Wrestling has taken Cara Romeike to many places. But never before in the past month had it flown them overseas.
Romeike, who coaches women’s wrestling at Hastings College, was given the unique opportunity to mentor and train athletes in Normandy, France in May when they competed in the World School Sport Games hosted by the International School Sport Foundation .
“It’s basically like a kids’ Olympics for high school-age kids,” she said.
The World School Sport Games, also known as the Gymnasiade, offers 20 championships in activities ranging from DanceSport (break dancing) and orienteering (navigation) to more traditional gymnastics, fencing and swimming.
It’s a balanced mix of Summer and Winter Olympics. There is also beach volleyball, badminton, archery and table tennis.
And of course wrestling. For both boys and girls.
One of the girls taking part was Amherst’s Reagen Gallaway, who won the first-ever Nebraska-sanctioned girls’ state wrestling championship in February at 138 pounds while maintaining an undefeated record.
Gallaway wrestles part-time at the Bronco Women’s Wrestling Club, run by Romeike on Sundays at Hastings College, which serves as a recruiting tool and aims to stimulate interest in the sport.
“I heard about the opportunity from her father,” Romeike said. “(Team USA was) looking for another coach.”
A trip to France doesn’t sound bad, does it?
“I had to think about it,” Romeike said, laughing, “but I was super excited.”
Romeike, 26, was also a bit shocked when a dream took shape.
“I’ve always seen myself as an international coach,” she said, “I just didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
When she told people she was going to France, they assumed Paris, which will host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe.
Romeike said they only saw these announced venues en route out of the city — which they flew into — on a bus going 2 1/2 hours west to Villerville, which has a population of 700.
This wasn’t a typical tourist trip, but Romeike and the group of trainers and wrestlers she traveled with saw a lot.
“We have to do a lot of cool things,” she said. “Not only were we able to focus on the wrestling, but everyone also had a good cultural experience.”
The wrestling itself took place from May 19-21. The group arrived in France on May 12.
This left plenty of time for exploration and excursions.
The group migrated to Omaha Beach, site of D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history. They also walked through WWII bunkers and visited the American Cemetery in Normandy.
“You learn that kind of thing in history books,” Romeike said, “but to experience it for yourself is just cool to see where all the battles happened.”
There was one other place that Team USA visited that Romeike called “crazy.”
That would be Mont-Saint-Michel, a small island community in the English Channel. It has a street in, a street out.
“The group’s biggest comparison was Hogwarts Castle from ‘Harry Potter’, but better,” said Romeike.
“It’s like a huge little mountain and at the bottom there are all these houses and shops and if you climb you get into this abbey.”
The Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel has stood since its completion in 1523.
“That must have been one of the highlights of the trip for the people,” said Romeike. “It was just ridiculous; One of those things I never thought I would experience.”
Anything else that Romeike had never seen?
A referee wakes up a wrestler who was knocked unconscious with a slap in the face. The wrestler was Gallaway, who lost the match to eventual runner-up from Kazakhstan, Ismailova Arina.
“It was one of those crazy, weird international experiences that would never happen in America,” Romeike said. “There’s a funny video of that.”
Gallaway bounced back and won a bronze medal in the 143-pound weight class. Teammate Gabby Ladehoff of Omaha Skutt Catholic also won bronze at 88 pounds, as did Madyson Gray of Lawrence, Kansas, at 134 pounds.
Omaha Westside’s Regan Rosseter finished seventh at 126 pounds.
There were a total of 13 Team USA wrestlers (nine girls, four boys).
“I would say one of the biggest takeaways is that every country had their own style of wrestling that is unique,” Romeike said.
The competition took place in Val de Reuil, which was an hour from the team’s campsite. Yes, campsite.
“We heard we were staying at a campground and we were like, ‘What?’ ‘ said Romeike, laughing.
It turned out to be shacks with basic, adequate accommodation, she added.
While that was a little disappointing, it was close to the beach.
“We spent a lot of our free time running around the beach and swimming in the water,” Romeike said. “The water was so cold the kids took it like an ice bath.”
And they needed it after battling some of the best in the world for three days.
Throughout the competition, the teams exchanged their equipment with each other.
“I came home with a Brazil backpack and jackets from Algeria and Armenia,” said Romeike, who swapped some of her USA gear. “These are cool things.”
An experience that Romeike will not soon forget. Of course she hopes that more will follow.
“It gave me a lot of experience that will help me grow as a coach,” she said. “It’s one thing to coach at the college level and you feel like that’s one of the highest levels, at least in the country. But coaching abroad is just another step up and I just felt really cool becoming a coach for the United States.”