The “FLUFFY’R” Side of Life; Q&A Interview with Co-Founders Paul Garcia & Ryan Meloche of Team FLUFFY by Al Fontes

Co-Founders of TEAM FLUFFY – Paul Garcia & Ryan Meloche

Al Fontes – Editor
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It was approximately three years ago when I first took notice of a group of former wrestlers wearing “TEAM FLUFFY” shirts at the US Open Veterans’ National Championships. This cadre was not just any group of wrestlers, they consisted of several former outstanding prep and collegiate level athletes from the early 1990s and beyond. My first impression was it seemed very ironic that the wrestlers behind the “TEAM FLUFFY” shirt was far from being fluffy at all. Yes, the progression of life does tend to make us somewhat fluffy around the mid-section, but this group of wrestlers packed a heavy punch. Succumbing to my curiosity, I recently made contact with TEAM FLUFFY co-founder Paul Garcia to gain a greater understanding of the concept behind this team. 

Established in April of 2014 (non-profit organization), the concept of TEAM FLUFFY actually began in 2013 when Paul Garcia ran into Ryan Meloche, who hadn’t been on the mat since college, and asked him if he would be interested in coaching with him at Bakersfield Christian High School in the CIF Central Section. Agreeing to the proposition, Paul and Ryan coached that season and then took it a step further by training together in an effort to get back into shape and live a healthier lifestyle. One day, while resting on the wall after an intense workout in the wrestling room, Paul pitched another proposition to Ryan about competing at the upcoming Veterans’ National Championships. Agreeing to this challenge, Ryan questioned whether he should consult with his brother, Joe, about obtaining a sponsorship from “Gabe” to compete at the nationals.  One would ask, who is Gabe? Well, Ryan’s brother is the manager of world-renowned comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias. Receiving the green light from Gabe, Paul and Ryan both agreed to enter themselves as TEAM FLUFFY as an homage to Gabe. Putting it all on the line after an absence from competing on the mat, both Paul and Ryan came home with some hardware. Competing in both international styles, Ryan won a national title in Freestyle and placed third in Greco-Roman, while Paul also placed third in Greco, each earning All-American status for their placings.

Not too longer after the 2014 Veterans’ Nationals, now co-founders of TEAM FLUFFY, Paul and Ryan shared their experiences with former wrestlers Matt Corona and Bill Newton, and emphasized the mission and potential of TEAM FLUFFY. In short, the FLUFFY mission is about inspiring kids and former wrestlers to compete, be healthy, and live life to its fullest, thus came to fruition the formalized acronym of FLUFFY (by Paul Garcia) to mean the following:

Fitness – Laughter – Unity – Friends – Family – Youthfulness

It was from that point forward that word got out and began to take on a snowball effect. By the following year, TEAM FLUFFY grew to about 15 athletes, 11 of which competed at the 2015 Veterans’ Nationals. Not only did TEAM FLUFFY have several athletes earn All-American honors that year, they also set a precedent that inspired former wrestlers from outside of California, including an individual from Canada.

Garcia Training for Nationals

Fast forward to 2019 and TEAM FLUFFY now consists of 68 members (practice partners, competing wrestlers, coaches or comedians). Of these 68 members, 33 have competed in the US Masters National Championships and 5 have competed in the Veterans World Championships. To date, 25 of the members are planning to compete, while 3 will be looking to coach at the Masters National Championships in Las Vegas. What began as a conversation in a wrestling room several years ago, has now grown into a platform that provides inspiration, hope, vision, and a support system to live a healthy lifestyle to its fullest, both on and off the mat.

Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct Q&A interviews with co-founders Paul Garcia and Ryan Meloche. We discussed the who, what, why and where about TEAM FLUFFY. In addition, I reached out to Jeremy Woolward from Alberta, Canada, and conducted a Q&A with him discussing how he discovered TEAM FLUFFY and the impacts it has had on his life thus far. Of the many projects that I have put together for the California Wrestler, the TEAM FLUFFY story has truly inspired me a great deal. Below is a list of World medalists, All-Americans, and success stories of members that took on the TEAM FLUFFY Challenge. I want to thank Paul Garcia and Ryan Meloche for the opportunity to work with them on this project and wish the best to Gabriel “fluffy” Iglesias and all participating members. As we progress in our lives, we face many new experiences, challenges, and ups and downs, but rest assured, there is also a FLUFFY’R side of life. Enjoy it to the fullest and challenge yourself each and every day.

Team FLUFFY co-founder, Paul Garcia & TCW’s Al Fontes enjoying the comradery at clinic

FLUFFY = Fitness, Laughter, Unity, Friends, and Youthfulness

WORLD FREESTYLE/GRECO-ROMAN MEDALIST

Bill Newton – World Silver Medalist (FS)

Brett Clark – World Silver (FS) & Bronze Medalist (GR)

Matt Corona – National Champion

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

Bill Newton (4x)

Brian Cobb (4x)

Brett Clark (2x)

Matt Corona

Richard Jensen

Ryan Meloche (2x)

Keith Richards

Nara Sihavong

Bobby Soto

Ernie Vasheresse (3x)

Marcos Austin

ALL-AMERICANS

John Connelly

Josh Davis

Josh Domingos

Joe Espejo

Robert Fowler

Paul Garcia

Joe Hernandez

Curtis Nelson

Jesse Uribe

Eric Beckmann (3x)

A TEAM FLUFFY TEAMMATE STORY

In 2014 Kelly Hogue was hospitalized with double pneumonia and influenza. He spent a week in the hospital getting healthy enough to go home and doing a lot of thinking.

During his stay in the hospital he had a lot of time to reflect on his life. Most of that time thinking was about his kids. Kelly had come to realize he was tired of being an overweight lazy dad to his kids. Kelly was tipping the scale around 262lbs at 5’- 6.” He reflected on the many times he had come from a long day at work, just flop down on the couch and fell asleep. It just broke his heart knowing that his kids always asked him to play catch or shoot baskets, but he just had no energy or ambition to play with them. Kelly came to realize that he’d had enough. Kelly quit smoking and as of today he is going on 5 years smoke free.

