For some, athletics can provide the opportunity of a lifetime. Hermiston head wrestling coach Shaun Williams is one of the lucky few.

Williams has given his life to the sport of wrestling, and, in return, it has given him many lifetimes worth of memories and experiences.

“Almost everything I’ve accomplished in my life has been because of wrestling,” he said. “I’ve gotten the chance to travel the world and experience a variety of cultures. Most of the friends I’ve made throughout my life have been because of the sport of wrestling.”

Wrestling has been Williams’ life since he was 6 years old.

A native of South Africa, Williams initially played rugby as a child. Williams’ father was a wrestler and was the one who first introduced him to the sport.

“When I was 6 years old, he took me with him to a match,” Williams said. “From the very beginning of my time wrestling, I made friendships on the mat that have lasted my entire life. The first coach I ever had back when I was a boy is now one of my best friends over 30 years later.”

Williams wrestled throughout high school in South Africa and wrestled in various international competitions during his youth.

“Wrestling enabled me to travel the continent of Africa and into Europe during my childhood,” he said. “It was a tremendous experience, and I’m very fortunate to have gotten that opportunity.”

During the late 1990s, Williams wrestled for North Idaho College and was a national runner-up in his first year. In 1999, he was a national champion. He finished his college education at the University of Oregon, where he was a Pac-10 champion, as well as a national qualifier.

After finishing his education, Williams continued to wrestle internationally and even competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. He then retired from the sport before coming out of retirement to train for the 2008 Olympic Games. An injury derailed his ability to compete in the Olympics for a second time.

“I’m pleased with my career,” he said. “I had a fair amount of success, which is nice, but the friendships I made and everything I’ve gotten to experience is what truly matters at this point.”

Williams is in his second year as Hermiston’s wrestling coach, and he said his goal for the program is to offer his athletes the chance to enjoy some of the same experiences he’s had in his life.

“That’s why I do it,” Williams said. “It’s important that we learn about other cultures. Wrestling gave me the chance to do that, and I’m hoping I can give my wrestlers that chance, also.”

Williams said he is taking his squad to Germany in the future to participate in friendly competition, as well as gain some valuable off-the-mat experiences.

“Not all of my kids will experience international wrestling,” he said. “However, you don’t have to be a national champion or a world champion to know what international wrestling is all about. I want my athletes to understand that you don’t have to wrestle at that level to meet people from other nations who share the same interests.”

Williams said a problem with youth wrestling in general is the desire for instant success.

“It’s more about the process than the outcome,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s about competing and giving your best effort.”

“That’s what I’ve tried to instill in my own team,” he said. “Too often we get caught in a win-or-lose scenario.”

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