Marine Corps Sgt. John Stefanowicz is the United States’ best Greco-Roman style wrestler in the 82 kg/180.8 lbs. weight class, but it hasn’t been a quick and easy road to where he is today.
In high school, it was Stefanowicz’s older brother winning wrestling awards in Pennsylvania and getting heavily recruited by college programs.
“I had truly given up on the sport, being able to compete in it at a high level at least, after high school,” Stefanowicz said. “I joined the Marine Corps to be a Marine.”
Stefanowicz came to the All-Marine Wrestling Team from Okinawa, Japan in 2011. Three years later, he left the team and joined the intelligence field with 2nd Intelligence Battalion on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, where the All-Marine Wrestling Team is headquartered.
In 2017, an opportunity came up for Stefanowicz to return to the team. Since then, he was made three national teams. This year, he made his first world team and his World Wrestling Championships debut in Kasakhstan, Sept. 14-15.
“Being able to have that opportunity to come back, ever since then, it’s just been a steamroll effect,” Stefanowicz said. “The winning around here is just contagious, but I think a lot of it stemmed, for me a least, from my brother.”
Stefanowicz had been to the World Championships before as a training partner for Team USA, but spectating doesn’t quite prepare you for competition, he said.
“Once you are the world team member, you’re the one representing the United States of America, and you are going out there, there is (no way) to really prepare for that in a sense,” Stefanowicz said. “It’s one of those feelings where you can’t quite describe it unless you’re there and you’re living in the moment.”
At the Worlds, Stefanowicz wrestled two matches against the top wrestlers from Georgia and China, losing both matches and finishing among the world’s 25 best Greco-Roman wrestlers at his weight.
Moving forward, Stefanowicz will reflect and improve on the mental aspect of preparing for and competing in the tournament.
“I started getting really technical on a lot of the things that I do and what my opponents do,” Stefanowicz said. “I started overthinking things instead of going back to my natural state, my Marine state, which is to take what I have, adapt to it simply and overcome it.”
Now that Stefanowicz has his World Championships debut under his belt, he is ready to drop weight in order to make a run at the Olympics in 2020. Winning a gold medal isn’t all he is after as an All-Marine wrestler, though.
“I’m trying to engage the Marine Corps community and the community as a country, as a whole, and take them and show them what the All-Marine Wrestling Team can do and what we do,” Stefanowicz said. “Being able to take that to the national and international level, and pretty much put that on a pedestal, on a stage, and show everybody that, that’s what my goal here is.”
A big factor in Stefanowicz’s growth has been the guidance of Jason Loukides, the team’s head coach.
“I think he’s truly helped save my career, and he’s saved a lot of my other Marines’ careers, lives and the way in which we look at life both on and off the mat.”
Stefanowicz’s biggest takeaway from competing at the Worlds? “To live in the moment.”
“Truly being able to just live in the moment and enjoy where you’re at,” Stefanowicz said. “One of the quotes I’ve been saying to myself for a while now is ‘You haven’t gotten to where you are at, to be where you’re at.’”
Stefanowicz’s next venture is attempting to make an Olympic team at the 77 kg/169.7 lbs. weight class of the Greco-Roman division, a push that will get progressively more intense over the next five months.
Editor’s Note: This article is the first of several “One-on-One” stories with members of the All-Marine Wrestling Team appearing in The Globe over the course of the next month.