Approximately a year later his son told him he’d like to give wrestling a try. This got sparked Kelly’s passion for the sport as well. During his son’s first year of wrestling Kelly was just a dad and did not coach his son. During his son’s second year of wrestling they went to watch the US Open. It was then that Kelly saw that there was a Veterans/Masters Division and began to train a bit more so that he too could compete.

The following year Kelly registered and competed in the Masters National Championships, weighing in around 180. He realized quickly that at 5′- 6 and 180lbs, he was just too small for that weight. The most memorable thing about the event was that his son Mathias got to coach him. “Man, what an experience to have my son coaching and yelling at me,” said Kelly. It was then he decided if he was going to really do this (get back into the sport), he was going to do it right. “I started helping coach the wrestling club my son was a part of and working out…Man, just coaching and helping the little’s is a blessing,” said Kelly.

So this past year, Kelly began to watch his diet and work really hard. He, his son Mathias (his 11-year old son) and his brother Chad went to Iowa for Folkstyle Nationals. They didn’t go to watch; they went to compete. All 3 of them wrestled and coached each other. “That will be a memory for a life time.” Kelly stated.

Kelly recalled attending the Open/Masters National Championships this year and seeing a couple guys competing under Team Fluffy. He was curious who they were and looked them up. He noticed that Team Fluffy originated in California, where he is originally from. He read about the team and the Team Fluffy values and thought, “That’s pretty cool, ” especially after meeting many of the Team Fluffy teammates in Las Vegas for the World Cup Duals.

Kelly concluded by saying, “Wrestling is a special sport! To be able share it with my boys Kam, who is the family coach and photographer…it’s just humbling.” My 6-year old daughter is now wrestling, a mini Tasmanian devil. My #1 supporter is my Wife… My family just loves this sport, and I believe it has made me a better father and husband. Definitely a better person.

“Man, I absolutely love the (TFW) family atmosphere too. Paul (Garcia) and Rex (Davis) are just amazing Godly men. I love the whole idea about Team Fluffy.” – Kelly Hogue

Team Fluffy Wrestling is super excited to have Kelly Hogue on the team. He already lives the FLUFFY values: Fitness, Laughter, Unity, Friends, Family and Youth. We look forward to his performance in Iowa and Las Vegas in 2020. Who knows, we might see him compete in the Worlds in Athens too.

Mathias Hogue

BEST 6TH GRADE PICTURE EVER!
Team Fluffy teammate Kelly Hogue’s son Mathias sported the TFW t-shirt for his 6th grade school picture. Kelly says he loves this Team Fluffy shirt. Mathias also competes in wrestling and recently competed at the California World Challenge tournament in Clovis, Ca. Matthias went 4-1, losing 4-0 in the semis and coming back to finish 3rd.

Congrats Mathias and thanks for supporting Team Fluffy Wrestling.

GO KELLY HOGUE!!! GO TEAM FLUFFY!!!

TEAM FLUFFY WRESTLING TEAMMATE STORY
Rex Davis, Bakersfield, California

So about two years ago I decided I would make a change in my life. Of course, I procrastinated until mid-February, 2018. I was almost 340 pounds. Not healthy or happy. I lost 20 pounds and then stalled. Finally, this last year I went for it. Thanks to my twins Josh and Ashley for pushing/encouraging me. No tricks, gimmicks, special fads or diet companies. Strictly watching what I eat and working out. Nothing helps more than prayer and success. 2 pounds a week and I am down 120 pounds. My goal was to compete this week in Las Vegas with my son at the National Masters Wrestling tournament….we are weighing in tomorrow night . PLEASE KNOW, I am not bragging. I am so thankful for what God and family have helped me achieve. Know that YOU can do this or face any giant in your life. PLEASE be encouraged by this. If there is any way I can encourage you or pray for you or both, please feel free to reach out. God loves you so much. He wants the best for you. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!!

Rex with Team FLUFFY – Celebrating 3rd Place finish at 2019 World Cup Duals

Team FLUFFY Partnering with DEFENSE Soap & Adidas Wrestling

Q&A INTERVIEWS WITH CO-FOUNDERS PAUL GARCIA & RYAN MELOCHE

High School: Ventura (CIF Southern Section) 1983 – ’87

College: Moorpark (SoCal) 1987 – ’88

Freestyle/Greco-Roman: 3rd Veterans’ Nationals – 2014 (All-American)

Coaching tenure: 1987 – Present (32 years +)

Q&A INTERVIEW WITH PAUL GARCIA (CO-FOUNDER)

How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

GARCIA: In 1983 I was living with my uncle Kevin. He had taught me to box a little and I liked the combat side of that sport. In September of that year I was a freshman at Ventura High School in Ventura, California. My uncle approached me about 2 weeks into the school year and suggested that I give wrestling a try. Yeah, grabbing sweaty guys in tights wasn’t really interesting to me. I was more into skateboarding and surfing at the time. He said give a couple of weeks and see if you like it, if not at least you tried it. I agreed and gave him 2 weeks. First few days of practices were all about learning basic skills and doing exercises. Seemed like the coach was testing us, trying to see who could learn and how tough we were. It was a bit tough at times, but I wasn’t sold yet. Then we got to compete against one another. This is where the fight began. It began to get tougher. The upper-classmen beat up us under-classmen. That wasn’t fun. Upside, I held my own with those my age and weight. Then one day, out on the school grounds I see these two guys square off. One guy was bigger than the other, but the littler guy was all about fighting. The big guy rushed the little guy. The little guy got the big guy on the ground, wrapped his legs around the big guy, tied up his arms and began to whomp on the kid. After the fight got broke up, I noticed that the little guy was on the wrestling team and pretty tough. I was sold! I wanted to know what that guy knew in order to defend myself. From that day on I was going to get better at the sport of wrestling.

