McKINNEY, TX - When Ollie Pulliam was a kindergartener, he told his parents he wanted to take boxing lessons.
They, understandably, had reservations about that. So, his father, Jeffrey Pulliam, found another outlet—one that would take Ollie from dreams of the boxing ring to the reality of the wrestling mat.
And, once he arrived, he never looked back.
Now a fifth-grader at Finch Elementary, Ollie has developed into an accomplished young wrestler with an impressive résumé. Last season, he put together a 34-1 record, and his list of accolades includes seven state championships, two wins at the U.S. Junior Open Championship and being twice named the Texas Wrestler of the Year in his division.
In 2019, he grabbed the “Texas Triple Crown” by winning a state championship in each of the sport’s three competition styles: Greco-Roman, Folk and Freestyle.
“My first year and half, I kind of just practiced,” Ollie said of his first foray into the sport. “Then, I started going to tournaments, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m winning all these matches.’ Then we had the state tournament. The next thing you know, I ended up winning the state title.”
Not a bad start.
Ollie benefited from great teachers early on. Two of them were former Olympians Rick Delgado and gold medal winner Kendall Cross. They saw something special in young Ollie from the outset.
“[They] both asked me, ‘He’s only six?’” said Ollie’s father. “They told me, ‘He understands what we’re asking him to do, and he does it.’ He just kind of hit the ground running with it, to be honest.”
For their part, Ollie’s parents are proud of what Ollie has achieved in wrestling, but even more so, they value the character-building aspects of the sport he is pursuing.
“It’s an extremely difficult sport,” said Pulliam. “It demands everything you have physically and in your work ethic.” And, he says, wrestling offers the benefits of both team and individual sports.
“He has teammates he practices with. He has teammates he goes to the tournaments with, so…he’s got the camaraderie,” said Pulliam. “But, you go out there to compete by yourself on the mat, and if you win or lose, you’ve got to learn to do that respectfully of your opponent, respectful of your coaches and your team and your peers, win or lose. It’s a unique sport in that it offers a lot of emotional growth. If you don’t perform to the best of your ability, you have to take accountability for it.”
To the casual observer, it’s a bit difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on in a wrestling match and how the players are earning points. But, what’s impossible to miss is that these athletes are incredibly strong and quick and possess remarkable endurance.
Ollie knows that the right mindset and hard work are crucial for success, and he has learned how to handle the increasingly rare times when matches don’t go his way. “You can’t always win,” he said. “[But, you ask yourself,] ‘What did I do wrong? What can I fix?’”
He’s in it for the long haul, with his sights set on eventually earning a college scholarship. With the trajectory he’s on, that goal is not at all beyond reach, and he’s justifiably proud of his wrestling accomplishments. But, he has certainly not let it go to his head.
“Ollie is not only an excellent student, but he’s just a good person,” said his teacher Courtnee Kendrick. “He’s always thinking of others. He’s always caring and respectful and shows great empathy towards others. You can just see he’s going to go far.”
As far as his friends are concerned, do any of them ever put Ollie’s skill to the test and see if they have what it takes to pin him?
“Oh, yeah,” said his friend Gavin.
Does it work?
For now, Ollie is focused on school and honing his wrestling skills, and when he finds himself in an uphill battle against a particularly tough opponent, his outlook offers great advice for us all.
“You just have to take a deep breath … and not freak out.”