West Virginia Wrestling


by Dr. Bill Welker, National Wrestling Hall of Famer
and Rick Welker


By Rick Welker

Last year was very difficult for me to have to stay away from the active participation in the sport I love to deal with fighting an addiction that has controlled my life since I was a teen. For the past 20 plus years I have been fighting with an alcohol addiction that has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion and embarrassment far longer than I can remember.

On October 3, 2011, I took my last drink and had to make some life changing decisions for me to finally get and stay clean. I felt that I needed to take time away from any and everything that was normal in my life and change my way of thinking and living all together. I had to walk away from a wrestling program that my father and I were building and to stay off of the mats as an official as well. Not because it was stressful or that I didn't enjoy it but because I had to dedicate my life to what was more important and at the time it was to save my life.

Drinking to me came at an early age, 12, to be exact and my initial experience was not different than most of yours, I had two beers and felt real loopy to say the least. I didn't drink every weekend or even every month for that matter but it became frequent enough that by the time I reached high school I couldn't imagine any social event without some sort of alcohol being involved.

I began having black outs late in my junior year in high school and let me tell you this no one is more happy than I am that we did not have cell phones back then because I am sure that drunk dialing and drunk texting would have been quite frequent. However, I did not think that any of this was unusual I thought that this is what happened to everyone when they drank. It was also during my junior year that I had my first real negative incident that was a result of my alcohol use, I was at a "voluntary" practice over the Thanksgiving weekend and I was extremely hung over. The other "volunteers" and I were wrestling live and as you guessed it I was wrestling horrible and got so frustrated I kicked the wall in the wrestling room. Needless to say my Ultra Flex wrestling shoe although cool for the day did not protect my foot from the force in which I kicked so hard that I broke my foot and unfortunately ripped my shoe in the process and was subsequently out for the season. Junior year gone.

Now my senior year comes along and I have been training all summer, well as much as you can while in what I believe the early stages of alcoholism, I was ready to go. Except for one thing, I forgot to study and did not get the required 2.0 grade point average, as much as I tried, I could not stay focused enough to crack down. For my efforts I got to watch my senior class win the OVAC wrestling tournament. So for their efforts I got extremely drunk that night.

As some of you already know I have a solid family structure and great parents. Many of you may be thinking how could they not have known well let me tell you they were no different than many of you. They were hard working people that worked diligently to give their kids anything they could. I assure you that they were involved and persistent but I (or I thought) was smarter than them. Joke was on me.

Over the years alcohol was a deciding factor in everything negative that has happened in my life. It has ruined and/or damaged, some friendships, relationships with my kids, a career and a lot more to say the least. My addiction got so severe that it was impossible for me to stop drinking once I got started I would have to wheen myself off of the alcohol which sometimes took up to a week. I would go on binges that would last literally weeks on end. I am however, one of the lucky few, I have no known medical issues at this time but I am sure some could arise in the future as a result of my use.

Fortunately for me when I did feel like I could begin to come back around wrestling again, not because I did anything wrong but I was very ashamed, I found that not only was it very therapeutic but I found that those that knew my struggles were there and have been there for me throughout my entire life. Addiction made me think that very few people knew what kind of double life I was leading when in fact the only person I was fooling was me. The strength of the wrestling community is without a doubt stronger than that of any other sport bar none.

I am so blessed to have so many people in my life that love, care and support me that it would be impossible to name them all but I assure you I am so thankful that I have them and appreciate that they are people with strong convictions and compassion. With that being said there are many that believe that I or any other person in recovery can never change and that's ok but I will put forth my best effort to change something in my life where I feel I fall short and hopefully continue on this path.

It has been well over a year since I took my last drink and I am right where I am supposed to be, attending 12 step meetings and working a recovery program, rebuilding relationships that have been damaged, and being the father, son and soon to be husband that I never was able to be before and I believe in my heart of hearts that I am able to combat the disease because of the intestinal fortitude only wrestling can give. I wish I could apologize to all of those I have hurt, offended or let down but that would be impossible I am sure but I am going to try. The best way for me to show my remorse is to stay clean and that is what I intend to do.

I think that it is important for all of us to keep a close eye on not only our kids but all of their friends and acquaintances. The statistics of addiction in this valley and the state of West Virginia are astronomical and getting worse every day. The synthetic drugs, opiates and prescription medication are so vast that it would not be hard for anyone to acquire an addiction through legal channels not to mention illegally. The addictive potential that these drugs have can be devastating and deadly.

I hope that I was able to convey some sort of message to you and maybe reach someone who is struggling to talk to family, friends, a teacher anyone they trust so that they can get the help they may need before it gets to the point where the lose their families, friends, freedom or their life.
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