Considering the sport of wrestling is among the toughest sports in the world, how has it shaped the person you are today?

GARCIA: If you know my life story you will know why wrestling has shape my life. The sport of wrestling provided me with a purpose, discipline, a father figure, goals, and friends and how to overcome challenges life throws at you. Growing up without a father and a mother who had other responsibilities in her life at the time, I had to observe and learn things that God put before me. My coach was put before me and became that person I never had growing up, a father figure. He challenged me, he pushed me and was there for me in difficult times. He taught me many things about life, not just wrestling. Wrestling challenged me every day, at practice, in matches and through my coach. I learned that I only get better when I face them all. I may not always be the victor, but I would learn something every time I face it. I learned to chase my fears and confront them, I knew even if they were bigger than me regardless of the outcome I would grow in strength. I learned to discipline myself in order to grow. Knowing that there will be nobody to put blame on but myself. I learned that my actions were mine and that I would have to face them. As a sophomore I attended the ’84 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I heard our national anthem played at the beginning of the event as our guys bounced and got mentally ready to battle for the gold. I’ve never felt the same hearing the anthem again. It became as much as a warm-up song as the Rocky theme did to others. I watched our guys win matches all day and set some personal goals that day. I wanted to know what they knew and get there myself one day. I wasn’t sure how, but it was my goal. I began competing in all styles and competing in everything I could wherever I could. My senior year I was on a mission. I truly felt I could conquer anything and was focused on making the state championships and attending a college to wrestle. I truly felt like a robot and nothing was going to stop me. I needed wrestling like I needed air to breath. I was at the CIT in late January of ’87 and seeded to place at this big event. I had a bye first round and drew some fish in the second round. I threw my legs in, the kid sat out and pulled my knee up. I felt something pop, crossed face the kids and pinned him. The trainer told my coach to pull me out or it could get worse. I was crushed! Reality hit me too. I realized I wasn’t a robot and that I can break. That was not a good feeling. That injury, that day, would have a huge impact on my future. I had to change my style, begin to work on other attacks and battle back as life has always taught me. I attempted to compete in our cross-town rival 2 weeks later only to fail again where so many thought I would succeed. 2 weeks after that I tried to compete in our league meet winning my first match and injury defaulting to finish 4th. I continued to train and focus on what I thought were still attainable goals. At the time, John Smith was my idol. I would watch how he wrestled and would do what I could to immolate him. Told myself I want to be him I needed to watch him and compete against him. So that summer I attended and competed in the US National Open in Reno, NV and the Sunkist Open in Tempe, AZ both at 136.5lbs. The same weight as John. Here was my chance to watch, learn and possibly compete against him. Well, I accomplished two of the three, watched & learned, but we never crossed paths. Oh, but wait, I did cross paths with one of wrestling’s greats, Dave Schultz. As he walked by me and my friend in Reno, we said hello. Dave stopped, came up into the stands where we were, shook our hands and started asking info about us. Who were we to him I wondered? He shook our hands moments later, walked off and went on to win the event. Two weeks later, we saw Dave in Tempe in the hallway while waiting to weigh-in. Again, he stopped, asked us some questions, shook our hands and went on his way. Both those moments weren’t about my goals or me chasing my dreams. They happened for a reason and it wasn’t for years later that I realized it as I became a remodel to other kids. It wasn’t about being a National, World or Olympic Champion. I was about taking a moment to see someone, speak to and listen to them. About making someone who values you to be valued by you. That is such a great feeling and I told myself I will do the same, Dave’s legacy lives in many, including me. Later that year I attended Moorpark College while continuing to live in Ventura and working, it was tough. I noticed my crosstown rival was also attending the same school and was wrestling too. I found out what weight and set a goal to challenge him for the spot. They day came for the challenge match and I defeated him and conquered what I had failed doing before. I was learning that God has a plan and it was going to be in His time, not mine. Later that year I re-injured my knee and couldn’t finish the season. I went back to Ventura High School and helped out my coached and a kid I had been working with my senior year. I worked with this kid through the rest of his sophomore season and was determined for him to reach his goal of becoming a league champion his 2nd year. That year the league meet was held at Santa Barbara HS and he made the finals. His hard work and determination were a success. He won the title, ran off the mat and jumped up into my arms. That was a great feeling! If I could help make kids or just people feel like that and how Dave made us feel I want to do it too. Giving back was planted in me that year. Since 1983, wrestling has shaped me in many ways. Including as a father, but that’s another story.

What type of lessons did you learn growing up in the sport of wrestling that will forever be with you and carried on through life?

GARCIA: Looks like I mentioned the answer to this question in the last question. Let’s talk about being an example, as a mentor, a coach and a father. Wrestling has taught me lessons in each of these aspects of life. Growing up without a father taught me to be observant of other men who are mentors, coaches and fathers. Mentors such as managers and leaders of other sports, teachers or successful individuals. I would watch how they treated people and how they would make people feel. I recall watching the Hells Angels president George Christy lead his club; certain gang members lead their friends and teacher run their classes students. I admired how they got people to connect with them in their own way. Undeniably they all had their own way to be a mentor and got people to follow them. There was something I admired about that. When I got into the sport of wrestling later in life, I was still observing these traits in coaches and the fathers of wrestlers. I would watch and take note, yeah as a father or a coach I’m going to be that guy. Then there are those coaches and fathers who you watch and see their kids and wrestlers just hated dealing with them and I’d say that will not be me. Wrestling has taught me to be what I needed growing up but didn’t have. How to be the mentor I need to be, the coach I should be and the father I am.

Who was your biggest influence in the sport?

