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A creative blog by Jim Kalin on The Whole 9

Novelist Jim Kalin lives in Los Angeles, writes a monthly column for Amateur Wrestling News, and has traded in his speargun for a banjo. His wife and son sing harmony.


If you look up the word Ironman in the dictionary, don’t be surprised to find Adam Fray’s photo in the margin running alongside the definitions.

“Adam Frey was one of the greatest high school wrestlers of his era, no doubt,” said Bob Preusse, director of the infamous Ironman Tournament. “He was an all-decade wrestler, and a man, too.”
I’ve never written a blog about wrestling, and when I came across Adam Frey’s story, I realized it was overdue. But Adam was a hell of a lot more than just an athlete.

The Ironman. Doesn’t the name say it all? The Walsh Jesuit Ironman is undoubtedly the most prestigious and big-gun draw of high school wrestling tournaments. How tough is the Ironman? If you merely placed in your state high school tournament, you’d stand a better chance for survival floating with shark chum in the waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
There is a featured match on YouTube from 2004 between the late great Adam Frey (Blair Academy) and Matt Dunn from Reynolds High School in Pennsylvania. The two were wrestling for the Ironman title, and the action is so fierce that even a viewer who has never attended a wrestling match will find it compelling.
Frey and Dunn were both from Pennsylvania’s tough Shaler Township area. Frey won two National Prep Championships, and Dunn would place 1, 3, 2, 1 in the Pennsylvania state meet during his four-year high school career.
They knew each other when they were five years old,” said Adam’s mother Cindy. “When Adam found out Matt had also won his semi-final match at The Ironman, he told me ‘I have Burrhead next.’”
The nickname was one Dunn had received from the coach of the kids’ wrestling program they were enrolled in.
The Walsh Jesuit gymnasium on finals night of the Ironman Tournament is filled beyond capacity, and if you aren’t lucky enough to find a seat in the bleachers or a wall to stand against, your only option is to sit cross-legged on the floor matside. It’s an incredible environment to compete in.
There is immediate action once the whistle blows to begin the first period. Dunn looks like he’s a weightclass larger than Frey, and his height advantage and reach plague the Blair Academy star the entire six minutes. The wrestlers trade shots and counters, but Frey, who was the number one seed in this tournament and ranked first nationally at the time, eventually gets the takedown.
There is a point about halfway through the match when the commentators FINALLY acknowledge that Dunn is no pushover. And by the start of the third period, everyone in the gymnasium knows it, too. Dunn has gone ahead 4-3. He begins the period in the up position and digs his spurs deep for a real broncobuster ride. Then Dunn locks in a cradle, and Frey is in jeopardy of giving up a big three-pointer. He somehow fights it off and gets out of bounds, but the official penalizes him one point for fleeing. Frey takes an injury time-out, and the crowd boos. He seems to be tired and in need of a break.
“The crowd was pretty loud at that point,” said Dunn. “I didn’t really think anything of it, though.”
Frey escapes quickly once action resumes, and the score is 5-4. Dunn almost secures a deal-sealing takedown, but the bout is stopped because the move is potentially dangerous. It is a good call. With just seconds to go, Frey amazingly hits an inside trip and gets the takedown and 6-5 win.
“I was never in doubt of Adam not coming through in that match,” said Blair Academy head coach Jeff Buxton. “That last takedown demonstrated his willingness to win and how technical a wrestler he was. Every time Adam stepped on the mat, I felt he could win.”
Matt Dunn went on to compete for Columbia University. Adam Frey wrestled for Cornell and was the 2006-07 Ivy League Rookie of the Year. In 2008, he was in an automobile accident, and after routine tests, it was discovered that he had cancer.
Adam Frey may have been a formidable competitor, but his ferociousness on the mat paled compared to his war against cancer. He underwent chemotherapy, yet was more concerned with the other patients. He began blogging about his experience, and a month before he passed away, he wrote ‘hopefully, life outside chemo and the sickness will be comfortable.’ Possibly his greatest achievement in his too-short life was the creation of The Adam Frey Foundation, a non-profit that provides money to cancer patients to be used for food, gas, and prescriptions. To make donations, or for more information, click on Adam Frey or email Cindy Frey at  pawrcoa at
Lou Gehrig was the Iron Horse of Major League Baseball. Maybe Adam Frey was wrestling’s Iron Man. Watch over this little brother, Lou. He was the pride of so many.

  1. Awesome recount Jim. Heroes seem to be in short supply. You read a story like this and realize they’re still among us and still wear capes and masks and sail through the skies…figuratively speaking of course.

  2. Wow!

    I nearly came to tears near the end, it is amazing the strength one can draw even when face to face with death, the spirit of a true hero.

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