Wrestling, a sport only seen in its purest form during the Olympics, is something more than you think.

It’s a combat sport that involves pure strength, and not nearly as many dramatic monologues as WWE would have you believe. Combat sports like MMA and UFC have found an avid following in North America. Many are attracted to wrestling because of the grandiose battles on TV and the classic moves of famed wrestlers.

Brandon Rynka was attracted to the physicality and the one-on-one competitive aspect of the sport. “I’ve always been a physical person, and the sport offered an outlet where I could use my athleticism and physicality,” he says. Rynka was born in Burlington and currently wrestles for the Varsity Blues. He has always tapped into his physical side; from a young age, he competed in sparring tournaments in martial arts like jiu-jitsu.

His journey to UTM and into the world of wrestling involved a series of self-discoveries. Rynka spent his first year at McMaster University in Hamilton, where he was accepted to the football team. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to study, and ended up transferring at the end of the school year. On the lookout for a new school, Rynka made a highlight film that showcased his talents on the field.

During the summer, Rynka was contacted by Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, with an offer to play on their football team. He enrolled in the business program—a program he wasn’t too keen on. “A week in, I came home before school started, as I felt my decision to go to school there was more forced just to play football,” he says. He felt that he would’ve put all his energy into football instead of studying something he didn’t want to. Rynka’s parents intervened and asked him what he was truly interested in studying.

 After meeting with a career counsellor, he found that communications and writing piqued his interest. His counsellor helped him find schools with programs that fit these interests and had a football team he could play on. “U of T fit both those requirements,” he said. “The program was perfect and was offered at the UTM campus, so UTM it was.”

A U of T recruiter was shown Rynka’s highlight reel, liked what he saw, and offered Rynka a spot on the Varsity Blues. He played on the football team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and found that playing the game he loved and studying a subject he was interested in was a perfect match.

Rynka sustained an ankle injury in his second season during a game against the Laurier Golden Hawks. It wasn’t the injury that ended his relationship with the sport, but a conflict that arose between Rynka and the Blues’ head coach. “I was fed up with the politics,” he explains. “I chose to pursue something I didn’t have to rely on others for, and something I was going to pursue anyway—that was to wrestle collegiately.”

The fourth-year professional writing and communications major finished his first season with the team on March 1. He doesn’t have any past training in wrestling, but that didn’t stop him from making it into the top tier at U of T. “I got into the sport very late, and wrestling is probably one of the worst sports to get into late, as experience plays such a massive role in winning matches,” Rynka says.

Despite Rynka’s lack of experience, head coach Michael Quinsey is proud of his performance in his first year of wrestling. “Brandon has chosen to get into a really tough game. Freestyle wrestling at the varsity open level is not selective when it comes to matchups for tournaments, and he’s faced some pretty stiff competition,” Quinsey says. “It would be like starting to play hockey and going against the Marlies in your first year. Brandon’s a terrific athlete who’s applying himself very well. It takes a special athlete to have the patience and determination to learn the art of freestyle wrestling. I’m excited by watching his improvement and expect that he will find a new level of game when he gets to the Ontario university championships.”

Rynka prides himself on his fitness, and follows a strict diet plan throughout the year. “I live for fitness and working out,” Rynka says. “I’ve worked out since Grade 9, and haven’t taken more than a week off since then. I’ve always wanted to put the best fuel possible into my system. When you’re competing, it shouldn’t be a difficult decision to put down the beer or fatty foods.”

During his first year, Rynka has noticed a lot of differences between football and wrestling. He realizes that the sport is harder to market to students than sports like football are. Though he’s on the mat by himself, he’s found that wrestling has a team mentality similar to other sports. Rynka and his four teammates train and practise together, encouraging each other to do their best. Though juggling school and varsity sports isn’t an easy task, Rynka’s disciplined enough to prioritize and get work done, on and off the wrestling mat.

The 24-year-old is content with where he’s currently at in his life, having proven to himself that he can attain the goals he sets. “I always try pushing myself, and don’t want to have regrets once I leave school. Wrestling is something I told myself I would do, and here I am,” he says.