Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

Wrestler Charley Combs sets his sights on the Olympics

BROOKSVILLE — It may be in his blood, but wrestling hasn't exactly been kind to Charley Combs.

Through it all, though, he keeps coming back.

The 25-year-old Hernando High School alumnus is preparing to return to competitive wrestling for the first time in five years to enter the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will take place April 21 and 22 in Iowa City, Iowa.

The dream isn't the long shot that some may think. Combs has the skills. It's only a question of shaking off the rust and dealing with some of the obstacles he has faced in the past.

Combs is the son of National Wrestling Hall of Fame member and longtime Hernando coach Billy Combs. He has been grappling since he was a young boy.

"The thing about having a Hall of Famer as a father is that you have a constant friend and constant coach," Charley said. "He's pretty much a dictionary on the sport."

Just before his high school career was set to begin, however, Charley suffered a crushing blow. He was involved in a serious automobile crash on Thanksgiving 2001 and was ejected from the car, nearly killing him. It left him with permanent nerve damage and a long road back.

"It was pretty difficult being so young," he said. "It was a process. I missed most of that year. But it made me a lot tougher and brought my family closer."

Not only did Combs find the strength to get past the crash, by his sophomore year he was wrestling at the varsity level. He qualified for the state meet every season the rest of his high school career, even placing as the state runner-up as a junior in 2004 at 152 pounds.

Combs doesn't have fond memories of his senior season. Cutting weight to help the team, he struggled at 145 pounds and didn't even place at state. Many of his top collegiate offers dried up, leaving him to sign with William Penn University in Iowa. He never attended a class there.

After missing a year of school, Combs traveled to Marquette, Mich., to train at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. He credits that experience with making him more mature as a grappler and in life.

Working with renowned coach and wrestler Ivan Ivanov, Combs made significant strides. Ivanov had placed fifth at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and was also named the National Greco-Roman Coach of the Year in 2009.

All of the hard work led to Combs to sign with King College in Tennessee for the school's inaugural season of wrestling in 2005. He was named team captain, but never was able to compete because of numerous injuries he sustained while at the school.

"It was the little injuries that really held me back." Combs said. "It was hard to stay really focused."

He moved back to Brooksville and stopped competing. He had a brief Mixed Martial Arts career, but after a chance meeting with a wrestling friend, Ray Brinzer, two things happened. Combs rolled around on the matt with Brinzer, who placed third at the NCAA Championships in 1993 and 1995. It piqued his interest in the sport again. But he also broke a rib, forcing him to cancel his first MMA bout.

Most recently, working at Gold's Gym in Brooksville, Combs has been training as much as possible. His biggest struggle has been finding suitable training partners. When you're competing for a spot on the Olympic team, you can't roll around with just anyone and expect to improve.

Regardless of how he does at the trials, Combs is back. He feels a connection to the sport that will never go away. This isn't some last-ditch effort to "make it," he says.

"I am just looking at it as a senior-level tournament to see if I can still compete," he said. "I want to see if I can get in the swing of things. Win or lose, it's something I want to do."

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