Online Originals: Camp Lejeune Marine qualifies for Summer Olympics, credits teammates for success

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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (WNCT) — A member of Camp Lejeune will represent the U.S. Marine Corps and Team USA this Summer in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Many Olympic athletes spend their entire lives dedicating themselves to their sport. That is exactly what U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John W. Stefanowicz Jr. continues to do. In a few months, he will compete against athletes from around the world in Greco-Roman style wrestling, a part of the 87-kilogram weight class.

“Did I ever think it was where I would be? No. Was it a dream? Yea,” Stefanowicz said.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John W. Stefanowicz Jr. (Kelci O’Donnell, WNCT photo)

His journey is far from normal. The 29-year-old never qualified for a state tournament in high school and didn’t receive a single offer to compete in college.

Yet now, through hours of hard work and dedication, he earned himself a new title: Olympic wrestler.

Camp Lejeune Marine qualifies for the Summer Olympics

“I mean, it’s an experience you can’t really put into words,” said Stefanowicz. “It has been a childhood dream for decades.” 

“I’m excited! It’s a great accomplishment, and I feel like it’s a part of me now too,” said Jason Loukides, All-Marine Wrestling head coach. “I want to make sure we get out there and do everything we can to give him the chance to win the gold.” 

Stefanowicz will join 14 other athletes as they wrestle for Team USA this summer. If that honor wasn’t enough, he also stamps his name in the history books as the first Marine to compete in the Olympics for the sport in nearly 30 years. Anthony “Buddy” Lee was the last wrestler to represent the Marine Corps in the 1992 Barcelona Games, where he finished sixth.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. John W. Stefanowicz Jr. (Kelci O’Donnell, WNCT photo)

“He [Staff Sgt. Stefanowicz] is what we want to be known for: toughness, hard work, all the values, taking care of his teammates,” said Loukides. “He doesn’t want to just go to the Olympics by himself, he wants his whole team there with him, including the entire Marine Corps.” 

The new Team USA representative said being where he is today would not have been possible without his coaching staff and teammates.

“For them to come in day-in and day-out and share that success and not have any doubt, even when I have doubted myself, they have always been there for me,” Stefanowicz said. “I have always tried to be there for them. But, I can’t speak enough about the guys.” 

The Marine Corps shows that this effort, in hopes to achieve a gold medal this summer, is much larger than just one person. It’s a team effort. Steffanowicz will be in the spotlight, but the entire Marine Corps will be right behind him, whether that be in North Carolina or halfway around the world.

“The mission is not complete yet, but we are one step closer,” Stefanowicz said.

With just under 100 days until competition, Steffanowicz is making final preparations before he heads to Tokyo.

“The next 100 days or so we are going to put the pedal to the metal and give it our best shot! I can’t have any other expectations other than trying to win for the country and push forward,” said Stefanowicz. “When I realized I made the team I knew I had another duty.”

The duty to reach for gold.

The 2021 Summer Olympic games are scheduled for July 23- August 8. Wrestling is featured August 1-8.

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