Hitchhiking With Rick Sanders, pt 1

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July 22, 2009 by David Gillaspie


Wrestling goals are simple: beat the other guy.  From your first match to your last it’s the same.  Beat the other guy.  If you win often enough you step up on a podium.  Win often early and you’re called a district champion.  Keep rolling and you’re a state champion. 

The next steps are national champ, world champ, and Olympic champion, but there are quite a few matches in between.  And a few trips. 

The Fargo Junior National championships moved from the University of Iowa in Iowa City with stops in between.  My high school wrestling team sent guys to Iowa/Fargo who came back with winners’ plaques the size of hubcaps, guys named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.

Other high school wrestlers wanted to beat the other guy to make varsity, or win a letter; North Bend wrestlers wanted one of those big plaques.

The path to Iowa begins with wood, lots of wood.  One team dad knew a timber cruiser for Weyerhaeuser who directed ‘bad’ logs to a saw and chop site.  Other dads with long bar chainsaws lopped off rounds attacked by wrestlers armed with splitting mauls, wedges, and sledgehammers.

High school wrestling season ended for the Bulldogs after the last sanctioned match.  The spring and summer season belonged to Rhino Wrestling.  If the coach called you to cut wood it meant you made the Rhino team. 

From sawing and chopping to stacking and delivering, wood money went into a bank account for Rhino wrestlers to travel to national tournaments.  Robin Richards swept his weight at Iowa.  Mark Mullins took gold and the Gorriaran Award at Colorado State freestyle nationals.

Of the national tournaments the Bulldog/Rhino wrestlers traveled to, the one at Oklahoma State was the best.  We didn’t have any big winners, but it was a Senior/Junior meet where the senior wrestlers moved on to the Olympic trials, then Munich.  It was 1972 and it was awesome to see the legends in their prime.

We were a bunch of high schoolers riding cross country in wrestling dads’ campers.  We stayed in dorms on the Stillwater campus.  One of the guys had a roommate show up late one night. 

Rick Sanders didn’t drive in, or fly.  He hitchhiked to the tournament.  Here was an Olympic silver medalist taking to the highway and riding with strangers.  Imagine the unbelievable stories he had.  We never heard them, but left Oklahoma wanting some of our own. 

(Rick Sanders is front row center with the medal in the photo.)

Part 1 of 4


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