GARCIA: Some of the biggest influences in my life have been the people that have given themselves to others without looking for reward. First and foremost, my high school wrestling coach Paul Clementi. I met him in 1983, 2 weeks into my freshman year. I wasn’t excited about wrestling let alone have some guy yell at me. I never had a father so I didn’t really take well to men telling what to do. I stuck it out and he became more than just a guy yelling at me and telling me what to do. He was about building men and teaching us life skills and lessons that we could use forever. He became a father figure for me and many over the years.

Whom were your role models growing up? How did they inspire you to be the person you are today?

GARCIA: That is a great question, ‘because I have been inspired by some negative and positive role models both actively and absent from my life. The first role model would be my father. He and my mom were never together. When he was told that my mom was pregnant with me, he said I wasn’t his. He was never part of my life growing up. Therefore, I never had the childhood with a father actively involved, attending events, to go fishing with, lectured by and given life skills I may need as a father. So, I had to look to others for that. I did finally find him when I was 29 in 1997. He got to be a grandfather to my kids for 10yrs before he passed away in 2007 from complications caused by serving in the Vietnam. He did get to be a role model as a grandfather. As for inspiring me? He was both a negative and positive role model who taught me how not to be as a father and what I might be as a grandfather. The next role model was my brother’s dad which I bare his first name and my real dad’s last name. I was probably around 5yrs old, living in Inglewood, Ca with my mom, brother and his dad. Crazy, but I recall my brother’s day taking me to an apartment, sliding a window open and asking me to crawl through and open the door for him. I recall sitting on the couch eating M&Ms out of a candy bowl as he disconnected the television. We took it out to the car and drove back to our place. He started hooking it up and my mom asked him where he got it. I recall telling her what he had me do and she got very upset. Next thing I recall is living in Ventura, Ca with my mom and brother. Inspired not to be like that with my kids. Following them was my mother, she too was a positive and negative role model. Ultimately, we became homeless by the time I was in 5th grade. My brother, mom and I lived in a car for a bit and eventually into a tent at a state beach in Carpentaria, Ca. There were days I can recall her with us and it seemed there were days she wasn’t very long. That following summer I grabbed my brother and walked to our uncle’s house in Ventura, Ca to ask him if we could live with him. That brings me to my next role model, my uncle. He was mentioned above and took us both in when he was single and living in a 1-bedroom duplex. Allow me to add one other before I go further. This lady was my great aunt. She would come to get my brother and I and take us to places we only imagined. She would teach how to be gentlemen and to act proper while eating. She taught us manners and how we should treat others. I recall one lesson she taught me that has stuck with me forever. We were at an amusement park playing and having so much fun. I ran up to her and said “Come play with us!” She looked at me, gave me a hug and said “My enjoyment comes from see you guys enjoy yourselves.” I will never forget that day. To this day, I do the same for my own kids, those I coach or help in life. This is the lady who helped raise our uncle, the one we now live with. So back to our uncle. He taught us how to box and to be men as well. While living with him, he got married, had a child and bought a house. When we moved, I met the next person who inspired me. This kid was a year younger than me and taught me some social stuff I never had to deal with. This guy taught me how to ride skateboard, surf and we hung with a bunch of punk rock kids who just didn’t give a shit what others thought. They all had their own identity. This is where I began to build my own. This kid had one of the biggest impacts on my life than most. He provided me with a reputation, a respect from others and identity. All of which I had never had growing up. My freshman year in high school he stayed at the middle school in 8th grade and our lives went different directions. My freshman year my next role model entered my life. Also mentioned above, my wrestling coach inspired me to be the coach and competitor I am today in so many ways. My first year in college, that middle school friend of mine committed suicide. Even in death he taught me to be there for those people I care about and to never let someone feel they are alone and have nobody to talk to. Since then I have met national coaches, national champions, All-Americans, coaches on all levels, Olympians, other fathers and just successful people in life that have had an impact on my life in both negative and positive ways.

How long have you coached the sport of wrestling?

GARCIA: I would honestly have to say I’ve been coaching since I began wrestling in 1983. Because as a wrestler I was about helping my teammates get better. I knew I would get better if they got better. After my first year at Moorpark College I returned to Ventura High School and began truly coaching. Below have been my coaching positions:

  • 1983 – 1987: Ventura High School (Wrestler)
  • 1987 – 1988: Moorpark College (Wrestler)
  • 1987 – 1989: Ventura HS (Assistant Coach/Head Coach – Paul Clementi)
  • 1987 – 1989: Vaughan Hitchcock Wrestling Camp (Coaching Staff)
  • 1989 – 1990: Redwood HS (Assist. Coach/Head Coach – Steve Hitchcock)
  • 1991: West Bakersfield HS (Assistant Coach/Head Coach – Rick Cox)
  • 1997 2001: Stockdale HS (Assist. Coach/Head Coach – Craig Schoene)
  • 2000 – 2001: Kids Director (Kern County Wrestling Association)
  • 2002 – 2009: Stockdale HS (Head Coach)
  • 1998 – 2008: Team Hot Shots Wrestling Club (Youth Head Coach)
  • 2009 – 2014: Bakersfield Christian HS (Head Coach)
  • 2009 – 2014: Talons Wrestling Club (Youth Head Coach)
  • 2014 – Present: Team Fluffy Wrestling (Founder)
  • 2014 – Present: Liberty HS – Bakersfield (Asst. Coach/Head Coach – Kyle Plummer)

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

GARCIA: To see the individuals God has put before me for a week, a season, a high school career become a success in their own way in life, as an employee, a student, in a career, the military and most importantly as a husband & father.

From your perspective, please explain how the concept of Team FLUFFY came to fruition.

GARCIA: In 2013 I was the head wrestling coach at Bakersfield Christian High School. I ran into Ryan Meloche, who hadn’t been on the mat since college. I asked him if he’d be interested in coaching with me at BCHS. We coached together that season and began training a bit together. One day after wrestling practice we were sitting on the wall talking about competing at the Veterans Nationals. He says to me “I should ask my brother Joe if Gabe would sponsor us.” Gabe is the world-renowned comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias. Ryan’s brother said Gabe would agree to sponsor us. So, we agreed to call our team of 2 ‘Team Fluffy Wrestling’ as an homage to Gabe. So that April of 2014 Ryan and I competed in the Veterans Nationals in Las Vegas as Team Fluffy.

