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Wrestlers Without Borders goes to the mat

Sport provides a challenge for wrestlers, gay or straight, of all ages. Chicago was host to 2008 tournament.

Related: Wrestlers Withoutt Borders 2008 photo gallery

By Ross Forman
Outsports.com


When Ross Capdeville started wrestling in 2005, it wasn’t to emulate Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Kevin Nash, Kurt Angle or any other pro wrestling superhero. And it definitely was not for the homoerotic element of two men rolling around on a mat.

It was, in reality, because so many of his soccer games were getting rained out in the winter.

Ross Capdeville

Capdeville, 28, has since been a Gay Games bronze medal winner and one of the best competitors on the Golden Gate Wrestling Club. He is one of the most talented grapplers in Wrestling Without Borders (WWB), which is composed of organizations and individuals dedicated to the promotion of safe and challenging freestyle wrestling, primarily for the LGBT community. In addition to Capdeville’s San Francisco-based club, Wrestling Without Borders features seven other worldwide clubs, such as the Chicago Cyclones, Philadelphia Spartans, San Diego Bulldogs and Harbour City Wrestling Club in Sydney.

Capdeville was one of about 40 wrestlers in Chicago on May 25 for the annual 2008 Don Jung/WWB Championship, marking the first predominantly gay wrestling tournament host by the Chicago Cyclones. The event has been held in San Francisco for about 23 years, formally known as the Golden Gate Wrestling Memorial Day Tournament. For Capdeville, wrestling has been an extension of his athletic interests.

“I have a background in karate and kickboxing. That was always a good workout, and I just thought wrestling would be similar, another good workout,” said Capdeville, 28, who is a systems engineer for a marketing company in San Francisco.

“I really had no competitive goals when I started; I just entered local tournaments about six months after starting, and got hooked.”

Capdeville claimed bronze at the Chicago Gay Games in 2006 at 149 pounds, which is amazing given the fact he weighed 170-pounds before first hitting the mat. “I lost 20-plus pounds by eating properly and I stopped drinking [alcohol]. It changed my life a lot. Outside of work, this is now the biggest thing in my life.”

Capdeville, who is gay and single, trains twice or three times a week in the South Bay, often for up to 12 hours per week.

“The way that I feel after a wrestling practice … nothing has come close to that (feeling),” Capdeville said. “Physically and emotionally, it’s just such a high. I’ve done a lot of sports in my life, but I haven’t gotten that high in any other sport, including boxing. ... When people say that wrestling is homoerotic, I compare that to running up a 45-degree hill as fast as you can. Are you going to get (aroused) doing that? I don’t think so. And that’s the same experience you have when you’re wrestling a match. Physically, wrestling is so demanding, so (getting aroused) just doesn’t happen.”

Don Jung, whose name is part of the WWB tournament, was instrumental in gay wrestling dating back to the inaugural Gay Games in 1980. He was openly gay and well-respected within the high school wrestling community in California.

“Wrestling is a minority sport in a minority community,” said Gene Dermody, 60, a longtime wrestler, official, coach and organizer from San Francisco. “So many gay people did not go through [competing in] sports as a youngster, so they miss a piece of their psychology that might make them fit in better.”

Dermody, a Gay Games medal winner, met his partner (Bryan Northan, 49) at the Gay Games in New York City in 1994. He also disputes the idea that anything but competition is on the mind of a wrestler during a match.

“There’s no way in your mind that you can have both a competitive drive and also view [a match] in a homoerotic manner,” Dermody said. “Newcomers who think it’s homoerotic, well, they’re gone after the first day [of training]. They quickly realize that they have to work, they have learn, they have to defend themselves.”

Dermody, a key cog in the San Francisco-based WWB, said his crew of about 200 worldwide wrestlers would be competing in 2009 at the Outgames in Copenhagen, then in 2010 in Cologne, Germany, for the Gay Games. WWB has mostly males from 20 to 60. The group has men, women, gays and straights. And competitors range from ages 20 to 60.

At the meet in Chicago, the second class of honorees to the Don Jung Hall of Merit was named. They are:

Barry Webb (Sydney, Australia)
Russ Connelly (San Diego)
Rick Van Tassel (Philadelphia)
Jek Fong (London)
Ed Lindsay (New York City)
Bob Sayers (Scranton, Penn.)
Ron Ward (Los Angeles)
Johnny Almony (San Francisco)
Kathy McAdams (Boston)
Les Morgan (San Francisco)
Alex Ostrovskiy (San Francisco)
Kevin Martin (Philadelphia)
Roger Brigham (San Francisco)