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Youth tournament named in honor of Joe Kapacziewski

Joe Kapacziewski, who wrestled at Bristol Eastern and became an Army Ranger, will have a youth wrestling tournament named in his honor Sunday.

BRISTOL, Dec. 15, 2023 – The Bristol Gladiators youth wrestling club will be hosting the Joe Kap Memorial Tournament on Sunday, Dec. 17, at Bristol Eastern High beginning at 9:30 a.m.

The tournament is named in honor of the late Joseph Kapacziewski, a former Bristol Eastern High wrestler and U.S. Army Ranger, who died earlier in January at the age of 40 in Texas.

The tournament is open to boys and girls ages 6-12 and in middle school.

Portions of the proceeds will go to No Greater Sacrifice, a non-profit organization dedicated to investing in the children of our nation’s fallen and wounded service members by providing scholarships and resources to improve their quality of life through higher education.

Kapacziewski joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Bristol Eastern in 2001. He served in the Army with distinction for more than 15 years in 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Ranger Special Troops Battalion, and Regimental Headquarters Company.

After Joe was severely wounded in an ambush in northern Iraq in 2005, he persevered through a difficult and lengthy recovery and overcame near-impossible odds to become the first Ranger to return to combat with a prosthetic leg.

Kapacziewski continued to lead as a squad leader and platoon Sergeant, ultimately deploying a total of 11 times in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

After retiring from the Army, Kapacziewski continued to serve his country and lead his brothers in arms up until the time of his passing on January 23, 2023. He is survived by his beloved wife, Kimberly; his sons, Wyatt and Cody.

At Bristol Eastern, he played football and wrestled. Kapacziewski told the Hartford Courant’s Lori Riley in 2013 that he “credits his early wrestling training with learning discipline and how to be physically and mentally tough.”

According to the Courant, he started as a freshman when his math teacher, John Benoit, recruited him in class. He began at 103 pounds and worked his way up to 125 as a senior, when he won a conference title and finished fifth at the Class L championships in 2001.

“As an athlete, Joe backed down to no one. He was a determined competitor, and he became quite accomplished on the wrestling mats, but you would never hear him boast or even mention his accomplishments. He was humble and kind and generous to all he met,” wrote Jack Krampitz, one of Kapacziewski’s former football coaches in an online tribute in January.

On October 3, 2005, Kapacziewski and his soldiers in a Stryker vehicle were coming to the end of their tour in northern Iraq when their convoy was attacked by enemy fighters. A grenade fell through the gunner’s hatch and exploded, shattering Kapacziewski’s right leg below the knee, damaging his right hip, and severing a nerve and artery in his right arm.

He endured more than 40 surgeries, but his right leg still wasn’t healing as he had hoped, so in March 2007, Kapacziewski chose to have it amputated with one goal in mind: to return to the line and serve alongside his fellow Rangers.

To return to his squad leader position, he had to pass the Army physical fitness test which included a five-mile run in under 40 minutes, 12-mile road march in less than three hours, fast rope out of a helicopter, and parachute with a 45-pound combat load, Krampitz wrote.

Within 10 months Kapacziewski had completed the physical test and soon after he was back in the action, as squad leader of his Army Ranger Regiment. He went on to do five more tours with his prosthetic leg, Krampitz wrote.

Joe Kapacziewski’s book details his return to his U.S. Army platoon after losing a leg in combat.

On April 19, 2010, during his eighth combat deployment (and fifth after losing his leg), Kapacziewski’s patrol ran into an ambush outside a village in eastern Afghanistan.

After a fellow Ranger fell to withering enemy fire, shot through the belly, Kapacziewski and another soldier dragged him 75 yards to safety and administered first aid that saved his life while enemy soldiers with heavy machine guns tried to kill them. His actions earned him an Army Commendation Medal with a V for Valor. He had previously been awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, and a total of three Purple Hearts for combat wounds.

Kapacziewski wrote a book called Back in the Fight about his service in military and his quest to return to his platoon.

Kapacziewski was inducted into the Connecticut Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013 as an Outstanding American.

In 2013, former Bristol Eastern wrestler Joe Kapacziewski was inducted into the Connecticut Chapter of 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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