Liz Short needed a wrestling partner.
“When I found A.J. (Juarez), it was a match made in heaven,” she said.
Robert Casey, 33, was a Bolingbrook running back back in the day. He says he was faster than his teammate, Antoineo Harris, who starred at Illinois and played in the NFL. To make room for Harris, and because he enjoyed hitting people, Casey moved to the Raiders’ defensive line.
Ron and James Hill are partners in SUDA International Training Center on Republic Avenue in Joliet. They also are coaching Team USA at this week’s Sambo World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia. Short, Jaurez, Casey and Adriana Rosas will compete for Team USA, along with several other athletes from around the United States. They fly out Wednesday for the four-day, 95-nation extravaganza.
“These four are going because of the levels they have achieved and because they are accustomed to pressure situations,” James Hill said.
Sambo, which translates to self-defense without weapons, is a Russian martial arts and combat sport.
“Sambo is mixed grappling arts in Russia,” Hill said. “Their special forces use it. It’s the 75th anniversary of the world championships, so it’s a big deal.”
Short, in her fourth year as the Joliet Central athletic trainer, wrestled on the boys team in high school at Glenbard East before attending USOED (United States Olympic Education Center, on the campus of Northern Michigan University), where she earned her college degree. She did not make the Olympics but competed internationally.
“Women’s wrestling is big in other countries,” she said “They have paparazzi following women wrestlers. It’s wild.
“I was supposed to be poor in college, and here I was traveling everywhere. I was poor after college. I’ve been around the world in wrestling. It’s like I picked the wrong country to live in.”
Juarez, 21, wrestled at 103 and 112 pounds at Joliet Central and medaled twice at state. Short enjoys going against him because he is talented and not much bigger than she is.
“This (Sambo) is an easy transition from wrestling,” said Juarez, who wrestled at Rend Lake after high school and has been training at SUDA International for a couple of months. “This is my first big competition. I have the itch to compete again, and I really feel confident about it.”
For Juarez, the competition comes at a good time. “I’m waiting to leave for the Air Force, for boot camp,” he said.
Rosas is a Joliet native living in Michigan and an anthropologist. She treks to SUDA International to train.
Casey is head wrestling coach, assisted by Short and Juarez, for the IKWF 6- to 14-year-old program at SUDA. He said he is new to Sambo, “but I’ve been grappling for years.”
“Sports Sambo, which our team will compete in, is all the grappling,” James Hill said. “Combat Sambo is mixed martial arts with gear and shin guards. In this sport, there is no striking. There’s throwing, arm locks and leg locks.
“A match can be won on a single throw. There’s also a time limit and a domination rule.”
Casey’s impressions of the sports are positive.
“With the kurtka (uniform jacket), I can grab on and pick someone up,” he said. “I like that aspect, being able to hold on. Now they can’t run away from me.”
If Casey is nearing the end of his competitive years at age 33, he hasn’t gotten the memo.
“God willing, I will do this as long as I can,” he said.
Hill said the Olympic Committee has recognized Sambo. With 95 nations sending competitors to the world championships, the popularity is evident.
“Russians have dominated international wrestling, and this sport is similar,” Hill said. “It very well could be the next sport in the Olympics.”
Until then, the world championships are the big deal. Short, Rosas, Juarez and Casey will be there with the rest of Team USA, in search of gold.