A world away from home
Nazar Kulchytskyy eyes third title as Ukraine weighs on him
There are many things bouncing around inside Nazar Kulchytskyy's head these days.
A third national championship.
The start of an internship less than forty-eight hours after his final collegiate match.
U.S. citizenship in April. Graduation in May. Ukraine.
A native of Sosnivka on the western edge of Ukraine, the senior at Wisconsin-Oshkosh has family members directly involved in a very volatile situation. A brother, uncles, and cousins have all seen the violence.
"It is a pretty horrible situation right now," said Kulchytskyy, who moved to Wisconsin with his mother and father prior to his senior year of high school. "A couple of weeks ago one of my cousins was in Kiev with a group of friends taking part in the protests. Five were killed.
"For many people it is not a good life in Ukraine right now."
Various technologies, including Skype, allow Kulchystskyy to communicate daily with family members.
"I try to get as much information as possible," he said. "The news that comes out is not always true. ... [Russian President Vladimir] Putin I think is being exposed. [Putin] is trying to control everything … keep Ukraine from progress and moving more toward the European Union. I hope that things can get better. I know a lot of people are frustrated."
Winning a national championship thousands of miles away will not solve any political problems or cure the ills of his native country.
"Every day I work harder," Kulchytskyy said. "I have an opportunity that not everybody from my country has, so I want to win it for them. [My family] supports me and I know it would bring them some happiness."
Upon arrival in the United States, there was not a lot of wrestling happiness for the family.
Multiple Ukrainian titles and success as a 17-year-old in the European Championships in freestyle led to the state of Wisconsin not allowing him to compete for his high school team in Prairie du Chien. His first season of college resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fall; a quick recovery and he was back on the mat for the spring semester, winning all twelve of his matches heading into the postseason. A broken foot, however, sent him to the sidelines again.
"I had some bad luck those first couple of years. It was very frustrating, knowing I could have been a champion that first year," Kulchystskyy said. "I felt like, even though the transition to the American style of wrestling wasn't easy, I could have won as a freshman."
First-year UW-Oshkosh head coach Efrain Ayala, who spent two years as an assistant, has watched the progression on and off the mat.
"Having to learn the language, a new style of wrestling and the way we do things, it was a transition for him," Ayala said. "Listening to some interviews after he won as a sophomore to where he is now, an Academic All-American, shows how hard he has worked. He has faced some challenges that not everybody has.
"I don't think there is any question he is one of the greats in Division III history."
To say Kulchytskyy has overcome those challenges is an understatement.
As a sophomore, he finished 40-2 and claimed his first Division III title at 157 pounds. A second national title concluded a monster 44-1 campaign as a junior at 165 pounds. Back down to 157 pounds for 2013-14, Kulchystskyy takes a 37-2 record into this weekend.
Do the math and you get an impressive 137-5 career standard. He has not lost to a Division III opponent in the last two seasons. Only four times this season has Kulchytskyy failed to record at least a major decision.
"I still like freestyle better, it is what I grew up doing," Kulchytskyy, a 157-pounder said. "I feel more comfortable now, especially on the mat. When guys are defensive it is hard to score on your feet, so being able to ride and get away is very important."
The top-seeded 157-pounder takes the mat Friday against Wilkes' Kristopher Krawchuk, a finalist at the 2013 NCAA championships. The road does not get any easier, as Washington & Jefferson All-American Josh Etzel (29-3) awaits the winner.
"I'm pretty excited, but kind of sad at the same time," Kulchytskyy said. "It has been a great four years. I want to dominate this weekend, win the (NCAA) Most Dominant Award they give out.
"And I am not just wrestling for myself. I want to win my third title for all those who have helped me, supported me, and for those in my country who are going through everything right now."