The acronym “FLUFFY” stands for Fitness, Laughter, Unity, Friends, Family, and Youthfulness. Please explain what these values mean to you and how it has affected your life.

GARCIA: I’ve come across many great acronyms throughout my life. Sometimes I would develop my own to help me recall things. One day I was listening to a good friend of mine tell people what his acronym of the word FAITH meant. It was awesome! It was something people to hear, see and understand what his mission was about. So, I started thinking to myself “What can we represent in an acronym and that people would understand what Team Fluffy represents, our mission and important values in our lives. Team is the obvious, “Together Everyone Achieves More” and it’s used a lot. So, I looked at the word FLUFFY. What do we do as a whole that FLUFFY could simply represent? I must have bounced ideas back and forth for a few days until it was finalized. Below is what stood out to me with the following letters.

F: Stands for FITNESS – Each and every guy on our team understands the importance of staying fit. This is an important value in all our lives. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will undoubtedly shorten our life spans. Heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol levels and many other risk factors become prevalent in our lives. So, expressing the importance of fitness in our lives is necessary.

L: Stands for LAUGHTER – Well, that was probably the easiest to figure out. First, we sport a comedian’s (Gabriel Iglesias’) logo and comedic tag name FLUFFY. Secondly, we need laughter in our lives. Laughter is good for your health. Laughter relaxes our bodies, boosts the immune system, trigger the release of endorphins, relieves stress, burns calories, and may even help us to live longer.

U: Stands for UNITY – As I watched Team Fluffy grow, it reminded me of the importance of unity as a team. What was happening was these guys we’ve been friends with through wrestling and connected with for many years was still alive in us all. As I was reaching out to wrestlers, they all began uniting as a single representing team. It wasn’t about how good or poor of a wrestler they were at any level. It wasn’t about a city, state, high school or college. It was about being a team again, uniting with others with similar goals, similar health issues, similar passion for the sport of wrestling and what it provided us all. The sport of wrestling has, is, and will forever create unity amongst wrestlers. We now have a Canadian who wishes to compete with us, which now makes Team Fluffy uniting internationally.

F & F: Stands for FRIENDS & FAMILY – Now we all know that these two Fs are and should be important in our lives. We need to and should be positive role models to them. We hold the power to inspire and motivate them all. They will see us doing what we love, working hard to reach our goals, changing our lifestyles, living healthier lives. Some of them will follow, some will support and some will remember how you were at your age when they get to be your age. This will then inspire them to do the same, we hope. We all know as well that the negative is also seen and followed. We want to be the best individuals we can for our friends & family. Doing all of the above may even allow us to spend more time with them all.

Y: Stands for YOUTHFULNESS AND YOUTH – Let’s talk about Youthfulness first. I have a saying I live by, “We don’t get too old to do what we love. We get old because we stop doing what we love.” To this day, I still jump on a skateboard, surfboard, wrestle and many other activities guys much younger that I do. Many people ask me how. I’ve just never stopped. We need to try to remain as youthful as we can for as long as we can. There is no secret to being youthful, just be it. Sure, we get older and are restricted to what we can or can’t do, but whatever you do try to continue to do or be part of what you love. Secondly, the “Y” also stands for Youth. I have learned that we are who we are because of many mentors and coaches that have been involved in our lives. Pay it back! Be what you saw in a coach, in a mentor, in a leader. Teach the youth of today our values and how important they are in our lives. Youth will learn so much from us and continue to share it for generations to come, the positive and negative.

What have been your greatest challenges starting the new Veteran’s level club?

GARCIA: Honestly, the quick growth of the club has been challenging. 5 years ago, it was just Ryan and me. Just a thought, no purpose, no mission. As others joined, stories began to give us values and a mission. The more stories, the more important it became to share the values and our mission. As the word spread more people wanted to join the team. As of today, Team Fluffy is projected to have close to 25 teammates representing Team Fluffy Wrestling at the 2020 Nationals in Las Vegas. The new challenges are being able to give back to the youth and some of those teammates to give so much of themselves to others. To build a staff that can travel, host clinics and speaking engagements. This now brings the challenge for raising funds to create this mission.

A majority of Team FLUFFY members come from the state of California. It’s my understanding that the club has branched out to other states, such as Oklahoma, Montana, Georgia, Texas, and even the country of Canada. Do you have visions of Team FLUFFY expanding to all 50 states and other countries?

GARCIA: We would love to see Team Fluffy Wrestling expand to all 50 states and internationally. We have been blessed and have expanded due to some great guys. We started out in California which is the reason the majority are from California. Our first out of state teammate hailed from Oklahoma; Keith Richards joined Team Fluffy in 2016. Keith joined us because he had a California connection though. Others have joined from other cities and states for similar reason. Either they reached out requesting a t-shirt or enquired about the team and if it was in their area. What happen next is where it all begins. As I begin to explain to them what FLUFFY stands for and what our mission is many of them now want to join the team. The next question is how they can start training where they live. We encourage to find a high school or college to help with. Maybe find an MMA gym that offers adult wrestling. The best part is letting them know that they can start the team there. That they become the leader and live the lifestyle they should be living. Now we have more wrestlers throughout California and now in the following states: Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana, Georgia, Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and Oregon. Recently we had a young man join Team Fluffy now Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

What are your long-term goals for Team FLUFFY?

