October 24th, 2006 by Thomas
Michael Irving gave up a full-time teaching job to pursue his Olympic dream in wrestling.
The 1998 Boyd Anderson state champion was teaching at Clewiston High School and driving five days a week to coach and train with the Calvary Wrestling Club at Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale.
It wasn’t so much the driving or sleep deprivation. At 26, Irving wanted to devote full time to training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. He made the decision last year to quit his job, and on Christmas Day, packed up his Geo Prizm and drove to Colorado.
“The first month out there I am thinking, `What am I doing,’ and then the longer I was there I knew it was the right decision,” said Irving, who arrived home Thursday for a week to visit family and friends and raise money for training and travel expenses. He gave a clinic Saturday at Douglas. His younger brother Matthew wrestles for Plantation.
“I taught for three years while driving to practice back and forth for two hours,” said Irving, one of six kids. “I love and miss my students. I made a page of my former students on Myspace.com.
“I just wanted to give it 100 percent instead of doing the weekend-warrior thing. I didn’t want to look back and think `what if?’ So I put my life on hold to see where this takes me.”
The 6-foot, 250-pound heavyweight has the credentials to be a legitimate 2008 Olympic hopeful. Ranked as high as fourth in the nation, he is currently ranked seventh with several tournaments scheduled next month in Canada.
After winning a state high school title, he went on to win a national title at Cumberland College in Kentucky. He came home and got a teaching job. It wasn’t until he finished second at the Dave Schultz International Tournament, and was ranked among the nation’s top five, that he decided to devote himself to wrestling full time.
He was encouraged to follow his dream by veteran coach and former Olympic hopeful Steven Williams, who like Irving, put his life on hold (1996-2000) to train for the Olympic Trials only to blow out his knee. Williams, coach of the Calvary Wrestling Club, and Irving have known each other for 10 years.
“I saw him doing it and I thought it was a fun thing to do … he was training for the Olympics and living the life of an athlete full time,” Irving said. “I always kept that in the back of my mind.
“I am feeling real confident. I can see it now. That Olympic dream doesn’t seem like it’s so far off in the distance anymore. I think it’s 100 percent attainable. I have wrestled the top guys and beaten them. It’s not like I don’t have a chance. I feel I have another two years in me. I am just following my dream.”
Williams, a top USA Wrestling club coach, said Irving learned from the mistakes he made during his Olympic pursuit.
“He has more potential than I ever did, and he is doing things the right way,” said Williams, who next week will coach Jonathan Taylor of the Calvary Wrestling Club at the Oct. 31-Nov. 5 Beach Wrestling World Championships in Antalya, Turkey.
Who is Michael Irving? He was born in Rockledge Florida in 1980, and up until the age of 5 he had a normal childhood. His father worked as a mechanic at Kennedy Space Center and his mother worked as a teacher’s assistant but in 1985 his life was drastically changed. His father was accused of a robbery and decided to take Michael, his two older sisters and younger brother, to South Florida in order avoid being arrested. Michael and his family moved into their grandfather’s house. Michael had trouble adjusting to the new neighbor hood and constantly got into fights. To make matters worse, in 1987, a jealous uncle hired someone to set fire to the family’s new home with them in it. Michael and his family spent the next year homeless, living with different family members and staying in hotels.
In Middle School he began wrestling but never took it seriously. He practiced only occasionally and continued to slack in his training and even more so in his school work. At the end of his freshmen year he missed 40 days from school, had a 0.7 GPA and a 1-7 wrestling record. During his sophomore year he began to realize that he had talent, both academically and athletically and he simply needed to attend to be successful. That year, even though he did get into trouble outside of school, he managed to finish his sophomore year with a 2.7 GPA and he qualified for the state tournament. At this point he decided to change his life; he began to study and train harder than ever before and made it to the state semi-final. He finished his junior year with a 3.0 GPA and 27-3 record. He spent the next summer training intently on winning a state championship. Eventually he ended up training at the Seahorse wrestling club where he met Steven and Jonathan Williams, the men who would eventually change his life. Up until that point Michael had not given much thought to the future and what he would do after high school, but the Williams brothers got him thinking about going to college. The next year he transferred to the high school where these two men coached. That year he went undefeated and won a state championship.
Later on Michael went on to college where he became a four time all-American and won a national Championship. After college he went back to Florida where he taught high school and wrestled on a part-time basis. He experienced some success, placing 2nd at the Sunkist International Open, 7th at the U.S. Open, and 5th at the World Team Trials. Even with this success Michael did not feel as if he was reaching his full potential as a wrestler. So he made the difficult decision to resign from his job and move to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, in order to pursue his dream of Olympic Gold.