As his right hand was raised to the crowd by the referee after winning last year’s 4A State wrestling title at 113 pounds, Siuslaw High School senior Richard Huff, a junior then, had no idea he would be taking his skills across the ocean to Moscow just four months later.
But after winning the Oregon Cultural Exchange Trials last March, Huff got the word he would be part of a 16-day excursion for the chance to wrestle his Russian counterparts. The next step was to raise the $3,000 required to cover all expenses.
Utilizing fundraising efforts through a raffle for a $500 Visa gift card provided by the Oregon Wrestling Cultural Exchange (OWCE), Huff set about offering raffle tickets at $10 each.
It lasted less than three weeks.
“The community was incredible,” Huff said. “It was so supportive.”
At 2 a.m. on July 26, Huff left Thurston High School with a group of Oregon wrestlers for the airport in Portland, where they caught a flight to New York City before boarding the long flight to Moscow.
“I never thought we’d land,” Huff said of the 10-hour flight.
When they did, the Oregon soil of home was some 4,700 miles away. For the next 16 days, Huff and his fellow wrestlers competed on mats in four different cities, including Moscow and Yakutsk, a city of 300,000.
“We trained with their team for two days before having a duel meet with them,” said Huff. “When we did wrestle, it was one match at a time with about 3,000 people in the stands.”
“I lost 12-1 in about a minute and a half,” said Huff. “It was kind of my own fault. I didn’t really stay in shape,” he said with a laugh.
Huff went on to another, smaller Russian City, where they stayed at a local college. It was there that Huff was faced with an unexpected challenge.
“There was no electricity or running water during the day, so we had to bathe in the river,” said Huff. “But it was a reddish brown color, so we usually took a shower at night.”
In the next city, Huff and his fellow wrestlers stayed with host families who, again, had no running water in their homes.
“They had a spot where there was a pipe that you could turn on and off, and everyone had a bucket,” he explained. “You had to fill the bucket in order to take a shower — which wasn’t really a shower.”
After pouring the bucket into the top of a tank, the water drained through a shower pipe that was affixed with a Coke bottle on the end.
“There were holes drilled in the bottom of the bottle for the water to drain through like a shower head,” said Huff, who shook his head. “But even without running water, they still had Wi-Fi.”
While Huff lost all of his freestyle matches, he competed well in the Roman-Greco style, winning both matches.
“They had only been studying Roman-Greco for two years, so I had an advantage,” said Huff, who admitted that while the Oregon wrestlers were bigger and more experienced, “the Russian wrestlers picked us apart with technique in the freestyle matches.
“Plus, they train a lot more.”
On his return to Oregon, Huff said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience he’s glad he had the chance to experience.
When asked if he would make another trip to Russia, Huff paused.
“I’m still in touch with some of them through Facebook, so who knows?”
Huff will compete for the Viking wrestling team again this winter, when he will move up into the 120-lb. bracket with his eye on another state title.
And maybe, someday, a return trip as part of another, larger team from the U.S. in search of a gold medal.