KENDALLVILLE — Mas wrestling may be a sport that few people in the United States have heard of, but two Kendallville men expect to make their mark soon in Poland at the sport’s World Cup.
Adam Turner and his coach, John O’Connor, will leave Nov. 12 for Pabianice, Poland, where the World Cup will take place Nov. 14 to Nov. 18. Turner is a mas wrestling competitor and will face athletes from Russia, eastern Europe, Austria and Germany. O’Connor is certified as a judge and referee.
Mas (meaning “stick”) wrestling is the international name used for the Yakut, Russia, ethnosport derived from the traditional stick pulling game. Athletes sit face to face on the floor, their feet propped against a board dividing the competition area, and tug on a wooden stick. They must keep the stick parallel to the board and both hands on the stick.
Matches last from mere seconds up to the 2-minute time limit, and end whenever one athlete lets go of the stick. Victory goes to the athlete who pulls his opponent over the board and keep the stick in his hands.
Turner is a novice, only in the sport for about a year. He earned some attention when he tried out against the North America champion and beat him.
“It wasn’t beginner’s luck, but I had no technique. I won on strength, but I had no idea,” Turner said.
Turner is a corrections officer for Chain O’Lakes Correctional Facility. He played football and wrestled in high school, then played football for Marion University in Indianapolis. He’s been involved in Strongman competitions for the past four years. His family includes his wife, Skyla, an East Noble graduate, and their two daughters.
“It’s appealing because the competitions are like wrestling, where you face another person,” Turner said. Strongman athletes, in contrast, spend their training and lifting time alone.
Turner’s heaviest dead-lift is 760 pounds. He trains with O’Connor twice a week, using a sled and pulling bands when no one else is there to be his opponent.
O’Connor operates Stout Barbell, a small gym in Fort Wayne, where athletes like Turner go to train for Strongman powerlifting, Highlands Games and arm lifting in addition to mas wrestling. He got involved with mas wrestling because he thought the sport was close to being added to the Olympic Games.
O’Connor said mas wrestling is popular in regions of the world where winters are very cold.
“It takes little equipment and little space,” he said. “It helps to stay fit in a cold climate.”
Cold, indeed. The Mas Wrestling Hall of Fame is in the founding city, Yakuta, deep in the Siberia region of Russia. O’Connor said he’s seen a photo, taken in Yakuta, which shows the shirtless athletes posing outside in minus 20 degrees.
O’Connor said the sport originated with the Vikings about 600 years ago. The Vikings took the sport to Russia and other places they visited. The sport later became popular with bored sailors on merchant ships during trade voyages in the 1400s and 1500s, then in the port taverns where sailors spent their time while ashore.
Turner will be competing for medals and cash prizes for first through sixth place at the World Cup, but he can also earn intangible prestige if he places in the competition. Winning could lead to invitations to compete in tournaments around the world.
O’Connor said mas wrestling is a niche sport in the U.S. but is very well-known and popular overseas.
“My job is to grow the sport in the U.S.,” he said.
To that end, O’Connor has traveled to California to take training classes, certification classes and a written test to be certified as a judge and referee by Mas Wrestling USA. He will be a judge and referee at the World Cup.
O’Connor thinks the barrier to promoting mas wrestling is overcoming the fear of trying it. “There’s no reason to be afraid. You can test yourself against the competitors,” he said.