GARCIA: Our long-term goals are to spread the word of our values and our mission. To inspire others to live a more positive healthy lifestyle, to empower them to do the same in their community and amongst their friends and family, and to give back to the youth. We’d love to partner with companies to provide teams with at-risk kids apparel and wrestling shoes if needed. To build a facility to provide youth to get off the streets, be around positive individuals, help them dream of bigger goals and provide them with opportunities to travel. To educate coaches on styles to best impact their kids and work with the adults. To send our staff to events to gain skills in all the areas in order to best provide skills, drills and techniques to wrestlers and coaches. To eventually build these same facilities in other communities, states and perhaps one day internationally.

 If anyone is interested, what is the process for joining Team FLUFFY?

GARCIA: This is a process that is in the works. Currently, I receive a call, or e-mail from an interested individual. I will speak to them and share the Team Fluffy story, its values and mission. They begin sharing their goals, their past and how they would like to be a part of something so great. At some point, it may change. For now, live the example of our values and share our mission with others and you are FLUFFY.

TEAM FLUFFY WRESTLING

Organization sponsored by world renown comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias to promote former wrestlers and coaches to stay actively involved in the sport of wrestling. Whether it’s coaching or competing on the US Wrestling’s veterans’ level at local state, national and/or world championships. To educate and inform others about the causes and symptoms of diabetes. To encourage others to get fit and stay healthy. Laugh and unite with new friends and old. Inspire those around us, such as friends and family. To remain youthful in life and assist our local youth in our sport.

Paul Garcia competing at the Veterans’ Nationals (All-American)

High School: Foothill-Bakersfield (CIF Central Section)

College: Bakersfield College – 2x CA JC State Champion/2x All-American

Freestyle/Greco-Roman: 2x Veterans’ National Champ/4x All-American

Coaching tenure: 2012 – Present

Q&A INTERVIEW WITH RYAN MELOCHE (CO-FOUNDER)

How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

MELOCHE: I got into wrestling my Freshmen year of high school . The wrestling coach Alan Paradise asked me what sport I was going to play after football. I said Basketball he laughed because I was 5;6 and thought that was tall enough for basketball. Paradise told me I would be a better fit for wrestling which at the time I knew nothing about.  Paradise challenged me that day and I have never looked back. 

Considering the sport of wrestling is among the toughest sports in the world, how has it shaped the person you are today?

MELOCHE: Without wrestling I would not be where I am today.  Wrestling has taught me mental toughness, how to be competitive in life, determination and with hard work and training you can accomplish anything you set your mind too. 

What type of lessons did you learn growing up in the sport of wrestling that will forever be with you and carried on through life?

MELOCHE: Wrestling has taught me so many life lessons but the one that will forever be with me is that with determination and hard work you can accomplish anything you put your mind too.

Who was your biggest influence in the sport?

MELOCHE: Alan Paradise is one of my biggest influence in wresting. He saw something in me and made me challenge myself to become a wrestler. He coached me throughout high school and taught me to love wrestling. My other biggest influence is my college coach Bill Klevis. He taught me how to wrestle on the college level and reminded me that my love for the sport can go a long way. These two men helped me love the sport of wrestling. 

Whom were your role models growing up? How did they inspire you to be the person you are today?

MELOCHE: My oldest brother Joe. He is 10 years older than me and I have always looked up to him. He has become very successful and worked very hard to get where he is. He has taught me to never give up.

How long have you coached the sport of wrestling?

MELOCHE: After college I took a long break. Paul Garcia came to me and asked me to coach. I have now been coaching 7 years and so glad he got me back on the mats. 

2012 – ’14: Bakersfield Christian High School (CIF Central Section)

2014 – ’16: Liberty-Bakersfield High School (CIF Central Section)

2015 – Present: Bakersfield College

Coach – Bakersfield Christian High School (CS)

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

MELOCHE: Wrestling helped shape my life and who I am today. I love giving back to the kids and letting them learn as much as I did . I love watching the kids grow into young adults and be able to use the values they learned from wrestling in real life and become successful. I also love watching them have so much dedication to the sport of wrestling. I feel I am helping shape them into hard working adults.  

From your perspective, please explain how the concept of Team FLUFFY came to fruition.

MELOCHE: Team Fluffy was a joke at first for me and Paul.  As Paul talked me into wrestling on the Veteran level 6 years ago and I was 220lbs which we consider was not fat, but “Fluffy,” (lol). I cut to 167lbs in a 3-month period. and that same year Gabriel Iglesias was play in Vegas and my brother happens to be his manager so we asked permission to make team fluffy singlet for just us two and Gabe was nice enough and allowed us to use his logo on our singlet that year.  We got so many inquire on how other wrestler could join team fluffy me and Paul talk to my brother and Gabe and Team Fluffy became a known team on the Veteran Level wrestling and is growing each year as people want to be a part of what we Stand for with enjoying the sport and getting healthy at the same time. 

The acronym “FLUFFY” stands for Fitness, Laughter, Unity, Friends, Family, and Youthfulness. Please explain what these values mean to you and how it has affected your life.

MELOCHE: These values get me through life on a daily basis. 

What have been your greatest challenges starting the new Veteran’s level club?

MELOCHE: My greatest challenges are the time and effort it takes to not only run the wrestling club but also the time I put towards wrestling. Sometimes it’s hard to juggle a family, work and wrestling. 

Ryan Meloche competing at Veteran’s National Championships

MY JOURNEY TO THE MASTERS AND BEYOND

By Jeremy Woolward

My name is Jeremy Woolward. I am 36 years old, live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, am married, work as a safety compliance officer for a trucking company, and I have a love and passion for wrestling. For some, that may sound incredibly awkward. But for me, it has kept me grounded and kept me inspired now for some time. Why? Because I have begun on probably the most difficult journey I have ever undertaken and that is to get in shape, get down to my normal weight class and compete as a 40-year-old at the US Marines Masters Wrestling Open in Las Vegas. In 2023, I will have just turned 40 and my birthday present to myself is going to compete, leave it all on the mat and walk away, God willing, with a gold medal and one of those coveted USA Wrestling “STOP SIGNS”. I have my vision and am now chasing it. 

