JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
He has arms like legs and legs like tree trunks. Trained to peak-condition, his body is acclimated to sweat up to 6 pounds during a single workout. Those who know him best, his teammates, compare him to He-Man. He is one of the most decorated athletes on the U.S. Air Force Wrestling Team.
From humble origins, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Sherwin Severin was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to the United States with his mother in the nineties. His family was far from affluent, and he admits he was a troublesome youth in South Florida.
“I wasn't very smart in high school,” said Severin. “I was struggling with grades and struggling with mentorship. I couldn’t figure out where I belonged.”
Looking for an outlet, Severin turned to extracurricular activities. He started with football but couldn’t find a place where he fit in.
“My football coach pulled me in and said I was too small; that hurt,” said the now nearly 6-foot tall, 187-pound, Severin. “I was 5-foot-1-inches, 102 pounds. Coach brought me over to the wrestling room and said, ‘You should think about wrestling instead.’”
That’s where Severin found something he could dedicate his life and energy to. Throughout his high school days, he dominated the state. Severin went to state competition three times, placed first in his district three times and was a regional and county champion.
“Wrestling was where I found a way to channel my energy into something I was good at,” said Severin. “And I was very good at it.”
Severin joined the U.S. Air Force in 1998 seeking citizenship for the country he loves. His physical abilities played a role in his success in the security forces career field. Yearly, he achieves max points on the Air Force Physical Fitness Assessment.
“I went 10 years in the military and never knew the Air Force had an all-Air Force wrestling team,” said Severin. “I hadn't wrestled since I was in high school.”
At first, the hiatus from wrestling was a major obstacle for Severin to overcome.
“When I first started with the all-Air Force wrestling team in 2010, I lost all six of my matches,” said Severin with a chuckle. “The coach still kept me on the team; I don't know what he saw in me. The next year I won one match. It was my greatest victory.”
Severin was 35 when he met U.S. Air Force Wrestling Team Coach Floyd Winter. Winter, a decorated veteran of both the sport and the U.S. Army, propelled Severin to succeed in the sport.
“I see a lot of talent in Sergeant Severin, still,” said Winter. “I only had to make him believe that he was good.”
Severin had the opportunity to compete at an international tournament. With Winter’s guidance, he went on to defeat a world-champion from Kazakhstan.
“That’s when I finally saw that he believed in himself,” said Winter. “He has the technique, the ability and the strength, but most of all, the courage. He believes that he can get it done.”
Two years ago, Severin earned a bronze medal at the Armed Forces Wrestling Competition. The following year Severin took home the silver medal. This year, he has his sights on gold. He will have to defeat the U.S. Army’s national champions – some ranked among the top five in the nation.
“This is my last year - done deal.” said Severin. “I’ve accomplished way more than I thought I would or could accomplish. This is the last opportunity for me to go for that last cherry at the very top of the tree. This is it for me, this is my final hoorah. ”
Severin’s commitment to the sport of wrestling and the U.S. Air Force is a reflection of his exceptional drive and attitude, said Winter. Severin plans on coaching either high school or collegiate wrestlers after retiring.
“It means a lot to him to go out on top,” said Winter. “I have faith in him. He will represent the Air Force honorably.”