Future Olympian Johnny Stefanowicz began wrestling at the age of 4 in Bel Air, Md., and remained in the Baltimore area until seventh grade. Now, he will be part of U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team that will compete in the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo.
To clinch his spot on the team, Stefanowicz won the Olympic trials at 87 kilograms (or 192 pounds), sweeping the top seed Joe Rau in the finals in Fort Worth, Texas, in April. That marked the latest step in a journey which began with Stefanowicz wrestling at a young age and then found him transitioning into the U.S. Marine Corps.
With the Marine Corps, Stefanowicz’s wrestling career grew as a member of the All-Marine Wrestling Team, which helped springboard his progression to the Olympics. He’ll be the first member of the All-Marine Wrestling Team to wrestle at the Olympics since 1992, where the entirety of the competition will be from Aug. 1-7.
Growing up, the 29-year-old never had expectations to be an Olympic wrestler. Rather, the sport was something he used as a stress reliever, challenging himself when times were difficult. That passion for the sport fueled his dream of becoming an Olympic wrestler in the future.
“That expectation of me being an Olympian no that was never there,” Stefanowicz said on Glenn Clark Radio April 26. “It was always a dream, but that’s why they call it a dream. You don’t quite know how an Olympian acts and trains until you become one. It’s all a quest.”
Despite his passion for the sport, Stefanowicz didn’t receive a single offer to wrestle at the collegiate level after graduating from Kennard-Dale High School in Pennsylvania in 2009. Without any offers, Stefanowicz had increased motivation and a larger chip on his shoulder.
“Growing up when something happens and we get shot down, we all like to stick it to the man,” Stefanowicz said. “That was just something I really held onto. Everyone has a piece or something that’s a chip on their shoulder and they use that all the time for motivation no matter what for everything.”
After high school, Stefanowicz decided to pursue a different path, which led him to the U.S. Marine Corps. Stefanowicz’s service in the Marine Corps has helped him grow as a human, but also furthered the development of his wrestling career.
“I love being a Marine, first and foremost. That’s definitely been something that’s helped me, and I’d say it’s helped all of the members that are on the team right now,” said Stefanowicz, who will be returning to his Marine Corps unit at the end of October. “It helps us — that dedication to being a Marine first keeps that discipline in line. The cohesiveness between that and wrestling is bar none.”
Stefanowicz learned about the All-Marine Wrestling Team while he was stationed in Japan, where he took part in several wrestling tournaments and was successful in showing off his skill set. Major Dan Hicks, formerly the head coach of the All-Marine Wrestling team, was at one of those tournaments and encouraged him to fill out an application at the end of 2011.
At that moment, Stefanowicz learned about the close relationship between the services and Olympic sports.
“The ability for service members to partake in Olympics sports is actually a huge deal,” Stefanowicz said. “He came out there, saw me perform and he asked me to fill out the application. I did and that was really all she wrote.”
However, this year’s Olympic Games will have added meaning. Stefanowicz’s younger brother, Chance Marsteller, will also be competing in Tokyo. Marsteller is a freestyle wrestler, unlike his older brother, who competes in the Greco-Roman style.
In fact, both brothers wrestled at the same time on different mats for the U.S. Olympic Trials, which made the moment even more special.
“I can’t quantify this for someone to be able to understand what it’s like to grow up brothers in the backyard wrestling and fighting over everything having the same dream and then it finally coming true,” Stefanowicz said. “Being able to get through all of this COVID stuff and everything else and still be able to compete like this and qualify that was definitely a special moment.”
As the Olympics are approaching closer and closer, Stefanowicz remains focused on his training and taking things one step at a time.
“One small piece of everything you do at a time, you can’t think too big right now,” Stefanowicz said. “For me I’m training, I know how to train as an Olympian now I’m trying to learn how to train as an Olympic gold medalist.”
For more from Stefanowicz, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors