Riverbank High School math teacher Kevin Hejnal doesn’t just teach about angles. He knows how to use them to his advantage, gaining leverage over his opponents on the wrestling mat.
Hejnal is the 2014 U.S. Veterans Freestyle National Champion in Division E at the 85 kg weight class, which is approximately 187 pounds. He recently qualified to move on to the World Championships that will be held in Belgrade, Serbia in August.
The national championships were held in Las Vegas, Nevada in April and Hejnal won first place in his division after wrestling six other competitors. The wrestlers in Division E are all 55 years or older and compete in Greco-Roman or Freestyle wrestling competitions in wrestling.
There are roughly 150 to 200 Veterans that participated in the Vegas competition with groups ranging from 25 years old on up, according to Hejnal, however Division A with the 25- to 32-year-olds has not really picked up like the older divisions that have several participants competing in each one.
“Veteran’s is a little different because you can be an Olympian or a guy who has never stepped on the mat before,” said Hejnal. “If you are crazy enough to do it, you never know who you are going to get.”
Hejnal’s opponents varied, he said, with one a politician and the other four all veteran competitors.
In an article on the teamusa.org website it stated, “One of the most competitive weight classes was in Div. E at 85kg, where Kevin Hejnal of California defeated Chris Brown of Maryland in the finals by technical fall.’
It went on to state that there were “a number of experienced” wrestlers with “World Championships experience” competing this year. Hejnal, in fact, is a returning champion in the division.
“I think the thing for me and why I do sports is not because it was fun, not saying that it isn’t fun sometimes but, be honest, wrestling with all the training and weight cut, it’s a lot of work,” said Hejnal. “So the thing out of sports is, it is rewarding and challenging.”
In youth sports, the kids participating will get discipline, learn that other people depend on them and learn more about sportsmanship, according to Hejnal.
“Even in the Veterans there is a lot of good sportsmanship,” Hejnal noted. “People don’t like losing but if you have been in wrestling long enough at some point you got beat really bad in your career no matter how good you were.
“You have to accept losing, you don’t have to like it, but you have to accept it. That’s part of life and the one on one competition is great in wrestling because there is nobody to blame, really, but yourself.”
Hejnal was first introduced to wrestling when his father took him to see his brother wrestle back in the 60s.
“Heavyweights got into a fist fight which is illegal but that sold me, I thought it was a great sport,” said Hejnal. “I have been wrestling for 46 years now.”
He started wrestling in junior high, continued through high school, through college, and still competes today.
Not only does Hejnal teach math, he also coached during his first two years at RHS, and has been a referee on and off for approximately 26 years.
“Refereeing, you are as good as your last call,” said Hejnal. “I like it because it keeps you on the sport.
“As far as satisfaction it is not even close to competing or coaching, that gives you a lot more satisfaction than refereeing.”
Attending only one world championship in 2001 in Switzerland, Hejnal said he is looking forward to the upcoming competition in Serbia.
“Wrestling is not a recreational sport so if you don’t train for it then you probably shouldn’t participate in it,” said Hejnal. “I know a lot more holds than a lot of people mainly not because I pick it up so well, mainly because I have been doing it for so long.”
Currently, Hejnal trains twice a week in his garage that has a full set of wrestling mats, working with a former student that he coached who currently wrestles at Modesto Junior College and a student they recruited from Enochs High School. Training for the World Championships includes running, weight training, and some technique work.
With over 20 countries participating in the World Championships, Hejnal expressed that it should be a good trip.
“Wrestling is a great sport because size doesn’t matter, there is a weight class for everybody from the 250 pounder to the 100 pound kid,” said Hejnal. “It’s a great sport for everybody.”