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This weekend Schalles should take a step toward Montreal when he competes in the first round of Olympic Trials in Cleveland. If he finishes in the top eight in his weight class, he will advance to the first of two month-long Olympic training camps. And there is a big incentive for finishing first in Cleveland, because the victor merely waits in the wings while six of the seven other qualifiers are eliminated in wrestle-offs. The survivor of the wrestle-offs then will face the Cleveland winner, who will need to take only one of seven bouts against his challenger to lock up a spot on the Olympic squad.
For Schalles, preparing for Montreal has been a strain physically, emotionally and—as many other American athletes have found out—financially. It did not take him long to realize he could work at his job as an assistant manager in a warehouse and pay his bills, or he could continue his training with three-a-day drills. Herb Werner, sports editor of the Mirror in Altoona, a city a few miles up the road from Hollidaysburg, wrote a column about Schalles' plight and asked fans to help him. They came up with $535. A Wade Schalles Pizza Night in Hollidaysburg netted another $50.
"I appreciate all this, but I hate soliciting money," Schalles said during a brief visit home last month. At the Mirror offices that afternoon he received a $100 check from the Hollidaysburg Lions Club. "Wade deserves help," said Project Chairman Gil Ginnick of the Lions. "He's a credit to our community."
As Schalles drove away from the newspaper office, he said, "The reason our wrestlers did so well in Munich—three golds, two silvers, one bronze—was Gable. The guys saw how hard he trained. That made them work harder than ever. But I don't think Gable will be eligible to compete this time, because he's been working as a coach, and I doubt that our team will do as well. Our best wrestlers have to quit the sport too young because they have to make a living."
Schalles parked his car and entered the Super Shoes Store in Altoona to thank store manager Robert Gilpin Sr. for a $500 check from the Plank Road-Pleasant Valley Trade Association.
"We have to be careful about the money that is given to Wade," Gilpin said. "It can be used only for expenses for the Olympics. We're proud of him. It's not every day a local boy has a chance to go to the Olympics."
During his visit home, townspeople repeatedly referred to Schalles' going to the Olympics as if he has been guaranteed a spot on the team. But to make the U.S. squad, he still must outwrestle 163-pound standouts such as Carl Adams, a two-time NCAA champion from Iowa State, and Stan Dziedzic, an NCAA titlist from Slippery Rock (Pa.) State, where he had a 118-2 record. Schalles has never beaten Adams. The scores of their matches have been 7-6, 5-5, 2-2 and 10-8, and Schalles has split 14 bouts with Dziedzic (pronounced DEZ-ick). "It scares me to think I might let all these people down," Schalles said as he left the shoe store. "But I know I'll make it."
Confidence—lots of it—has long been Schalles' trademark. As a high school senior, his technique was so oddball that his coach, Charles Jackson, summed up the opinion of many experts when he said, "Wade just doesn't impress you as a wrestler." Plastic Boy—he was not yet grown to manhood—had a 21-0 record with 20 pins that season. Still, only a few believed that Schalles had championship potential.
The wrestler himself and Gary McCarthy were two of them. Schalles met McCarthy the summer before his senior year in high school. "I saw this little guy about 5'2" at the YMCA, and I wanted to wrestle him," Schalles says. "But he didn't want to. I kept after him. Finally, he said O.K. I figured I'd whip him easy—I outweighed him by 20 pounds—but he tore me apart, bloodied my nose. Then I found out he had made the '68 Olympic team but hadn't been able to compete because of an injury. 'I hate braggarts,' he told me."
Plastic Boy had been turned into Silly Putty, but his humbling was followed by honing as McCarthy worked with him daily. That season local headlines identified Schalles as "Wondrous Wade."