HARVARD — Years of practice and self-discipline have paid off for a local athlete who, after winning many state and national wrestling championships, has secured a full scholarship to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn.
“I think it’s going to be a tough transition, but I think I can handle it,” said Sean Bilodeau of Harvard. “My dad got me started. He introduced me to the sport, which turned out to be something I was interested in. It was just something that I found I was good at.”
Bilodeau recently graduated with high honors from Brooks School in North Andover.
“He had a four-year career at Brooks where he won four New England wrestling championships, then he was a four-time national all-american,” said Bilodeau’s father, also named Sean. “And this year, he won the national championships.”
“Compared to any other sport, you have to work 10 times as hard to succeed at wrestling, but the effort definitely pays off,” said the younger Bilodeau. “If you work at it, gradually you get better. Hard work does pay off.
“The satisfaction I get out of wrestling is the knowledge that if I win, I did it myself because, ultimately, it means that I did everything right,” he said. “On the other hand, if I lose, it can only be my fault. Because it’s (not a team) sport, I can’t blame failure on anyone else.”
But his enthusiasm didn’t come out of nowhere. Encouraged by his father, he took up the sport at a young age.
“I wrestled myself, and so did Sean’s uncles, so he basically didn’t have a whole lot of choice,” joked the senior Bilodeau. “Sean started wrestling at about 9 years old, and at an early age was traveling around the country competing independently. We went to various clubs in such states as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma and Colorado. Then he went to Russia to work out in the Olympic training center there on three occasions from 2003 to 2005. In Russia, he wrestled with Russian kids and was the only non-Russian-speaking wrestler over there. That was quite an experience.”
But good wrestlers, like any other athletes, are made not born and so it was with Sean.
“I don’t think it takes any kind of special personality or mindset to be good at wrestling,” said Bilodeau. “You just have to be kind of a good sport. It can be right for young men of all types of body builds and personalities. If a boy is shy, it can develop confidence in him. If he’s aggressive, he can be good right off the bat. If he’s tall and thin it can help him develop a style for that kind of body build or if he’s short, it can develop a different style. So wrestling really fits any body build or personality type.
“Sean worked up to the sport,” said the elder Bilodeau, a resident of Murray Lane. “At first he told me he wasn’t sure if the sport was for him or not, but after all the rewards that being in wrestling gave him, including traveling, making new friends and meeting people, it really gave him confidence and discipline. In the end, the more he involved himself in the sport, the more passion he developed for it.”
According to Bilodeau, his son began his wrestling career at the Faye School in Southborough when he was in the seventh grade. From there, he moved on to the Brooks School where he was attracted by its wrestling program and academic structure.
“Any type of training helps you in wrestling,” said the proud father. “Sean did a lot of gymnastics, he played soccer, baseball and badminton; he did a lot of cross training in various kinds of sports, all of which contributed to his agility, balance, strength and coordination. He also does a lot of other more unusual things at home where we have the backyard set up as a training camp with a trampoline, a rock pile, and climbing ropes in the trees. He also has a wrestling mat that he trains on.”
“It’s just a lot of hard work,” said the young scholar. “That’s all it is. If a person can dedicate himself to it. But it takes a lot to dedicate yourself. There’s the time you have to put in, and there’s a lot of working out: lifting, running, practicing and making sure you eat the right things so your body can be in the best shape it can.”
In the mix as well, are parents who have backed him up 100 percent, even going the extra mile to make sure their son had every opportunity.
“We’ve brought in other kids from all over the country to spend the weekend with us so that they and Sean can have private training sessions in the backyard,” said Bilodeau. “This kind of life is not for everybody, but people competing on a high national level are going to these extremes of dedication.”
“My parents were a big influence on me,” said the junior Bilodeau. “They encouraged me every step of the way. My dad gave me every opportunity I had to succeed, and my mom supported me in every way possible. She was always there for me.”
With all of his success, Bilodeau turned out to be a hot item for many of the nation’s colleges and universities, many of which offered him scholarships, including ivy league schools. But in the end, he chose Lehigh.
“I think Sean’s done a fantastic job and has made an incredible commitment to the sport,” said his father. “It has helped him a lot to this point in his life, and I think it will continue to help him even after his wrestling career is over.”
“I’d definitely recommend wrestling to other kids,” said the college-bound Bilodeau. “If you want to try something hard, it’s definitely worth the effort. Wrestling is the hardest sport that I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most rewarding.”