Minnesota National Guard soldier competes in the Olympic trials

At the age of six, Sgt. Rich Carlson began his sports journey with wrestling. Over the years, he has competed in Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Folkstyle wrestling, eventually dedicating his time to the Greco-Roman style after graduating college. Several years of hard work and determination later, Carlson has found himself at Penn State University in State College, PA, competing in the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team trials, which April 19-20.

Carlson, who is a Combat Medic Specialist with 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, has traveled a long road to get to this point. In 2014 he won the Junior Nationals for wrestling and represented the United States in the Junior World Champions.

“That made me realize I was capable of competing at higher levels,” Carlson said.

In 2019 he took third place at the U.S. nationals and qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials. However, the pandemic forced the event to be pushed to 2021, and with a deployment to the Horn of Africa from 2020-2021, Carlson had to put the trials on hold again. In 2023, he made another U.S. national team by taking third place, which qualified him for the Olympic Trials of 2024. In his military career, Carlson has participated in the Best Warrior Competition, and won the Minnesota state competition, and the regional competition for the National Guard. He also attended the national competition and has taken part in the Best Soldier Competition in Croatia. In the spring of 2025, he will be attending Ranger School.

His dedication to the sport of wrestling is multi-faceted, Carlson said, has been influenced by all of his experiences.

“I love the fight,” he said. “Wrestling is unlike most sports because it’s one-on-one and you must take full responsibility for your success and failures. It’s a harsh sport, but it has taught me respect, discipline, and work-ethic. If I did not wrestle, I would be a completely different person. It shaped who I am.”

After returning from his deployment in 2020-2021, Carlson wasn’t sure if he would continue to wrestle.

“I decided to go to a few practices and see how I felt,” he said. “One of my teammates told me that I was qualified for the 2021 World Team Trials. I decided to wrestle in the tournament and ended up taking third which put me on Team USA. That was when I decided I would take one more shot at making an Olympic Team. In July of 2023 I quit my full-time job to focus on wrestling leading up to the Olympic Trials. In December of 2023 I took third at the US Nationals which Qualified me for the Olympic Trials.”

Finding out that his dream of competing in the Olympics was a real possibility was a thrilling moment for him, he said.

“I was very excited, it has been a dream of mine for a long time to become an Olympian,” he said.  “I am nervous, but excited. I’ve put in the work and it’s time to go let it show. I believe that I am 100% capable of being the guy to represent the U.S. at the 2024 Olympics in the 87kg weight category.”

A lot of work goes into preparing for the Olympic trials, Carlson said. His training plan includes 10-12 sessions a week that consist of wrestling practices and strength and conditioning sessions. He also does physical therapy two to three times a week and does recovery sessions a few times a week that include stretching, saunas, hot baths, ice baths, and other recovery methods.

There are multiple things that have kept him moving towards his goal, Carlson said.

“I just love wrestling, it’s a fun sport,” he said. “I’ve gotten to travel and train all over the world. I did two overseas training camps this year where I got to wrestle with some of the best guys in the world. It’s a really fun sport and the camaraderie amongst wrestlers is something special, it’s a very similar feeling to that of my fellow Soldiers I serve with.”

Having an entourage made up of his parents and girlfriend following to him to Pennsylvania State to watch him compete is something he feels lucky to have, he said.

“I’m really glad they can be there,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am in my wrestling career. I want to thank them (his parents Dan and Mary). They’ve supported this journey of mine since I was 6 years old. My Dad spent countless hours in the car driving me to practices or tournaments. My girlfriend Chelsea has been a big support, she does a lot to make my life easier so I can focus on wrestling.”

There are many other people in his life that have helped him to get to where he is today, Carlson said.

“My coach, Dan Chandler, he is amazing. He was a three time Olympian and 12-time US National Champion,” he said. “His personal career is impressive, but his coaching resume is even more impressive. Over a 40-year career he’s built the most successful Greco Roman wrestling program in the country. Also, my teammates have helped me a ton, I have had a lot of great coaches and teammates over the years, it would be difficult to name them all here. Lastly, the team I wrestle for is the Minnesota Storm. We are a non-profit and rely on donors who support our Olympic journey.”

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Sirrina Martinez
Minnesota National Guard