But why is it so important to me? It’s important to me because in some way, shape or form, wrestling has been a part of my life since I was an eleven years old child watching the 1994 Commonwealth Games on television and watching Team Canada earn all but one of the gold medals that year in the weight divisions. Until that point, the only exposure I had had to wrestling was simply the sports-entertainment kind. Seeing “real” wrestling was really neat for me. And it was the first time I had seen a sport that didn’t shame you for being big. I was always a large person. Some can call it fat, husky or whatever adjective you want, but the fact remains that I started tipping the scale at 3 digits around this time in my life. I wasn’t good at sports and was frequently teased as a youngster for being fat and slow. And living in a small, rural town, there was no outlet for me to do the things I wanted to do. I had to wait five years before I could even try out this sport I had come to love.

TODAY’S PREPARATION DETERMINES TOMORROW’S SUCCESS

When I did finally get a chance to be involved on my school’s wrestling team, the experience was short lived. I wasn’t that great and the coach really didn’t like me. He was quick to dismiss me and I wasn’t in a head space to be coachable at the time (at home, my parents were fighting and it was the first time they spoke of divorce). At this time of my life, I contemplated suicide. I felt like a failure to everyone, especially myself. Thankfully, I had a teacher who helped me walk it back and took time to make sure I was alright. I focused on my studies, and left the athletics alone. Besides, I had already become the target of bullying by all the high schools where I was at. Other school’s wrestling teams would see me and a few of them would be like, “Oh there goes the gay fattie. This guy wanted to be an athlete and look at him! He’s a loser.” Stuff like that. I had thought it was the end of it, but when I made it to University, I had a chance to become involved again in the sport.

Jeremy officiating

My experience in University was me taking a wrestling class as part of a teaching degree. For a semester, I learned technique and learned what it took to be a coach. As I got older, I understood technique better and really applied myself. It also helped that the instructor was pretty solid and was very patient with me. Later on, I’d learn I actually scored the highest mark in that class. I wasn’t still any prize athlete, but I had the most drive and wanted to learn. I couldn’t compete at a varsity level and in our in-class tournament, I went 0-3 against three very different opponents. But my instructor still wanted me involved in the sport. He suggested I try officiating so I did. Not having had a competitive background, understanding the nuances involved in a match took a lot of time, but I did know the rulebook very well. I became a referee in Canada, and although I took a 10-year sabbatical, I returned to officiating last season and re-earned my national rank and earned the privilege of officiating across Canada once again.

However, it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to compete. I thought I never would, but two yeast ago, I laid my best friend to rest. I flew to Indiana to say goodbye and as I stood over his grave, I promised him that I would live my dreams and make them happen. My best friend always believed I’d wrestle again and would have been there to support me. In the last few months, it’s become clear to me that waiting for the right time to start and compete would prove futile. If I wanted it, I just had to go do it. That said, I’ve battled depression, suicide again and continuous life trials that I turned to eating as a coping mechanism. I put on a bit of weight and if I’m going to wrestle competitively, I have to get rid of it. It’s why I’ve put myself on a four-year program to make this happen. As of this writing, I’m at 351.2. I have lost close to twenty pounds since starting my weight loss journey and although that number is still high, I have lost inches around my waist and my face. A lot of my clothes have begun to fit again and I’m finding my conditioning’s gotten better. I lift weights and try to spend at least one night a week working out by carrying a 50 to 80-pound sandbag over my shoulder, much like Frank Jasper did with the log in Vision Quest. I lift this bag up close to 200 stairs and a hill that has a 30% grade and about half a mile long. I tend to post pictures of it and record some videos after the workouts. I hadn’t planned on telling anybody I was doing this, but during an evening session, I felt compelled that I had to share this story. Having done that, I have had contact with a large number of people, all of which have wanted to share their support and tell me they had a vested interest in my success. 

“Team FLUFFY has a focus on developing the individual and recognizes that wrestling is but a part of the development cycle.” – Jeremy Woolward

I start my on mat practices next Monday. I’m excited and nervous altogether. I haven’t stepped on a mat as an athlete in a very long time. I’ve either helped coach or officiate. I’ve been told I have a 286-pound wrestler I get to work with. The coach wanted me to know that he was looking out for my needs and would find me athletes to work with. This coach here in Calgary has been following my story, and told me he was very much invested in my success and wants to help me achieve it. But he’s not the only one. Folks like Frank Jasper, John Hanrahan, Daniel Studenic, Courtney English, Richard Jensen, Ken Chertow and Paul Garcia have all voiced vocal support. And of them all, Coach Garcia’s Team Fluffy Wrestling program would be an organization I’d be proud to be part of and join their ranks. Team TFW has a focus on developing the individual and recognizes that wrestling is but a part of the development cycle. Team TFW wants you to focus on family, focus on staying youthful and energetic. They want you to wrestle hard, but be respectful and kind. Ours is a gentleman’s sport and from what I can see of the TFW group, this is very much a core part of their identity. Always a smile, always a handshake. They can beat you on the mat, but they’ll be the first to offer the shirt off their backs for someone else. That’s a program and affiliation I’d love to have. My emotions are close to the surface; I’d love to be the disconnected stalwart but it won’t happen. Team TFW embodies that uniqueness and diversity that wrestling so desperately needs. We’re an age group of all men and a lot of us grew up in a world where men didn’t feel anything or didn’t talk about what’s bugging them. Team TFW dumps that stereotype in the garbage. Their crew is like a family, even if it’s spread out across America. They have each other no matter what. That for me is a sign of a winner and I want to associate with winners. 

In closing, this story is about one of self-growth, diversity and courage. It’s about overcoming your own fears and getting stuff done. Wrestling for me is an introspective sport and it’s one reason why I love it so much; when you’re out there, it’s just you, your opponent and the official. There’s no time to get mad or no time to act unprofessionally. What you do really matters and I know that Team TFW is always above board and put their people first, all the time.

