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Former Juneau resident Al Gliniecki initially set world records in 1995 for tying cherry stems into knots in his mouth. Gliniecki can still awe people with his dexterous tongue, but now the 42-year-old paramedic has set his sights on tying people into knots.
Gliniecki won the 197- to 220-pound weight class at the 2001 AAU World Masters Folkstyle Wrestling Championship on April 13-14 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.
The light heavyweight masters division featured 81 wrestlers from 32 states ranging from age 30 to 45 and Gliniecki had make it through eight rounds of the double-elimination tournament for the championship.
Gliniecki finished sixth in the same competition in 2000 and his placing that year gave him a favorable tenth seed for the 2001 event.
"It was tough but I had a great seed," Gliniecki said. "Wrestling is the most physical sport I have ever trained for. It's tough to maintain good physical endurance."
Gliniecki started wrestling at Juneau-Douglas High School, where he graduated in 1976, and placed as high as fourth in the Southeast during his senior year. He now makes his home in Pensacola, Fla., but still comes to Juneau to visit his parents Ray and Loraine.
After graduation, Gliniecki spent eight years in the Navy and 12 years as a firefighter before getting back into wrestling.
"I had a roommate named Rob Herman who was an assistant wrestling coach for the U.S. Olympic Team," Gliniecki said. "He had me enter in some tourneys and I placed in the top three in a few of them."
In 1999, Gliniecki received a letter inviting him to compete in the AAU World Championships. "I wasn't able to attend, but I made plans for the next year in Tulsa and wound up taking sixth place."
Even after taking sixth the year before, it wasn't an easy task to come back this year. He first had to make weight.
"I have always wrestled heavyweight, and in high school I would laugh at the lighter guys would go through their spitting and whatever else they do to make weight," Gliniecki said. "When I weighed in at the hotel this year before the weigh-ins, I was at 228 with just a few hours until weigh-ins ended."
Gliniecki proceeded to hit the hotel sauna in a last-ditch attempt to squeeze the water out of his system and get to 220 pounds. However, with time running out, Gliniecki found himself still a couple pounds overweight and he had to get himself to the Silverdome before time ran out.
"The hotel was three miles from the Silverdome, so I decided to run there, thinking I could burn the last couple pounds off on the way," Gliniecki said. "With three minutes to spare, I weighed in at 218 1/2 pounds and made the weight. I guess the hotel scale was a little off -- it made me a little mad that I did all that work and the scale was over a pound off."
Gliniecki's toughest competitor turned out to be the defending champion Jeffrey Noah from Burlington, N.C. But Gliniecki got the best of him, getting a pin in the second period to claim the championship.
"I thought I would place in the top ten if I was lucky," Gliniecki said. "It was tough competition. I talked to the guy (Noah) afterwards and he said he had never been pinned before in his life."
Gliniecki plans to wrestle again next year when the championships are held once again in Tulsa, but Gliniecki is not sure whether or not he will defend his title.
"Next year in Tulsa, I'm thinking about dropping a weight class," Gliniecki said. "Wrestling is really a young guys sport and I'm trying to prove that you are as old as you want to be. You're only as young as you think you are. I'm going to wrestle until I die or until I'm unable to do it, whichever comes first."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.