Austin Craig, a native of Monroe, North Carolina, lives his life in pursuit of two goals: to recruit only the most qualified individuals who he would proudly serve side-by-side with and to be an Olympic World Champion Wrestler one day.
As a Navy recruiter assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group Pacific Northwest and a member of the All-Navy Wrestling team, Craig dedicates his life to making these goals a reality.
Craig is a Navy special warfare program talent scout. His mission is to find the best and brightest women and men who are ready to commit to one of the toughest training regimes in the world.
“I am the first line of defense for the Navy’s quality, and I hold it to a high standard. I’m looking for the next generation of elite sailors. Every person I put in the Navy is somebody I would proudly serve with and I hold true to that,” said Craig.
When he is not looking for or preparing the Navy’s next team of elite warriors, he is training to win an Olympic gold medal as a member of the All-Navy Wrestling team.
Wrestling, however, has not always been Craig’s passion. As a young athlete, he was passionate about football and track before a spur-of-the-moment decision led him to discover wrestling.
“I was in seventh grade and had finished reading my book assignment twice over when I heard an announcement for anyone interested in wrestling to sign up in the front office,” says Craig. “I used that as an excuse to walk around because I was bored.”
Little did he realize that this decision would give him a new found passion and change the direction of his life. However, Craig’s first year of wrestling did not go very well. Despite being the underdog on the team, he kept a positive attitude and worked hard to improve.
“I lost almost every official match the first year,” says Craig. “But I’ve never been a quitter. I knew I had to overcome a learning curve, so I just went to practice every day and gave it my all. The coaches really honed in on my wrestling style and helped me to get better.”
Craig’s hard work paid off, and soon he was unstoppable on the wrestling team.
“The next year was a blowout season and I was winning any and every match. It was phenomenal,” says Craig.
While in high school, Craig continued to be a successful wrestler and student. As an athlete he also played football, volleyball, and competed in track and field. As a student, he had good grades and was elected as the student body class president.
“I am thankful for my wrestling career in high school. It molded me. It gave me that passion.”
His successes earned him a wrestling scholarship, on which he studied pharmacy at Campbell University in North Carolina.
“The wrestling scholarship paid my way through an undergraduate degree, but I was not sure how I would pay for graduate school,” says Craig. “That’s when a family friend informed me about the education benefits the Navy had to offer and about the Armed Forces Sports Program. I went to go talk to a recruiter, and I instantly knew that I wanted to wrestle for the Navy.”
Craig joined the Navy in 2013, and immediately after graduating from basic training he was laser focused on trying out for the All-Navy Wrestling team.
“I actually tried to sign up for the wrestling team while I was in “A” school but was informed that I had to wait until I arrived to my first command,” says Craig. “As soon as I reported to my first command, USS Nimitz, the very first question I asked was how to apply. My first request chit ever was to attend the All-Navy Wrestling tryouts.”
Craig’s leadership informed him that his priority had to be on being a great sailor before they would approve his request.
“From that moment, the mission came first, and I was dedicated to being the best sailor I could be,” says Craig. “From learning my job, earning qualifications, and being involved in the command, I had to make sure that my command knew that I am not just here for a paycheck. I am here to contribute to the mission and do my job. But also, I have personal goals that I hope to achieve.”
Craig hit the ground running and did everything to be the best sailor he could be.
“I volunteered for everything I could and was very involved. My peers elected me as the president of the Junior Enlisted Association, and I was an assistant command fitness leader,” says Craig.
His successes aboard the USS Nimitz paved the way for command leadership to approve his request to try out for the All-Navy Wrestling team. But despite his focus and passion, he did not make the team the first year.
“I had never been cut from a team before. I went into the first camp knowing nothing about freestyle or Greco-style wrestling,” says Craig. “I could have given up but instead I worked as hard as I possibly could to get better during the offseason. I tried out again the next year and made the team, which was a huge accomplishment for me. And every offseason from there I continued to get better.”
Craig’s first match at an armed forces tournament was against a 2012 Olympian.
“I lost the match, but I was the only person at the tournament to score on him,” says Craig. “That’s when I realized that I was not too far away from making the Olympic Team.”
Craig’s hard work and drive to become a better wrestler led to his selection as captain of the All-Navy Wrestling team in 2018. But this achievement was still only the beginning.
“I am not satisfied with being one of the best on the Navy team, because the ultimate goal is to be ranked nationally, win the Armed Forces Championship, and win Olympic gold.”
The All-Navy Wrestling team traditionally gets about 2-3 months of official training or “mat time” every year, compared to the other services that receive year-round dedicated training. This means that Navy wrestlers must be self-motivated and train harder whenever they can. Craig’s assignment as a special warfare talent scout allows him to train more while still accomplishing his Navy mission.
“When the candidates physically train, and these men and women are athletes, I am right there working out with them,” says Craig. “This allows me to get intense year-round workouts instead of the two months I would get otherwise. This is tremendous for me as I train for the upcoming season.”
Year-round intense physical training and having the number one ranked US Wrestler and 2020-2021 Olympian, Marine Staff Sgt. John Stefanowicz , as a wrestling training partner, are setting Petty Officer Craig up for success as he embarks on his mission to compete at the next Summer Olympics.
“I am so thankful for this opportunity and grateful to my leadership and everyone who has supported me along the way,” says Craig. “I absolutely love the Navy! I wanted to be a recruiter because I want people to know about all that the Navy has to offer. I used to be the kid that knew nothing about the Navy. Now, eight years later, I have the best job in the world, and I am following my dreams to become the best wrestler in the world.”
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.
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