Shelton Mack has reached another milestone in his long wrestling career — a gold medal while representing Team USA.
The 2010 Meadville graduate had a decorated high school wrestling career before competing at University of Pittsburgh. He qualified for NCAA Nationals three times in his collegiate career.
Since graduating from Pitt in 2015, Mack has stayed heavily involved in wrestling. The 28-year-old was an assistant wrestling coach at Virginia and Maryland before joining Columbia University in July of 2019. He has also been wrestling freestyle at the senior level since 2016.
Mack won the 61 kilogram (134 pounds) title at Senior Nationals in early May, which was a goal of his since he started five years ago. The win granted him an opportunity to represent Team USA at the Pan-American Championships.
“Throughout all those years, this is the first time I've won a national title and represented Team USA,” Mack said. “It’s been a long road, but it’s been rewarding and worth it.”
The Pan-American Championships feature the best wrestlers from each country in North and South America. The tournament was held in Guatemala City, in late May.
The team was there for five days. After resting and training on the first day, Mack and Team USA traveled to a volcano and experienced Guatemalan culture for a day. After that, it was all business for the wrestlers.
“I remember seeing guys warming up from Puerto Rico, the Dominican, El Salvador, Guatemala, just everywhere,” Mack said. “It set in what was happening and I wanted to soak in that moment because it's not something you usually experience ... being in a foreign country and being with all these wrestlers from all over Pan-America.”
Mack made the most of his opportunity in Guatemala. He secured a 2-0 victory over Juan Ramirez Beltre of the Dominican Republic in the finals to win a gold medal.
“It felt awesome," he said. "You put so much work and so many years into it. It's not just the past two years or the past four years, it's everything I've been doing since I started wrestling. To see things payoff is huge and it's been fun.”
The former Bulldog is already looking ahead to his next major goal.
“It's one of those things where I'm absolutely content and pleased about the direction I'm heading and thankful for the opportunity to compete, but at the end of the day I still want to make a world team in September and bring back a world title. That's the ultimate goal,” Mack said. “To achieve these things along the way is good and reassuring, but I know I need to stay focused on what's ahead.”
Trials for the USA World Team are in September. If Mack wins the 61 kilogram bracket and qualifies, he will wrestle at Worlds in Norway in October.
After Worlds, the Olympics could be in play for the former Tool City Champion. Mack isn’t ruling anything out about his wrestling future.
“It's hard to say, just because there's so much that goes into it and I don't wanna look too far ahead, but 2024 is right around the corner," Mack said. "Regardless of these next couple months, I don't wanna rule it out. I will focus on these next couple months and take it from there.”
If Mack were to make a run at the 2024 Olympics, he would need to alter his weight class to either 57 kg (125 pounds) or 65 kg (143 pounds). The weight classes at the Olympic level are different than weight classes at the Senior/World level.
When attempting to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, Mack wrestled several tournaments at the 65 kg mark and one at 57 kg. He didn’t feel comfortable at either weight class.
“I went down to 57 kg leading up to the last chance qualifier. It was too much weight loss for me and I felt I couldn't compete at my best,” Mack said. “I tried going up to 65 kg and I felt better and wrestled better, but those guys were bigger because they were coming down in weight too.”
Now at the 61 kg class, Mack feels he is finally wrestling at his best. In fact, he is currently ranked fifth in the world for his weight class. Seeing his name on such a list means a lot to Mack.
“It makes me feel a lot of different things. It’s been a long 20 plus-year journey so it feels good to see the persistence paying off. There’s so many people that pushed me and supported me from the age of 6 and none of this would be possible without them,” Mack said. “There’s still a lot of work to do in order to achieve the ultimate goal, but it feels good to be heading in the right direction.”
Regardless of how his future wrestling career shakes out, Mack is grateful for everyone that’s helped him get to this point.
“I'm thankful there's so many people from Meadville that helped me get to this point. I couldn't have done it without them,” Mack said. “I'm glad to still able to do what I love and I'm thankful for everyone that has helped me get here."