'I have an axe to grind': 60-year-old Ridgefield wrestler seeking a national title

Ridgefield resident Mark Dollins, 60, will return to the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Championships this weekend in the hopes of claiming his third national title.

Ridgefield resident Mark Dollins, 60, will return to the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Championships this weekend in the hopes of claiming his third national title.

Contributed photo / Mark Dollins

RIDGEFIELD — Ten days before he was set to return to USA Wrestling’s Folkstyle Championships last March, Mark Dollins’ dream of clinching his third national title was put on hold when the tournament was postponed due to the pandemic.

“It was a bummer,” said Dollins, of Ridgefield. “I have been there a total of five times, I’ve won it twice and the very first year I was there I placed third.” That was in 2006, when Dollins was 45.

After overcoming medical challenges and some quarantine fatigue, the now 60-year-old will return to the mat this weekend to compete in the Folkstyle’s masters division, which comprises 100 amateur wrestlers over the age of 25.

Having endured a spinal fusion and two full knee replacements, “I kind of think of myself as the new ‘Six Million Dollar Man,’” Dollins said. “There certainly has been a bit of rehabilitation, but I’ve emerged stronger each time.”

Dollins has trained with Christian Oropeza, the founder of EHP Fit in Danbury, for the past two years — he trains at least eight times a week, sometimes for as long as two hours. During lockdown, EHP’s trainers moved their sessions online, which impacted Dollins “in a major way,” Oropeza said.

“Having no tournament to travel to or to train for was hard for him,” Oropeza added, “so we went to work to make sure he would win the gold medal.”

Dollins’ regimen consists of weight lifting, cardio conditioning, joint extension and flexibility workouts, he said. To optimize the wrestler’s performance, Oropeza connected him with Kacey James, the founder of HealthX in Ridgefield. The new facility offers its clients a wide variety of holistic, noninvasive therapies to boost recovery, vitality, longevity and performance.

Inside HealthX is the first whole-body cryotherapy chamber on the east coast, according to James. The treatment is used to reduce inflammation, improve body composition and increase the body’s natural healing abilities. HealthX also offers red-light therapy, compression therapy and contrast therapy, which involves sitting in an infrared sauna followed by a cold plunge. Dollins had just emerged from the freezing waters when James was interviewed by the Press.

“Mark is one of our first tried and true clients that really saw tremendous benefits with his pain [recovery] and performance,” James said. “We’re excited to see how our . . . modalities could help him thrive and perform at his peak.”

Dollins commended the business owners for preparing him for his next run at the tournament, which will look different this year under COVID-19 regulations. His goal is to redeem his second place finish at the 2018 Folkstyle Championships and come home with his third first-place title.

“I have an axe to grind,” he said.

Though Dollins acknowledged that competing gets harder as he gets older, the sport provides him a major point of motivation. “It’s an interpersonal challenge that I’ve created for myself,” he said. “The older I get the more confident I feel knowing I’ve done the right things to prepare . . . Just being there is a victory.”

Dollins will compete at the 2021 Folkstyle Championships in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on April 3. When he’s not overseeing employee communications and engagement strategies of Fortune 500 companies as president of North Star Communications Consulting, he coaches Ridgefield’s youth wrestling team. He also coaches at the GPS Wrestling club in Armonk, N.Y.

Dollins will soon become a silver-certified USA Wrestling coach, making him the first middle school coach in Connecticut, and only the second at any level in the state, to achieve the designation. The other is John Clark, the head wrestling coach at Sacred Heart University.

Wrestling with the virus: How USAW is keeping competitors safe

In an effort to mitigate COVID-19 and protect our members, everyone entering the venue must wear a mask and/or proper fitting face covering and be subjected to a daily screening through the USAW Membership system. Other event procedures include:

One coach will be allowed to sit in the athlete's corner throughout the duration of the match. Coaches will also be required to wear a face covering at all times in the venue.

Athletes should wipe themselves down with their own personal towels/wipes before the match, in between periods and after the match.

Athletes will not be allowed to shake hands before or after the match.

When athletes are not competing, they will be required to wear a face covering while inside the venue.

All officials should wear face coverings and/or shields during the match. Officials should also sanitize before and after each match.

A strict no-handshake policy will be observed for customary wrestling-related activities such as pre-match and post-match handshakes between athletes, coaches and officials.

Source: USA Wrestling

“I mention this only because I’m so passionate about giving back to a sport that’s given so much to me,” he said.

alyssa.seidman@hearstct.com