Wrestling coach balances graduate degree with Olympic hopes

Assistant wrestling coach, graduate student and a California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) fellow — just one of these job titles would carry a hectic schedule to maintain on its own.

For Olympic hopeful and super-human Orry Elor, he manages all three — with some time to spare. Elor was an alternate for Team USA’s wrestling team for the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil.

Though many would be pleased with coming so close to cracking a roster spot on an Olympic team, Elor refuses to accept anything less than the best. One look at the 6-foot-tall, 215 pound grad student and people probably wouldn’t be shocked if they were told he was gearing up for an Olympic run.

However, Elor wasn’t always the ultra-fit national champion he is today. His wrestling journey began with humble beginnings in high school. Growing up, Elor noticed his body physically developed, making him noticeably larger than others in his age group, which led to pressure from others to try out for football. Elor tried out for his school’s team, but struggled through his first season and was left wondering what was his next step.

“At the end of the year, I’m sitting down, confused, thinking, ‘Everyone has been telling me to play this sport that I suck at and I need to get better somehow,’” Elor said.

It was then that a member of the wrestling team sought out Elor to fill the empty heavyweight spot they had on the team. “Up until that conversation, my only experience with wrestling was the WWE,” Elor said. “I thought it was going to be people wearing funny masks and flying all over the place.”

Though hesitant at first, he eventually relented and attended a practice. Because of his size, the team’s head coach was shocked to find out that Elor was not in college but was actually a high school freshman. He continued to show up for practice, and his love for the sport eventually grew.

“I began to fall in with the sport because in order to be good you have to learn to be dynamic and have control over your body, which is something I didn’t have,” Elor said.

Elor began to see positive changes physically and mentally. Over the course of his first season as a wrestler, he had lost about 40 pounds and showed immense improvement over the course of the year. With only three months of wrestling experience under his belt, Elor went on to place fifth in the Cadet National Championship in Fargo, North Dakota.

His placement came to the surprise of a lot of people at the tournament, since Elor was  unknown at the time, as opposed to most of the other kids who grew up wrestling at tournaments across the country.

“A lot of [parents] thought I was a transfer student from Russia who grew up wrestling there,” Orry said. “They were absolutely stunned when they found out that I had just started in high school.”

Returning after two years and taking first place in the tournament, Elor began to see the Olympics as a realistic possibility. After wrestling his freshman year at Ohio State University, Elor transferred to Northern Michigan University, which had an Olympic training site, in order to better focus on his goal of Olympic gold.

Elor had seemed to be on his way to realizing his dream until he suffered a devastating loss in the semifinals of the Olympic trials in 2016, placing fourth. Though he was heartbroken, Elor immediately began focusing on the future. “Right after I lost, I sat down and put my hands on my lap and went, ‘Alright, there’s four years gone. I guess we’re looking at 2020.’”

After graduating in 2017, Elor immediately drove the 40-plus hours back home to Walnut Creek. Shortly after, he began training in order to stay in shape and prepare for a run at the 2020 Olympics as he waited to start graduate school at SF State in the fall. Luckily for Elor, an old friend would soon reach out with a great opportunity.

Jason Welch had posted an impressive wrestling résumé over his years involved with the sport, both as a wrestler and coach. Thankfully for Welch, his résumé was enough to land him the head coaching position at SF State last August. Very soon after the announcement, Welch called Elor, whom he knew from their time spent at Las Lomas High School, and offered him a position as an assistant coach.

“One of the things I’m very happy about is our coaching staff,” Welch said. “I made sure I surrounded myself with talented guys.”

It was a win-win — Welch would get an experienced and extremely talented wrestler on his staff, and Elor would have the convenience of being able to train in between classes. As Welch expected, Elor’s experience and knowledge were huge in helping the team develop as a whole. Redshirt freshman Kevin Henry credits Elor’s experience with helping him take a step forward in his own wrestling over the season. “You trust him more,” Henry explained. “You know that he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there and done it.”

Looking past the 2020 Olympics, Elor’s hopes to translate the hard work he’s putting in now into a medical career.

”Pursuing a doctorate program is something I would really want because that was my parent’s dream coming to this country,” Elor explained. “If I do make the [Olympic] team in 2020, that’ll help. So hopefully all of my goals and interests continue to align. Fingers crossed.”

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