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Middletown’s Richard Perry to be inducted in National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Richard Perry, center, talks with wrestlers following  a July wrestling clinic at the Overcomer Training Center in Middletown.

Middletown High graduate Richard Perry is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Perry will be one of eight men and women that will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma on June 2-3 during Honors Weekend.

Perry, 33, will be honored along with Richard Bender, the long-time director of USA Wrestling, athletes Jimmy Jackson, Patricia Miranda and Joe Williams, official Ed Kelly, tournament director and founder of Journeyman Wrestling Frank Popolizio and Bob Bowlsby, the former commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and athletic director at Stanford and Iowa.

Richard Perry. (Photo courtesy Pennsylvania RTC)

“I was speechless when I found out I received this honor,” Perry said. “I was overwhelmed with the feeling of thankfulness for being recognized for my wrestling, the persistence to come back (from a serious, life-threatening injury) and to find ways to come back to wrestling, help coach and give back to the sport.”

Perry will receive the Medal of Courage award, which is presented to a wrestler or former wrestler who has overcome what appear to be insurmountable challenges, providing inspiration to others.

Training with the U.S. national team in 2018, he was hurt in a freak accident that left him completely paralyzed for months, unable to speak, move, or eat on his own.

Perry was a student at Middletown High where he wrestled for two seasons under head coach Mark Fong, who had been trying to recruit him to wrestle for several years. As a senior in 2008, he won the Class L and State Open title at 215 pounds and was second in New England. In 2009, he spent a year at Hyde-Woodstock and finished second in New England (215).

Perry wrestled at Bloomsburg University, won over 100 matches, won an Eastern Wrestling League title at 197 pounds in 2014 and wrestled in the NCAA Division I tournament three times.

In 2018, he finished second at the U.S. Open for the second time and earned a spot on the U.S. national team. But his competitive wrestling career came to an end at the national team training camp in San Diego in August 2018.

Perry was involved in a drill with foam-padded batons or clubs. He took a shot to the face and the foam protection dislodged. The baton’s thin, hard central rod slipped through a hole in his facemask and struck him the eye, shattering his eye orbit with pieces penetrating his brain tissue.

Perry almost died and doctors initially did not believe that he would recover, noting that if he did survive, he would be bedridden or, at best, in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

With support from the wrestling community from around the world, Perry began to show signs of improvement and eventually was able to have the brain surgery necessary to remove the portion of his skull that had penetrated into his brain.

Perry then spent almost three more months in an inpatient facility, learning to talk, move his left hand, use his fingers and control his arms. He also had to relearn basic functions, including walking, writing, reading, chewing, and showering.

After being told he would not walk again, the husband, father of three (at that time) and wrestler challenged himself and was determined to walk out of the hospital. On November 16, 2018, Perry walked unassisted out of his hospital room, into an elevator, down a hallway and out of the hospital.

In December 2020, following countless doctor visits, cognitive, speech and physical therapy, and specialized strength and mobility sessions, Perry returned to the mat and began training again with his coach, Hall of Fame member Brandon Slay, and the other members of the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center in Philadelphia.

Today, he is an assistant coach with the Pennsylvania RTC. He helps with local collegiate wrestlers from Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, who are redshirting and some Senior level wrestlers. This summer, Perry was part of the Pennsylvania RTC coaching staff at the U.S. Open and the U-23 national tournaments.

“Coaching those guys makes me realize my purpose is not to wrestle but to be a caretaker of their dreams,” Perry said. ”I (share) my experience and knowledge of the sport. It has given me a purpose and makes it exciting to go practice every day.”

Perry has always found a way to help. In 2016, before he was hurt, he was part of the U.S. delegation at the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. He was a training partner for American teammate Kyle Synder, who won the gold medal.

This past summer, he was in Middletown spending a few days visiting with friends and family and giving free clinics at Fong’s Overcomer Training Center.

Perry and his wife, Gina, have four children, a 10-year-old girl and three boys, ages 7, 4 and 1.

Members of the Class of 2023 for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy National Wrestling HOF)

Perry is not the only inductee in this class with Connecticut ties.

Miranda earned a law degree from Yale University in New Haven in 2007. The daughter of Brazilian political refugees, she represented the United States in four senior world championships tournaments, earning silver medals in 2000 and 2003 and a bronze in 2006.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in international policy studies, Miranda was accepted to Yale Law School, but she deferred her admission there to train for the 2004 Olympic Games, the first year that women’s wrestling would be in the Games.

At the Games in Athens, Miranda became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal by winning a bronze.

Jackson was a three-time NCAA champion and Big Eight conference champion for Oklahoma State. He died in 2008 at the age of 51 while Williams was a three-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American for Iowa, helping the Hawkeyes win back-to-back NCAA titles in 1996 and 1997.

Bender has been the executive director of USA Wrestling since 2001, the longest serving executive director in the organization’s history. Under his leadership, the U.S. has won 26 Olympic medals with nine gold, five silver and 12 bronze along with 100 world championship medals, including 27 gold medals.

Popolizio conceived “Journeymen Wrestling” in 1999 and has been developing collegiate and international tournaments to promote and grow the sport ever since. Sacred Heart will be participating in two of Popolizio’s tournaments this month in Albany, N.Y. and Pennsylvania.

Kelly officiated for 27 years and then served 22 years as an evaluator for the NCAA Division I Championships.

Learn more about the 2023 inductees in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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