Sometimes, a little friendly competition actually can ease tensions between people from different countries.
Ryan Palmer, a certified athletic trainer with Mercy Clinic Sports Medicine – Stone’s Corner in Webb City, Missouri, is a volunteer for USA Wrestling. He traveled with the U.S. team in February to Iran for the World Cup tournament.
The trip almost didn’t happen. Iran initially blocked U.S. citizens from entering the country after President Donald Trump’s travel ban. At the last minute, Palmer and the team were allowed into the country, where the U.S. wrestlers placed second to the Iranians in the international competition.
Palmer didn’t know what to expect, but found the Iranian people to be quite welcoming.
“All of the Iranians were really friendly,” he said. “I didn’t have one negative reaction from anyone there.”
The crowd overflowed the stadium, with thousands more outside due to the popularity of the event and Iranians wanting to see the U.S. athletes.
“Iranian people are huge fans of U.S. sports, so anytime our guys went anywhere, we were swarmed,” he said, adding many fans in the stadium held up pro-American signs. “They also chanted the names of our athletes.
Still, security was a priority for the team. The American team was accompanied by Secret Service agents. “Anytime we traveled in the country, it was by bus, which always had a police escort,” Palmer said.
Despite how that appeared, Palmer knows sports can bring together culturally diverse countries in the spirit of competition.
“The most valuable part of all of this is that competition brings us together and helps us realize how similar we are,” he said. “All of the teams look at themselves as ambassadors of the sport.”
This wasn’t Palmer’s first time to the Middle East. He’s a U.S. Army National Guard veteran who served in Iraq.
Palmer is one of about 25 doctors and 25 trainers who volunteer to help USA Wrestling. He has a background in wrestling, placing twice at state in high school, competing in college and coaching youth.
He previously traveled with USA Wrestling to St. Petersburg, Russia, and three times to Minsk, Belarus. He hopes to serve as a trainer for the U.S. Olympic team in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.
When Palmer makes these trips, it’s a challenge for his family because his youngest daughter has cystic fibrosis, an inherited, life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. He also appreciates the Mercy sports medicine team for carrying the load while he’s gone.
“I couldn’t do it without all the other Mercy athletic trainers who pick up the slack while I’m gone,” he said. “Joanie Hatterman, Dustin Parker and the whole team have my back. Hopefully I’ve brought back some knowledge to share with everyone in return.”