The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

August 24, 2013

Ex-county police officer wins world wrestling title

Staff Writer

— A former Ashtabula County narcotics officer-turned-professor has added world champion wrestler to his resume.

Michael Whitely, 50, of Lake County, won a golf medal in the light-heavyweight Greco Roman wrestling (age 40 and older category) at the 2013 World Police and Fire Games, held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, earlier this month. He also claimed a bronze medal in the light-heavyweight category of freestyle wrestling.

“The thought of (global gold) sends shivers down my spine,” he said.

Whitely qualified for the World Games by winning titles at the United States police/fire games last month in running and track/field. He defeated six opponents, half of them by pins, to win his medals. Whitely also competed in swimming and track events.

An award-winning wrestler since high school, Whitely said he used an “old-school” technique to overcome his final opponent. “Several people made the comment it was nice to see that move again,” he said.

Many top-notch athletes participated in the event, Whitely said. “It was an honor to be out there with them,” he said.

Whitely said he was impressed at the reception athletes enjoyed in Belfast, as well as the first-class operation by event organizers.

“They really rolled out the red carpet,” he said. “It was a high-end presentation.”

Whitely suffered a few cuts during his bouts but no serious injury.

“There were some bumps and bruises,” he said. “I was certainly sore after the matches.”

Whitely was a part of a United States stampede at the Games. U.S. athletes collected 375 medals, 160 of them gold during the week-long event. Runner-up in the gold medal count was Spain (114), while the United Kingdom (106), Russia (75) and Canada (71) rounded out the top five.

In the 1980s, Whitely worked as a drug investigator in northeast Ohio, including a stint with the Ashtabula County Narcotics Task, in the 1980s. He later obtained a doctorate in educational psychology and teaches at Kent State University.

Whitely’s participation in the Police and Fire Games was actually part of a big medical experiment arranged by his KSU colleagues many months ago. The researchers are studying various aspects of the middle-age brain, and Whitely’s participation in the Games was geared to one component: to see if renewed competitive activity would trigger any neurological flashbacks from his early athletic career.

Results from that component haven’t been tabulated, but Whitely said he was surprised at how quickly the competitive spirit resurfaced.

“I became emotionally engaged in the matches,” he said. “All these workouts over the past 1 1/2 years made me eager to get back into matches. It put me in a different mindset.”

Whitely is proud of his medals, but more excited by the thought he could motivate other middle-age folks to alter their thinking to achieve success.

“Isn’t it nice to have a case study involving someone who was not fit to go on a wrestling mat but — with just a little bit of discipline — could engage the mind and become successful and not passive,” he said.