Wyoming's Montorie Bridges Doesn't Remember Not Wrestling -- Until Now
LARAMIE -- Montorie Bridges was three years old the first time he wrestled.
"After my dad's enlistment (in the Army) ended we moved back to Altus, Oklahoma, where my parents are from," Bridges said. "He started working for Parks and Recreation and the Sheriff's Department, and he was a Little League wrestling coach.
"I would go with him to the practices, and started to wrestle. My first year or two I didn't win a match. I'd get pinned and would lay on my back, smiling. I didn't really know what was going on."
That, however, changed -- quickly.
Wrestling became a passion. However, after 19 years on the mat, a stretch that included twice earning All-America recognition wrestling for the University of Wyoming, Bridges hasdecided it was time to get focused on his future.
He has a year of eligibility remaining. Bridges is instead focusing on finishing up his Master's Degree in Laramie, and pursuing a career in federal law enforcement, much to the surprise of not only Wyoming wrestling coach Mark Branch, but also Bridges' father.
"You see a kid that wresting has been part of his life for so many years, and he has one more chance, one more season, you don't see (him walk away) very often," said Branch. ". ... I contacted his dad right away and his dad said he felt the same way. He said, `I'm not okay to see it end this way.'
"I was trying to make sense of it by going, `Okay, what is it?' To me, it couldn't just be, 'It's time. I'm at that point where my wrestling career is over.' I couldn't accept that. So I was looking for other things."
There were not, however, other things.
"I know a lot of sports you can go through the motions and still be successful, but I felt I wouldn't be doing myself justice or anybody who supported me justice by my heart not being fully into it," said Bridges.
The focus for Bridges has become life after wrestling.
"The federal law enforcement jobs that I want take a year or two to just get hired. In the hiring process you do panel interviews, physical tests, psychological boards, medical reviews," he said.
"One agency I was talked to, they will call you two weeks ahead and say you have two weeks to schedule an appointment within a certain group of ranges. It's not a big deal, but it obviously becomes a problem if it is in the middle of the season and I don't have the time to get to Denver or over to Cheyenne and complete what they need. So I am taking myself out of that situation."
For Bridges, it seemed like the fair way to deal with his situation. He didn't want to suddenly leave his teammates and coaches in the lurch if that employment opportunity arose.
For Branch and his staff, it was a curve they did not anticipate.
"I thought his plan was to stay here and go to law school," said Branch. "We were giving him a grad assistant position to pay for the law school. It didn't make sense."
The fact that over the years, several schools had illegally approached about transferring only added to Branch's concerns. Over the course of the summer, however, Branch came to grips that it was nothing personal between Bridges and the program.
It was a life decision Bridges had reached.
"I love Montorie," said Branch, "but I know we need guys in the program who have a passion. I don't want to force or guilt somebody into being part of the team.
"He was the face of our program the last two years. He did anything the Athletic Department asked. He was a great representative for the University of Wyoming. He is super intelligent and well spoken.
"I wish he was going to wrestle (another year). ... It is hard for me to wrap my head around walking away from a chance to be a three-time All-American, but it is his choice, and I respect him and his decision."
For Bridges, the decision grew out of a family tradition.
"My dad has been in law enforcement going on 20 years," he said. "My uncle is a federal agent up north. ... I have interviewed with a couple of agencies."
And truth be told, this isn't about a job for Bridges, it is a commitment to help others.
"You are in (law enforcement) to help people," he said. "I don't want to be on earth to just collect a paycheck. I would rather concentrate my energy on things are are going to make a difference.'
He knows that in recent times law enforcement has not necessarily been a popular topic.
"I can see both sides of the argument," he said, "but its a profession you have to have. People talk about defunding the police. I guess it depends on what you define as defunding the police. But let's say if there is no more police or they have less of a role than they have now. It is going to look like Portland and Seattle every night in every city in America. I don't think that needs to happen."
And while Bridges knows he cannot change the thinking of the world, he wants to do what he can to help, even if it does mean walking away from a last year in wrestling, leaving something as he says, "I can't remember ever not wrestling."
This year, however, that will all change.
This year, Bridges is embarking on a new chapter in his life.