Life is about relationships, and NO sport embodies this human bond greater than the sport of wrestling. It’s about the bonds between a parent and son, coach and athlete, teammates and competitors, and competitors and fans.
They are strengthened when a father introduces their son to the sport, perhaps even coaches them. They are formed between the parents and fans who sit all day in the stands week after week, season after season supporting their athletes. They are formed between the workout partners who push each other while exchanging sweat and breadth during daily practices. They are formed between the athletes and the coaches who dedicate their time and their emotions to their athlete’s success. In this shared sacrifice, there’s an intimacy that only the wrestling community comprehends.
So when P.J. Gillespie won his 149lbs weight class last weekend as a red shirt freshmen, you could feel the pride and joy of the local wrestling community as if he were a member of our family. It was only natural as we’ve all been following and rooting for P.J’s success since he was 7th grade varsity wrestler.
From those early beginnings in 7th grade, P.J. has earned and impressive list of accomplishments. He is a four time Section VIII champion: one of only five Section VIII wrestlers to earn such honors. He formerly held the all time career wins record at 214 career wins. P.J. is a four time All New York State Wrestler, placing 3rd three times, and New York State 145lb champion as a senior, and now he adds NCAA CAA conference champion to this distinguished list.
In the movie “Reversal,” coach Leone, while addressing the young athletes, says, “When I look at you guys, I don’t see wrestlers, I don’t even see winners. I see something better: I see men. You know why I say that? Everyone of you in this room has a fighter’s heart.” As a Pride wrestler, the Long Island wrestling community is fortunate to be able to follow so closely one of our local stars as he develops from an adolescent wrestler to a young man, and without a doubt this young man has a fighter’s heart.
In recognition of P.J.’s outstanding accomplishments at the 2009 CAA Championships, Lighthouse Wrestling names P.J. Gillespie the Wrestler of the Week for March 16, 2009. We asked P.J. if he would underscore this recognition by answering some questions.
LHW: First, congratulations on your outstanding performance at the CAA Championships and coming home as the 149lbs CHAMPION. What were your expectations going into the tournament?
PJ: Thanks a lot Lighthouse. My expectations going into the tournament were simple. I wanted to win just like everyone else. I wanted go in there and avenge all the losses I suffered earlier in the year.
LHW: As the 6th seed, to win the CAA you needed to defeat wrestlers who were expected to win over you. You first met Anthony Priore of Sacred Heart – the third seed – in the preliminaries, then Joey Metzler of ODU – the 2nd seed – in the semifinals, and finally Mike Roberts of Boston University – the 1st seed – in the finals. Anthony Priore and Joey Metzler both defeated you earlier in the season, 3-2 and 2-1 respectively, and Mike Roberts is ranked 19th in the nation. It’s an impressive string of opponents to defeat in one tournament. How did you prepare yourself mentally for these opponents? What was your strategy?
PJ: I prepared mentally for these opponents just keeping in the back of my mind that I already defeated the #1 wrestler in the weight class so I was definitely capable of taking it all. I also put pressure on myself as if I was the guy to beat in the weight which I feel helped me wrestle better as if I had something to lose.
LHW: This week will be your first visit to the NCAA championships as a competitor. I would imagine it’s both a thrilling and humbling experience. What do you think about going into the tournament? What are you expecting of yourself at the tournament and how are you preparing?
PJ: I think going to the NCAA’s will be a great experience for me. I’m going out there with my goals set high to become an All-American just like everyone else, but my main focus is just giving it my all and doing the best I can. I’ve been preparing by working a lot more with coaches on my leg attacks by getting in extra drills before normal practices.
LHW: We understand that you’ve been out with an injury since the Ohio State match. Can you share with us the nature of your injury and your recovery? Were you ever in danger of being unable to return for this season?
PJ: During the Ohio State match with about 30 seconds left on the clock I subluxed my shoulder which is basically an incomplete or partial dislocation. The injury was pretty painful and recovery time was estimated to be three weeks. However, I sat out the rest of the regular season as a precaution so I would be 100% for CAA’s and NCAA’s. I did a lot of rehab work before practices to strengthen it back up and I definitely gotta give a shout out to my trainer Andy for helping me get back to the mat. As for being in danger of not returning that never even crossed my mind.
LHW: What’s it like wrestling in college? What’s it like to wrestle for Hofstra? What do you like most about wrestling at Hofstra?
PJ: Wrestling in college is extremely tough. You constantly have to keep a positive mindset because the moment you start feeling sorry for yourself it just makes it that much harder. Wrestling for Hofstra is awesome not only for the simple reason that we are a national caliber program, but I have made a lot of great friends in the process. The part I like most about wrestling for Hofstra is the home matches. It’s a great feeling to wrestle in front of all the people that watched you progress through the years.
LHW: Upon graduating High School you set the Section VIII record for career wins with 214. Recently, another Section VIII standout, Paul Ligouri broke this record with 216 career wins. What are you thoughts on seeing the record broken?
PJ: I think it’s awesome that Paul broke the record. I was actually joking with him at the section VIII tournament that he wouldn’t beat it, but he did it. Records are meant to be broken so it doesn’t bother me at all. Looks like I’ll be second which is fine with me.
LHW: How do find it keeping up with academics with the demands of wrestling? What are you studying? What do you like most about college?
PJ: I find keeping up with school during wrestling is a lot easier because I have a set routine everyday with practices, classes etc. Its when the season ends that I have a harder time keeping up because I have so much free time that I never want to do work. Right now I am studying to become a physical education teacher. The best part about college is definitely the ladies.
LHW: That’s it for the serious stuff. We’d like to ask you a bunch of fun questions, and we hope you find them to be fun as well. What’s your favorite song/Band?
PJ: I like all types of music but I would have to say my favorite artists are Sublime, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, 311, Lil Wayne, Breaking Benjamin, and Angels & Airwaves.
LHW: What’s your favorite movie?
PJ: Oceans 13
LHW: Speaking of movies, if Hollywood was to make a movie of your life, who do you want playing you? Who do you want playing the leading lady (ies)?
PJ: Hmm that’s a tough one. I would have to say I would want Seth Rogen to play me because he’s one of the funniest people out there today. As for the leading lady, Jessica Biel hands down.
LHW: When not cutting weight, what are some of your favorite foods? Do you prefer mom’s home cooking or going to restaurants?
PJ: I would definitely say it would have to be a nice burger. I do like going to restaurants but I would have to say it’s not even my mom’s cooking I like the best. My dad is definitely the better cook, and I prefer his cooking rather than going out to eat.
LHW: When not wrestling, what are some of your interests and/or hobbies?
PJ: When not wrestling I like to surf and go to the beach. I work as a lifeguard during the summer so that’s basically what I do everyday.
LHW: What are three things most people don’t know about you that you think they would be surprised to learn?
PJ: Three things people would be surprised to know about me would be that I have some pretty sick dancing skills, I’m good at badminton, and that my favorite thing is a ice cold drink with a koozie.
LHW: Are there any final words you’d like to leave your adoring family, friends, and fans with?
PJ: I would just like to say thanks to my family for always being there and supporting my wrestling and Lighthouse Wrestling for choosing me as the wrestler of the week.
Thank you P.J. for taking the time to answer these questions with LHW….We wish you God speed in your title bid in St. Louis.