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Foxcatcher survivor, legend, shares his story

Decorah Public Opinion of Decorah, Iowa

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Wrestling great Schultz speaks at Luther

Wrestling legend Mark Schultz has had a life filled with both triumph and tragedy.

The American Olympic and two-time world champion freestyle wrestler visited Decorah last week to tell how he has conquered his past to find true happiness.

"When I was a kid, I thought the greatest curse was being Dave Schultz's brother. But if I hadn't been, I wouldn't be here today," said Schultz to a crowd at the Luther College Center for Faith and Life last Tuesday.

Schultz and his brother, Dave, recently were the subjects of the movie Foxcatcher, the true story of Dave's brutal murder by eccentric multimillionaire John du Pont. The movie was based on Mark's memoir, "Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold."

Growing up

Growing up in California, Mark said he was intimidated by the physical power his brother Dave, 17 months his senior, had over him and everyone else.

"If other kids would pick on me, Dave would beat them up. I just got fed up with not having the confidence my brother had," said Mark.

"It occurred to me one day that if I could just beat up everyone in the world, my problems would be answered... but I didn't know anything about how to fight."

Mark said he excelled at gymnastics growing up, but he didn't take up wresting until he was a junior in high school. He started challenging his brother.

"I had seen my brother beat guys up, but the view is very different from below," he joked.

Mark admitted he went through some rough times trying to live up to his brother, considered by many as the greatest high school wrestler in history.

He said he turned to Zen philosophy, and read "You are the World" by J. Krishnamurti.

"It taught me to live completely in the present... not to think about the past or future... observe in my mind and observe the world for what it is, without judgment," he said.

He finally found peace through Krishnamurti's teachings.

During his senior year of high school, despite the fact he hadn't won any regular-season tournaments, he won the league, region, section and state titles.

"I became the only California state champion in history to never win a regular-season tournament," he said.

College career

Although Mark had been offered a college scholarship to Oklahoma State because they wanted Dave, Mark decided to go to UCLA, where he went 18-8 his freshmen year.

The next year he transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he won three NCAA championships (1981-1983).

"I remember the first day of practice at Oklahoma. The coach takes us out on this track around this duck pond. It was 107 degrees and 97 percent humidity. It was like running on the surface of the sun," he said.

He said he learned that if he wasn't "in pain at this very second," things would be okay.

"We need to appreciate our greatest opponents and adversaries. What we think of as curses now, may turn into blessings later," he said.

Mark added both he and his brother always worked really hard.

"I wrote my own technique book and studied it like an academic subject," said Mark.

Olympic, world champs

In 1983, Dave won the world championships.

In 1984, both brothers won Olympic gold medals.

In 1985, Mark won the world championships.

Together, the brothers won more NCAA, U.S. Open, world and Olympic titles than any American brother combination in history.

When Mark won a second world championship in 1987, he became the first Olympic champion to win two additional world titles, and in 1991, he was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "The most world titles won by a U.S. wrestler."

His strategies

Throughout his college career and after, Mark said he motivated himself with a number of mantras. "In order to get through some thing really tough, you have to tell yourself there is a light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

At times, he said he was ready to give it all up, but Dave always had other plans.

When Dave won the world championships in 1983, Mark told himself, "Now I can't quit."

He said after the brothers made the 1984 Olympic team, he trained hard.

On the mat, Mark adopted the mantra: "It's either him or me. It's gonna be me," adding his entire life was changed when he won.

"That's because I was someone who was willing to go for it instead of playing it safe," he said.

Du Pont comes calling

Mark said being an Olympic and world champion wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and he was shocked when he got fired from his assistant coaching position at Stan ford University soon after winning his second world championship. (Stanford head wrestling Coach Chris Horpel fired Mark to give his salary and car to Dave, so Dave would stay at Stanford.)

"I am the greatest wrestler in the U.S. competing and the coach fires me? What am I gonna do now?" he said.

Being resourceful, Mark quickly went to work scheduling wrestling clinics with coaches across the country.

"I made $24,000 in 2.5 months. And then I get this call from John du Pont," he said.

Mark said he decided to pursue du Pont's offer to have him work with him to develop a wrestling program at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

"He flew me to Pennsylvania and picked me up in Valley Forge. I was so impressed. I thought, 'This guy's got more money than God,'" he said.

Although du Pont told Mark he was hiring him to help with the Villanova wrestling program, part of the agreement was that Mark would become a member of du Pont's private Team Foxcatcher, which trained on his private estate near the school.

Mark said he took the coaching job with du Pont because he thought it would offer him some stability.

"The number one factor in success is having a stable environment," he said.

What he found, however, was a job that wasn't anything like he had anticipated.

"It was the most unstable environment I had ever been in. Titles meant nothing. Just John and his money. I was so angry that I was having to kill myself every day in training that I just decided to lose intentionally in the 88 Olympics," he said, adding following the loss, he packed up and quit du Pont.

Mark said he was still bitter about what happened to him when Dave was hired by du Pont two years later.

That lasted until Jan. 26, 1996, when Dave was brutally murdered at the hands of du Pont.

"My brother was working on his car and du Pont drove up and asked if he had a problem with him. Dave raised his hands and DuPont shot him in the arm and it went into his heart. He shot him in the stomach and put the last bullet in his back," he said.

Reports said the mentally-ill du Pont had exhibited bizarre behavior leading up to the shooting.

Moving on

At the time of Dave's death, Mark had been doing some coaching at a martial arts center.

After a last-minute decision to replace UFC fighter Dave Benetaur in 1996, Mark won an Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1996.

"I was so happy, I got all the happiness back that du Pont stole from me. I decided to write everything down," he said, adding his intention was to someday show it to his children.

Art imitates life

Mark joked with the audience about the casting of Channing Tatum for his role in the movie.

"It was difficult to find someone to play me in the movie. The only man they could come up with was People Magazine's sexiest man alive," he said.

When asked about differences between the movie and real life, Mark said the biggest changes made were the relationships and some of the characters.

He lamented they portrayed du Pont as "not nearly as dirty as when I first met him" and they portrayed Mark himself as "kind of an inarticulate, dumb jock."

He added, "And Dave is too nice in the movie. Dave switched personalities on and off the mat... When Dave was on the mat he was an animal."


Today Mark enjoys a career as a motivational speaker.

He said his key to success is to not let himself be punished by his past and to embrace his own resiliency.

"If there's one thing wrestlers know how to do, it's suffering. It's tough. Wrestling is just Godawful tough," he said.

He said he looks back at his wrestling career, not in terms of lessons he learned, but in terms of who he became.

"I think rather than eliminating weaknesses, it was about strengthening strengths," he said, adding he doesn't really believe in setting goals.

"It's not about a goal. I didn't go into wrestling to win championships... It was about eliminating this fear of fear."

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Original Publication Date: November 3, 2015

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