They Lead

How This Marine’s Dreams Went Hand-In-Hand

Emilee White

Wrestling was Jared Fekete’s way of life from a very young age. Fekete’s father started coaching him in the sport and was already competing by elementary school. It was in high school however when Fekete took wrestling seriously.

“My brother was a few years older than me and I was really inspired by what he was doing,” Fekete said. “He was doing really well. So I took it more seriously, kind of kept me out of a lot of trouble. It was kind of like the whole story of my childhood was just a lot of routes I could have taken. So wrestling was just that path that kept me out of all the, I should say, darker, more troublesome paths.”

Fekete was an all-around athlete in high school — he did football and was All-State in track — but it was always wrestling that had a special place in his heart. Fekete suffered an ACL injury while playing football and couldn’t compete in wrestling his senior year. Fortunately, Fekete had placed pretty high at the state finals that year prior, which set him up nicely to join the wrestling team at Wheaton College.

Jared Fekete

With his wrestling career up and running, it was time for Fekete to figure out what he was going to do after college. That’s when a career in the Military came to mind. Fekete said he had always been service-oriented, but he didn’t know what part of the Military would suit him best.

“I tried the Army ROTC my first semester, but I didn’t really vibe with the Army very much,” Fekete said. “It just made sense to me to join the Marine Corps specifically, and if it wasn’t going to be the Marine Corps, I was going to enlist and try to do some sort of fast track to a special operations unit. It was either to go to the Marine Corps or become a Navy SEAL.”

Now as a Combat Engineer Officer, Fekete and his unit (Charlie Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion) are involved in service-level training exercises, which gave him the opportunity to serve and continue on in his wrestling career, simultaneously. Fekete had every intention of joining the Marine Corps Wrestling team and made an effort to get as close to the team as possible.

After he went through his initial training, Fekete received his Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) selection at Camp Lejeune, right next to the wrestling team. It seemed like everything was falling into place for Fekete, and he and his beautiful wife even bought a house that was 10 minutes away from where the wrestling team trained. Then, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic hit.

“It kind of ruined everything, just put a weird stop to things,” Fekete said. “But, it was fine. I had already established the relationships.”

Fekete and the team continued to train throughout 2020, just not at the same frequency as before COVID happened. However, the bad news kept coming. As Fekete continued to get closer to the wrestling team, it was already in the process of being decommissioned due to funding.

Jared Fekete

Although the wrestling team was no longer active, Fekete said the guys he trained with were “phenomenal individuals” and it was no wonder the team had so much success — the team produced an Olympian, two world championship qualifiers, and multiple national champions. Beyond individual successes, the Marine Corps Wrestling team won the U.S. Open and beat the Army for the first time ever, keeping in mind the Army has the World Class Athlete Program.

“It was just really cool to watch as I was starting to kind of dip my toe into that,” Fekete said. “I ended up competing for them at the World Team Trials and this past May, I went and competed again under their name, but officially they were no longer meeting for practices. It was kind of a bummer, but I will say I’ve made such good relationships and it just gave me that extra fire like still training and getting into what I’m doing now.”

Back when Fekete got his MOS selection and got to Camp Lejeune, he joined a jiu-jitsu gym that was in the area and has been there ever since. Fekete even recently competed at the IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu World Masters/Jiu-Jitsu CON in Las Vegas in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a blue belt.

“I started to find a new passion in jiu-jitsu,” Fekete said. “Essentially, it’s all grappling-related. There are no strikes, but it’s all on your feet, all on the ground, and it’s submissions. So, I mean, my wrestling goes hand-in-hand with my jiu-jitsu and my jiu-jitsu goes hand-in-hand with my wrestling. So each one is really making the other a lot better.”
Jared Fekete

And it looks like Fekete’s love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his commitment to serve his country go hand-in-hand as well. To spread the positive influence of jiu-jitsu, Fekete teamed up with fellow Marine Denzel Freeman to train his Marines from Charlie Co., 8th ESB, and anyone who was interested in learning the sport, for the physical benefits and mental benefits as well. It also sets a great example for others to follow, something Fekete is familiar with.

“My Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Brandon Cooley, has set a great example for me [to follow],” Fekete said. “He’s my main mentor in the Marine Corps and I owe a lot to him and I’m very grateful for him. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, preaches warrior ethos, and sets a good example. I think [BJJ] does wonders for the mental health of Marines. We’re really big on the mental health side of things because in the Marine Corps and in the service, it can get heavy. You never know what someone’s going through. So this outlet is so good.”

Photo credits: Jared Fekete