5 years old. Photo by Pfc. Matthew McLaughlin, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Spc. Nathan Thoreson, a member of Company D, 110th Military Intelligence Battalion, is a multiple national and state wrestling champion. He is serving with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Commandos), of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), where he tries to balance his passion for wrestling with his duty to his country.

"I've been wrestling since I was 4," he said. "My goal was to compete in the Olympics ever since I was a kid. The All-Army wrestling team provides me a direct route to the Olympics."

Thoreson won 21 national championships in four wrestling styles from age 5 to his sophomore year in high school. The Pensacola, Fla., native also was a three-time state champion in high school, and finished his high school career with a 114-3 record, with 101 of his victories by fall.

He joined the Army planning to continue his wrestling career, but also because it was his patriotic duty, he said.

"I was tossing the idea of joining the Army for a while," Thoreson said. "My brother is in the military at Fort Hood (Texas). After Sept. 11, it finalized my decision. I started basic training on Halloween 2001."

Sgt. Quentin Fuller, also of Company D, 110th MI, is a fellow wrestler and knows from experience Thoreson's abilities on the mat. He said that although he is not qualified to measure Olympic-level talent, he is confident Thoreson has what it takes.

"He is not the type of guy that goes around bragging, but from what I hear, his chances are pretty good," he said. He's light years better than me. I outweigh him by 30 pounds, and he just has his way with me."

Time was not on Thoreson's side for the 2004 Olympics. He missed two full years of training as a result of his long advanced individual training. Thoreson trained with the All-Army wrestling team for just 45 days before the national championship. Even though he was greatly out of practice, he was still able to impress the team.

"When I wrestled with the Army team, I was one of the youngest wrestlers there," he said. "I was pleased with my performance, but you always wish you can be at your best when the coach is watching."

Among the onlookers was Rob Herman, All-Army and current Team USA wrestling coach, who encouraged Thoreson to join the Army and to try out for the All-Army team. Thoreson said Herman has expressed numerous times his interest to see Thoreson compete in the 2008 Olympics.

"He said several times he believes I can make the Olympic team," he said. "It's something we both feel can definitely happen."

Because the season was almost over, the coaches couldn't offer him a spot until the next season. Later, Thoreson learned he would be deployed to Iraq. Thoreson was not greatly disappointed with missing the 2004 Olympics and is looking toward the future.

"I have no problem missing the opportunity this year," he said. "I have four years to prepare for (the 2008 Olympics in) Beijing. I understand why we're here. What we're doing is important. After Sept. 11, I hoped to be deployed to contribute. I'm glad to be in a combat zone. I think I might have regretted joining the Army and only wrestling."

Thoreson has done more than just wrestling in the Army, Fuller said. He applies his passion for wrestling into his everyday military regimen.

"He's a great soldier," Fuller said. "You have to have a certain amount of self-discipline to be a good wrestler. To be as good as he is, you have to have extraordinary discipline."

Much of Thoreson's work as a military intelligence soldier requires personal accountability. He often spends hours alone in a Humvee deciphering information from a satellite. Thoreson said he loves wrestling because of its individual aspects.

"It's an individual sport," he said. "Once you're out there, there is no one else to blame but yourself. In that way, it's great training for life."

(Army Pfc. Mathew McLaughlin is assigned to the 10th Mountain Division public affairs office.)

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