USAFA, Colo. – In response to the devastating wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes in the Black Forest area in June, the Air Force wrestling team spent an entire day this past weekend to help an alumnus, retired colonel Larry Fariss, recover from the disaster.
Fariss, a former wrestler and football letterwinner who graduated from the Academy in 1975, was one of the residents whose home was completely destroyed in the fire. Through the years, Fariss has been a strong supporter of the wrestling program, and the team was prepared to give back, as a group of 25 wrestlers came together to help clear the property and sift through debris.
“The wrestling community takes care of its own, and this case was no different,” stated senior Devin Hightower. “We all knew that the amount of work that he needed done was overwhelming for one person to overcome. In the six or seven hours that we were there, we did well over a hundred hours’ worth of work. We all think it is important to support our community through disasters like the fire, and Col. Fariss’ relationship with the team made it an easy thing to do.”
“Helping Col. Fariss was really important to me because [he’s a big reason I came to] the Academy,” continued Hightower, a Colorado Springs native. Fariss, who once served as a volunteer assistant at Air Academy High School, saw Hightower wrestle and alerted the Air Force staff about his potential capability. That phone call helped put Hightower on the Falcon coaches’ radar, and the rest is history. Because of that, “being able to help him out with this disaster was especially meaningful,” said Hightower.
For the returners who had already developed a relationship with Fariss, lending a hand was an easy decision to make. But even the Falcon newcomers pitched in and took away valuable lessons from the experience.
“It was great to be able to help someone who really needed the help and was grateful for our service we did for him,” said freshman David Walker. “Even though it was hard work, I would say that most of the guys enjoyed giving back to a former wrestler and huge supporter of our team.”
The group’s clean-up efforts were also invaluable in stressing the importance of teamwork and what it means to be an Air Force wrestler and Academy cadet.
“This project meant something to me in the way that I got to spend some time away from the Academy and wrestling room with my new teammates and get to know them better,” said Walker. “I also think that it was special because I got to see how we do things here at Air Force wrestling. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the wrestling room or a burned up piece of land, we are going to show up and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
“At the Academy, we always talk about ‘Service Before Self’, but talking about it and actually doing it are two different things,” added Hightower. “The team got to see what that is all about this weekend, and really got to see what kind of difference a group of people can make in someone’s life. Sometimes the Academy can be time-consuming and exhausting, but it is important for all of us to keep things in perspective making sure that we don’t forget how important it is to help other people out in their times of need.”