By Stephen Maugeri
When Ziad Haddad began the 2013-2014 wrestling season, he had one goal and one goal only: to be a national champion. At the conclusion of the 2014 Division II wrestling championships in Cleveland, OH, that dream is now a reality. Haddad took home the gold in an exhilarating 5-4 victory over previously undefeated Jacob Mitchell of California Baptist. Haddad currently boasts a 51-5 record as a Golden Bear, and is only the second to ever win a national championship since Joe Kemmerer in 2007 and 2009. The now two-time All-American finished the season 30-0 without surrendering a takedown all season, cementing himself as the most dominant wrestler in the country.
His success did not come without hard work, or a list of encumbrances. In 2008, Haddad enrolled at Divison I North Carolina after winning a PIAA 2A state championship at the 285-pound weight class. After qualifying for nationals in his second year, Haddad showed sign of a propitious college career. However, nationals were a parabolic curve in a sense, as the former state champion made a number of mistakes, dropped out of school and began a dead-end job in construction. With no escape in sight, Haddad turned to smoking and alcohol as an outlet for his grievances.
As a result, his weight spiked and he shunned himself from his family for two years. “I was disgusted with myself; I went from top of the mountain to underground,” Haddad said. “I just kept making bad decision after bad decision. Before you knew it, I’m smoking, I’m drinking, I ballooned in weight, I was disgusted with myself. Then my angel came into my life.”
Haddad’s life changed forever when he rekindled with high school girlfriend Shelly McCarthy. After his armed was raised, Haddad shared a moment with his fiancée, Shelly. The two summed it up as simply as possible: “We did it.”
McCarthy helped Haddad come back into the light. According to an article in the Allentown Morning Call, Haddad opened up as to how instrumental McCarthy was in his reincarnation. “Everybody helped me get back on track, and I was given an opportunity at Kutztown. It was a turning point in my life. I’ll forever be indebted to coach Rob Fisher for being able to straighten out my life,” Haddad said.”
A national championship was the primary thought bouncing around the star grappler’s frontal lobe. He had unfinished business to attend to after finishing fourth at nationals in 2013. Unbeknownst to many, Haddad postponed his wedding for a year in order to come back and compete for a national championship this year. Standing at the top of the podium superseded everything to him. Haddad went on to say that his fiancée and himself put their lives on hold in order for his dream to come to fruition.
Haddad’s transformation was ignited by the McCarthy family, but it was retained by the ones closest to him: his family, most notably his younger brothers Nezar and Omar. The two recently pulled a hat out of their brother’s playbook by making a run at the PIAA championships for nearby Parkland high school.
On the morning of the NCAA championships, Haddad woke up to a simple yet searing message from his younger brother, Omar that read, “make it happen.” Those words were all Haddad needed to climb the ladder to the top. “As short as the message is, it’s profound because of the bond that we share.” Haddad said.
Coach Rob Fisher knew he was rolling the dice with giving Haddad a scholarship, but he knew his prized heavyweight would prevail. “It’s so fulfilling when you train for so hard and for so long for the ultimate prize.” Fisher said. “It is so gratifying for the team, the program and for Ziad.
The top heavyweight in Division II has gone through possibly the best two weeks a person can go through. A week after winning the gold, Haddad and his wife were wed in front of 300 friends, family teammates and coaches. “In a span of two weeks, I’m going to experience two of the most exiting points of my life. Not many people can say that.”
He will take the week off to celebrate, then it is back to work for the champ. For Ziad Haddad, the 2014 season starts in a week.