A coach’s plea to join the wrestling team was all it took to launch a 98-pound freshman into a career with the U.S. Army Reserve and an opportunity to help coach Olympic athletes.
It’s a path Capt. Jason E. Tolbert, U.S. Army Reserve Command G-3/5/7 Force Management Directorate, attributes to a solid, familial upbringing and higher learning.
Appreciative of his success, Tolbert shares these experiences with youth to help give them focus and direction. He often spends much of his spare time in Fayetteville coaching at the Crew Wrestling Club or mentoring students at New Century International Elementary School through the Lunch Buddy Program.
Wherever he goes, Tolbert reminds youth that his journey wasn’t always accolades and opportunity. It consisted of hard work, dedication and finding those positive motivators to succeed despite any setback, he said.
“I’ve played various sports since I was five years old,” Tolbert said. “I played baseball and football, and even tried my hand at basketball and track. I started wrestling the year before at another school, but wasn’t quite sure I liked it.
“The coach said that if I came out for the sport, he’d guarantee me to letter and that was a big deal for any athlete – to letter as a freshman on the high school varsity team.”
“That first year, I was horrible. I won four matches and two of those were forfeits. The rest… I just got a severe beating. That failure turned into sheer persistence. From then on, I never stopped wrestling until 2008 when I sustained a knee injury.”
This determination paid off and after high school, Tolbert joined the team at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, which coincidentally, had a prominent wrestling program.
He admitted his priorities weren’t in place and education-wise, he would just “fly by the seat of my pants.”
“I was still trying to pursue athletics and not really valuing the education process,” Tolbert said. This coupled with not knowing what career path he should take, led him to seek direction outside the college campus.
“The offers I received that summer didn’t outweigh the offer from the Army recruiter,” he said. “So, on a whim and because I didn’t like to fail, I left junior college for the military. The recruiter had sold me on the idea that because of my athletic background, I wouldn’t have any issues with the physical rigors of the military.”
Tolbert enlisted in the Army as an air defense artilleryman under the delayed entry program and prior to shipping off for basic training, he continued to compete. It was at the U.S. Olympic Festival competition in Los Angeles, Calif., that he met the All-Army Wrestling coach, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Thomas.
This chance encounter led to a two-month training stint with the All-Army Wrestling team as it prepared for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He never looked back.
Despite deployments and throughout his enlistment, he pursued his military and civilian education, and continued wrestling. From 1992 until 2008, Tolbert’s accolades include numerous medals and top rankings in national and international wrestling competitions. Only an injury halted his rise on the competitive circuit.
“I left the military to pursue academics at Georgia State in Atlanta,” he said. “I entered the ROTC Program and was commissioned in 2006. That’s also when I branched out into coaching. It is my way of giving back to the sport… and the community.”
Part of giving back to the community includes helping coach the Olympic wrestling team in Cuba, Feb. 8-17.
Story courtesy of David San Miguel, U.S. Army Reserve Command