During the COVID-19 lockdown, most kids spent extra time catching up on their favorite Netflix shows or doing what they could to get one step closer to becoming a TikTok sensation. 13-year-old Austin Paris Wright had a different goal in mind: he was set on beating over 2,000 other participants to win the 2021 USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals.
And that’s exactly what he did.
“The days when we were all stuck at home, he was putting in tons of work,” Wyland Wright, Paris’s dad, said. “He put everything behind and tried to peak at that specific time, and it worked out perfectly for him.”
Folkstyle is one of three types of wrestling, alongside Greco-Roman and Freestyle. It’s the most traditional type of wrestling in the U.S. One of the main differences between the three is that in Greco-Roman you can only do takedowns on your opponent’s upper body while the other two allow leg attacks. The point system is dependent on the style of wrestling and moves successfully made.
“Folkstyle is typically used in high school, middle school, and college,” Wright said. “If you throw a kid, you’ll get disqualified.”
Paris is only in seventh grade, but he’s already been wrestling for over half of his life. Growing up with an older brother who was a wrestler, Paris often felt frustrated going to tournaments because he wasn’t yet old enough to participate.
“It was driving him crazy,” Wright said. “He actually started wrestling in our little house when we lived in Hotchkiss, Colorado. As soon as he got old enough to participate, we put him in his first tournament.”
Not only is he involved in statewide tournaments, but he wrestles on the Hopkin Middle School wrestling team and on Champion’s Wrestling based out of Mapleton, Utah. On top of that, he competes nationally for various teams including Team Utah, Utah Gold, California’s USA Elite, and POWA out of Colorado.
“His overall record for his lifetime is 1,528 wins with only 112 losses,” Wright said. “That’s been since he was in kindergarten.”
Paris has been wrestling out of his age group since he was in second grade. At that time, his opponents were often eighth graders.
“What he’s taught me is patience and to never doubt him,” Wright said. “If he’s willing to put in all the hard work, we’re willing to do whatever we have to to get him to the places.”
Paris has wrestled in Virginia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New York, to name a few. One of the main reasons the family travels so far east to tournaments is that it’s more likely to set Paris up for a challenge. Wrestling is a bigger deal in the eastern states, Wright explained.
“There’s really nobody out west that can beat Austin,” Wright said. “Austin learns more from getting beat. If he wins all the time, he doesn’t fix what’s wrong.”
Though at first Paris wasn’t a fan of traveling because of how long it took, he soon grew to enjoy the family time and opportunity to see new places and meet people. Some of his most memorable trips include seeing the White House and Statue of Liberty, wrestling on a battleship in San Diego, and getting stuck in a snowstorm for three days on their way to Iowa.
“We were stuck in a car at a Walmart,” Paris said. “It was so bad. Kids were missing the duals.”
All the preparation in the world can’t change Mother Nature’s course—hitting weight in a wrestling tournament can be a similar feat. Though some tournaments let the wrestler step on the scale more than once, bigger tournaments only give the wrestler a single chance.
“If you step on the scale once and you don’t make it, you can’t wrestle,” Paris said.
Paris is in the 97-pound bracket and only has to cut weight before a competition occasionally. His methods to meet weight include cutting out salt and sugar and getting in the hot tub.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me,” Paris said. “But other times, if I want to actually compete, then I need to make my weight.”
When Paris isn’t at school or doing homework, he can be found working out in some capacity—whether it’s at the school gym with one of his coaches or running up the sand hill near Arches National Park (10 times in under 30 minutes, to be exact).
“The older you get, you see it’s more his decision,” Beachem Bosh, one of his three coaches, said. “He makes a lot of sacrifices to be in top shape and the top of what he does.”
Bosh is the Red Devils wrestling youth club coach and has worked with Paris off and on for the past six years.
“He’s the one that coaches me—he’s that good of an athlete,” Bosh said. “Wrestling is an evolving sport. If you’re not evolving, you’re gonna die.”
Like any athlete making their way in a sport, Paris has role models to help guide him toward his goals. Kyle Snyder and AJ Ferrari are two of those he mentioned, admiring their kindness, preparation, and dedication.
“After they win a big match or title or something, you can just tell, you can see it, how hard they worked,” Paris said.
It’s clear from speaking to Paris and the people around him that his work ethic and hunger for knowledge is a huge part of his wrestling success. Not only is he willing to put the work in, but he wants to share the insight he learns along the way with others.
“[Wrestling has] taught me a lot of respect and to just hear people out and know what they’ve gone through,” Paris said. “Work hard and just be patient.”
Even at his young age, Paris has set goals he wants to achieve. He hopes to become a high school four-time state champion, go undefeated at the Schoolboy Duals, and go to college and wrestle, ideally at Ohio or Oklahoma State.
Both Bosh and Wright said they could see Paris going as far as the Olympics someday.
“He’s pretty impressive to watch,” Bosh said. “He finds the kid who’s a little better at something and he eventually beats them.”
Wright also hinted at Paris stepping into a coaching role later down the road after he’s accomplished his goals in competitive wrestling.
“I can see him wanting to come back to Moab and coach and try to make Moab a wrestling dynasty,” Wright said. “He just really wants wrestling to grow here in Moab.”
Paris will be competing in the 2021 Western Regional Championships in Logan, Utah May 13-15. The results will help determine his seeding for the USA Freestyle and Greco Nationals at the end of June.