In America, we tend to take comforts like food, shelter and safety for granted. There are many in this world that follow the same passion as we do that do not have the same luxuries. At the Illinois RTC, we have had phenomenal results in 2023 but what isn't as evident was the way we were able to change the lives of those less fortunate by giving them a chance to pursue not just wrestling but the chance to wrestle for a life.
Like many military aged young men, Ermak Kardanov left Russia when the war with Ukraine started. I first met him while he was still a young boy and his contagious smile and great attitude have not changed. With the help of the IRTC he was able to compete in the 2023 European Championships (Bronze) and have a safe and nurturing place to train in Champaign. Ermak brings that smile and great attitude to the room every day and we couldn't be happier to have him be a part of the Illinois Wrestling Family. He is a great mentor on, and off, the mat.
When we got one of the best wrestlers in the world to Champaign we didn't just find a partner for our lightweights, we changed the course of history. A 7X Mongolian national champion, he is considered one of the best wrestlers in the world of the past decade. He is a 2X Senior World Bronze Medalist and was the number one ranked wrestler heading into the Rio Olympics. In Mongolia there is no hope for economic growth. It is a very stagnant economy and with 5 young children he took matters in his own hand. When his relationship with the IRTC started he was staying with friends on a couch in Chicago and looking for local minimum wage employment. With the resources of the IRTC, and the help of our local CU Church, we were able to get US Visas for him, and his family, and a permanent home for all of them in Champaign. All of his children are now enrolled in school and living the life they only dreamed about in Mongolia. His impact on 2023 US World Team Member Zane Richards' wrestling speaks for its self but what isn't evident to the naked eye is the impact our community has had on his family and the way it has changed the lives of generations of his family.
A fair shake is never promised. When Andres departed Colombia with his family for America, they thought they were going to start a life filled with promise and hope. After making it to Chicago that promise disappeared. While living on the streets of Chicago they were discovered by affiliates of the Beat the Streets and with a phone call from Director Mike Powell the ball was rolling. We were able to provide shelter, food and clothes and a safe place to train and live while they worked on a permanent solution. Andres is now enrolled at Hope Academy and is thriving in his new environment.
Alihan and Ismail Bereket
With the Turkish economy failing the father knew he had to do something. A tough choice was made and the boys (U15 World Champion Ailihan and European Bronze Ismail) were sent to Chicago in hopes of creating a better life. Through our international contacts we were quickly in touch and were more than willing to help. The father (Adam) isn't just anyone in the wrestling world; he is a world champion, Olympic Bronze and was twice voted the number one coach in the world by FILA (the former governing body of Olympic wrestling). The boys inherited not just his talent but his drive and work ethic as well. Both boys are enrolled in high school, learning English and have given themselves a great chance at a future that was not possible in their homeland.
We started this organization in 2018 in the hopes of creating an environment where our wrestlers can flourish and make world teams. We have had over 10 athletes now compete in world championships and have a few athletes poised to make a serious run at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. In the process of searching the world for the best partners we have extended our mission to include changing the lives of athletes that are less fortunate. The mission is going well and we could not have made any of this progress without your help. If you haven't already, please consider joining our fight for 2024. Every dollar raised is going to make this world a better place one single leg at a time.