Q&A INTERVIEW WITH JEREMY WOOLWARD

It’s my understanding that you are the first person from outside the continental United States to join Team FLUFFY Wrestling Club. Living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, how did you discover Team FLUFFY?

WOOLWARD: I discovered Team Fluffy Wrestling in a very roundabout way. To say it was the first thing I saw would be inaccurate. Years ago, I joined the USA Wrestling Veterans/Masters Facebook Group as a way to keep track of wrestling events for older gentlemen with the secret hope that one day, I’d be able to join this group of people and compete with them. We do not have a dedicated or established veterans wrestling program in Canada. It was awesome to see so many people at an older stage of life want to stay actively involved; I had thought I was the only one. Over the years, I had had the opportunity to converse with people like John Hanrahan and Daniel Studenic out of Alpharetta, Georgia, I had become friends with Charles Snitchler out of Indiana who had a variety of wrestling contacts through the social media work he did, and ultimately, through a combination of all of them, I was led to Richard Jensen out of Oregon and his “Be A Champion In Life” movement which really got me excited. His comeback story certainly lit a fire in me to move to the next level, and it was through Richard Jensen that I found Frank Jasper and Team Fluffy Wrestling. Wish I could say it was a direct link, but like any good story, it has its own twists and turns that make it even more interesting. Guess you can say it was a cross-country endeavor.

What was it about Team FLUFFY that inspired you to contact Paul Garcia (Co-founder) about joining the wrestling club?

WOOLWARD: What inspired me about Team Fluffy that had me want to contact Coach Garcia was the fact that TFW is not about a group of perfect people who just excel naturally. What inspired me is that everyone at TFW has a story. That story can vary from people like me who are overweight and wanting to get back into action, or someone who’s battling inner demons and wrestling is an outlet to overcome them, or someone who wants to give back to their community and inspire people with a vision of a possible future and then inspire them to go get it. I’d hate to use the word ‘misfit’ because it invokes a negative connotation, but truly, TFW is a group of people who are different, who rejoice in being different and are absolutely unafraid of what that looks like. They’re out there getting stuff done and march to the beat of their own drum. THAT is what inspired me to reach out. It’s one thing at 36 to go workout and tell someone you’re training to wrestle competitively and have people laugh at you. It’s another thing to tell them that, have them still laugh at you, but knowing you have an army of people behind you who love you, support you and ultimately ‘get’ who you are that makes it all worthwhile. Rich Jensen was sharing some of my photos on social media; I attempted to pull off a fun, Brian Schute-eque pose with a 50-pound bag over my shoulder going up a steep incline in Calgary. I posted it online. It caught Coach Garcia’s attention. We started correspondence earlier this summer but we were both super busy and couldn’t find time to properly connect. However, in the last month, we found the time to really gel and through the conversations we had, we got to know each other, we learned that our stories were very similar and that through his example, I knew I had found the team and home I had been looking for.

How has your life changed since joining Team FLUFFY?

WOOLWARD: My life has changed since becoming part of Team Fluffy Wrestling in subtle, yet powerful ways. Did it mean overnight I suddenly became a superstar who had the world on a string? No. There’s still a long way to go and much work to accomplish. But what DID change was that all of a sudden, I had an infrastructure I could belong to that genuinely believes that I can succeed. I was never a great athlete in school and was often ridiculed and bullied for being a lousy athlete. I never believed I could do it before. And besides a handful of individuals here in Calgary who have an interest in my success, I know my dream’s been met with a bit of concern and maybe even some trepidation. But Team Fluffy? No. None of that exists there. I have had members of the team reach out and cheer me on, and I have not even met them yet. Coach Garcia checks in with me on a regular basis, making sure I’m alright and handling things well. He sent me a prayer before my first wrestling practice that I printed out and keep close to me; a message of hope and encouragement, especially when things get tough. My life has changed because I have friends far and wide who want me to have my best chance and push me to find it.

What advice would you give someone showing interest in joining Team FLUFFY?

WOOLWARD: The advice I would give anybody showing interest in joining Team Fluffy is to reach out. I would tell them to believe that they’re worth it and that they matter. Team Fluffy is competitive and strive for success. But we do it as a team, and as that team grows, we grow and strengthen as individuals. There’s room for everybody in Team Fluffy. Look at the team’s values, and ask yourself, “What gifts and talents do I have that will make the team better?” And then let either Coach Garcia or Coach Meloche know that this is what you’re bringing to the table. Come ready to work, and come willing to learn. In the end, you’ll learn from the team and the team will learn from you. Together, we’ll own the podium and we’ll own our life’s stories. And THAT is the victory we can all get behind.

Provincial/State Championships – Jeremy with 90k finalist (Joseph)

All-Americans Richard Jensen and Paul Garcia

Team FLUFFY represented at World Championships

1984 Olympic Bronze Medalist Jim Martinez sporting a Team FLUFFY shirt

Eric Beckmann – 3x Masters All-American (multi-cadet/Jr/University AA)

Ryan Meloche, Casey Strand, Keith Richards, and Paul Garcia

TEAM FLUFFY 2016

Ryan Meloche, Comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, and Paul Garcia

Team FLUFFY – National Placers at 2015 Veteran’s Nationals

Rex Davis and Paul Garcia coaching a Team Fluffy member

Veteran’s World Championships: Matt Corona, Bill Newton, Brett Clark, and Ryan Meloche

Paul Garcia with Rex Davis3rd Place at 2019 Veteran’s World Cup Duals

Paul Garcia (right) with Vision Quest’s Frank Jasper, aka “Shute”

Casey Strand – 2x NCAA All-American, Arizona State

Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias and Paul Garcia

Jesse Uribe – All-American

Vision Quest’s Frank Jasper “aka, Brian Shute” with wife Sanda

TEAM FLUFFY – Matt Corona with Rick Gutierrez (Comedian)