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Soldiers to compete in world championships

Cumiford and Callihan are headed to the World Wrestling Grappling Championships in Belarus

Sgt. Laree Callihan and Capt. Jason Cumiford will compete in the United World Wrestling Grappling Championships in Belarus. Photo credit: Gail Wood

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For Capt. Jason Cumiford and Sgt. Laree Callihan, this is their payoff, their reward for years of training and hard work.

They're headed to Belarus. But not to vacation. They'll be grappling, competing in the United World Wrestling Grappling Championships in late September in Minsk, Belarus, which borders Russia and Poland.

"I haven't been there," Callihan said. "I'm looking forward to it."

In October, Callihan and Cumiford will also compete in the Pan Am Games in California.

For both Cumiford and Callihan, this has been a lifelong pursuit. Cumiford's journey to these world championships began in high school. That's when he learned about takedowns and reverses while wresting in high school in Anchorage, Alaska, in the late 1990s. But a series of shoulder separations ended that.

"They said if you separated it again you won't be able to do anything active," Cumiford said.

So, until 2007, Cumiford stayed off the mat. He didn't wrestle. But after he was commissioned as an infantry officer and he was getting into combatives in the military, he realized that his shoulder could hold up to the physical challenge of grappling.

"Over time it got better," said Cumiford, who is stationed at JBLM. "It healed properly."

With his shoulder recovered, Cumiford realized something. He hadn't lost his passion to compete.

"The main reason behind this is it's something I'm passionate about," Cumiford said.

It's something that brings him into the gym pretty much daily. He works out five, six times a week at the United Training Center, a gym in Lacey.

"It's something I can see improvement in myself," Cumiford said. "I can help others. I can see improvement in them."

Like Cumiford, Callihan, who grew up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, wanted to wrestle in high school.

"I've always been kind of a Tom Boy, rough," Callihan said. "I really did want to wrestle and box in high school. My family was like, ‘no, girls don't do that.'"

Right after graduating from high school in 1996, Callihan joined the Army for a few years and then got her message therapy license. Then after 9/11, she went into the National Guard and remains pretty much active-duty since. That led to her involvement in combative competitions while she was deployed to Iraq.

"We had a team of five and we competed in everything," Callihan said.

Two years ago, she started working out in the same gym as Cumiford and that's led to her competing in grappling. She's won four local Revolution matches and placed second four times. Callihan is in the gym at United Training Center almost daily working out. She enjoys pushing herself and the friendships she's developed there.

"The camaraderie in this gym is amazing," Callihan said. "We're a very tight-knit gym. It's like family. We're always here for each other."

There's a life lesson that Cumiford will share with his two young children as they grow up.

"I can show my kids as they grow up no matter how old you get, no matter what your circumstances are, you're always able to accomplish something that you desire to accomplish," Cumiford said.

While grappling is different from wrestling - grappling concludes with a submission, an "I quit" from a competitor when they're in an arm bar or a choke hold.

"This is an extension off wrestling," Cumiford said. "I love wrestling. Still do wrestling. This allows me to get better as a wrestler. Wrestling allows me to get better as a grappler. I just love the sport."

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