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InterMat talks to ex-CSUB wrestler about his new Faith and Wrestling book

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To say that Mike Fessler wrestled with multiple issues of Christian faith would not be overstating things.

Fessler, former wrestler at Minnesota’s Apple Valley High School who went on to compete at Cal State Bakersfield for one year before stepping away from the mat for good, became a theology student, then shared his knowledge gained from competition and contemplation in a brand-new book, “Faith and Wrestling: How the Role of the a Wrestler Mirrors the Christian Life”, the subject of an article posted at InterMat Tuesday.

A Christian since age 6, the same year he first started wrestling, Fessler describes himself as being from a wrestling family. He won a Missouri high school state title as a freshman before his family moved to the Twin Cities. There he enrolled at Apple Valley, one of the nation’s top prep programs, where he completed his high school career as a Minnesota state champ. Fessler then headed out to wrestle at CSUB, a school he hadn’t seen until he arrived for fall classes. As a Roadrunner, he was thrust into a starting role, losing every match as a freshman after a 2-0 start. He battled through injuries and struggled with self-doubt… then left school – and wrestling – for good.

Fessler enrolled in the theology program at Bethel University in St. Paul… and was reunited with the sport that had been his passion for 16 years, this time as a fan. “Wrestling and faith (as subjects) collided in my head,” he told InterMat. “My experience as a wrestler and my faith became even more interconnected, an idea that I could not keep from swirling in my mind.”

The two subjects became even more entwined, thanks to two wrestling-related encounters. In watching the NCAA finals on TV, Fessler noted that about half the champs interviewed after winning their titles gave credit to God. He then decided to do an online search of “wrestling and faith” which led him to a 2009 InterMat article profiling three wrestlers whose Christian faith guided them in all aspects of their lives.

“The article was a springboard,” Fessler disclosed. “I thought, ‘Readers might want to hear what I have to say.’”

Fessler started work on his book, but wrestled with the writing process, putting the manuscript aside more than once. “I would shelve the book, thinking some who accomplished more in wrestling should be writing it, not a wrestling dropout,” said Fessler.

Then he came to a significant realization: “I believe God is using me to express a message.”

The result is a slim, 103-page book that is packed with a thoughtful, thought-provoking analysis of how the sport of wrestling has a powerful link to Christianity that goes beyond mat champs with crosses and Biblical messages tattooed on their bodies.

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