A 4-time CIS Champion, 5-time All-Canadian and multiple time national medalist, Tyler Marghetis was an accomplished athlete for Concordia University. Using the skills and lessons of sport, Tyler has gone on to pursue a career in academia. I caught up with Tyler to see where wrestling has taken him and what he’s been up to since his retirement from the sport.
49 North: When did you first begin wrestling?
Marghetis: I first started wrestling in middle school, on a whim and a dare, but primarily as a way to fill the space left by by my recent “retirement” from gymnastics. In my last years of elementary school, I’d been competitive gymnast — with all the prepubescent high-performance that comes along with that: four hour training sessions, four times a week; leaving school early in order to train; weekend tournaments in sleepy towns across Ontario. I was good, but far from great, and so decided to stop gymnastics at the end of the sixth grade. “Gymnastics is just so much work,” I thought at the time. Little did I know what wrestling had in store for me!
49 North: Why did wrestling appeal to you? Did you play any other sports?
Marghetis: I loved wrestling for its inventiveness, and the depth of technical knowledge that even the most brick-headed brawler needs if he wants to succeed. And I loved wrestling because I felt I was solely responsible for the outcome on the mat. (Which, of course, is an illusion: Every match is the result of a long history of training and development, supported by coaches, teammates, family, etc.) And for me, there was always a grandeur to the sport: brutishness coupled to technical precision, ties to the earliest days of the Olympics, the way it seems to crystallize the best parts of pure combat.
I played a lot of other sports, none particularly well. I was the captain of my high school football team, played rugby, ran cross country in the fall and track and field in the spring. In high school I ran a triathlon and a half-marathon. I was always a hobbyist in those other sports, though, playing mostly for fun or fitness. From the start, my one love was wrestling.
49 North: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment in the sport?
Marghetis: Oh, this is tough. I guess I’m proud of my collegiate career — five times an All-Canadian, four times a CIS champion. And then I had a handful of senior national medals.
While that was happening, I managed to finish an Honours BSc in pure and applied mathematics, and then a masters degree in mathematics education — which at the time seemed secondary to wrestling, but in retrospect I’m really happy that I pursued a good education in parallel to training.
Towards the end of my career I also realized that I was gay, which honestly was pretty confusing — there weren’t any role models when it came to gay wrestlers. If anything, I’d experienced a lot of casual homophobia in the sport. So I’m quite proud that I was able to deal with that aspect of my life in a productive and healthy way while continuing to train, compete, win CIS titles, etc. In the end, my teammates were incredibly supportive — as was everybody in my life — so it’s all worked out for the best. In my last year in Montreal, I even did some public speaking at local high schools about my experience as a gay athlete. I think it sent a powerful message of hope and acceptance, and I was amazed by how compassionate and thoughtful the students were.
49 North: Describe your training in Montreal at Concordia University.
Marghetis: I moved to Montreal to train with Victor Zilberman, who is truly a genius. Training in Montreal was really the perfect balance of art and science. Of course we had the usual cross-training: weightlifting, running, swimming, and the like. But we also incorporated activities like gymnastics — floor, rings, parallel bars, even trampoline! — and more intellectual exercises like critiquing newspaper articles about sport, or analyzing the lives and lifestyles of the great athletes of history. On top of that, wrestling practices were exceptional: incredibly technical, carefully catered to each individual athlete, tough and uncompromising while always encouraging creativity and boldness. It was an intelligent and holistic approach, and I feel privileged to have trained there.
49 North: How did wrestling help you in your studies and everyday life?
Marghetis: I think the influence has gone both ways. I certainly feel that wrestling prepared me well for a life in academia. Thanks to wrestling, I know that I can work exceptionally hard; and in academia, I do. And wrestling taught me the importance of setting specific, action-oriented goals — goals for each training session, or each tournament, or a season, or my career — and that translates to life in general, and academia in particular.
But I also think that my studies helped my wrestling. I always felt more bookish than brutish, but never thought that was a disadvantage. Studying hard — studying really hard — teaches you how to keep your wits about you even when exhausted. That has obvious applications to wrestling. And with the analytic skills I honed by studying mathematics and philosophy, I was able to think critically about all aspects of wrestling: my training, my mat strategy, how to beat a particularly annoying opponent. So wrestling has definitely helped my life post-wrestling — but I think part of my success as a wrestler was due to my skills as a scholar.
49 North: Where are you currently located?
Marghetis: I live in San Diego, California, where I’m doing a PhD in Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego.
49 North: What is the nature of your studies?
Marghetis: I’m interested in the idea of “embodied cognition” — the idea that the way we think is based in the ways we use our body to interact with the world, even when we’re thinking about incredibly abstract things like time, mathematics, or even god. I focus on mathematics — which is super abstract, and seems completely divorced from everyday experience — and study the ways that math is actually based in our embodied experience. If this sounds super abstract, almost philosophical, that’s because… it is! And that’s part of the fun. My research combines neuroscience experiments, ethnographic studies of how graduate studies in mathematics interact with each other when working on a proof, behavioral experiments on how we think about numbers and arithmetic, and even historical case studies of famous mathematicians. It’s often fun and exciting, and always challenging and rewarding.
49 North: Why did you choose the University of California San Diego over other institutions?
Marghetis: UC San Diego is one of the top universities in the world, and is particularly known for its research in cognitive science, neuroscience, and the philosophy of mind. Coming to UC San Diego has given me the opportunity to interact every day with some of the world’s best cognitive scientists. Moving from the Montreal Wrestling Club to UC San Diego, it’s really felt like I’ve traded one high-performance center for another — except this time I’m training for science, not sport.
49 North: Are you still involved with the sport?
Marghetis: Well… I check results at www.wrestling.ca and have been watching the videos you’ve been posting at www.49northwrestling.com…. Does that count? Probably not. To be honest, I’ve really thrown myself wholeheartedly into my research, much in the way I threw myself into wrestling. That doesn’t leave much time for training.
49 North: Does your institution have a wrestling team?
Marghetis: They have a recreational club team, but not a varsity team.
49 North: What are your plans for the near future? Any long-term goals?
Marghetis: In the last year I’ve been busy: I spent nearly half the year at Berkeley as a visiting student in the Department of Philosophy, and then I traveled to four countries on two continents to conduct research and deliver academic talks at conferences. Right now my life is dedicated to research, writing, and teaching. In two years I should finish my PhD. Beyond that, the hope is to become a professor in Canada or the US, which will allow me to focus on my research while also teaching undergraduates.
49 North: Do you have any advice for people concerning life after wrestling?
Marghetis: I feel exceptionally lucky, because I’ve had two great passions — wrestling and research — and I’ve been able to dedicate myself to those passions full-time, with complete abandon. Perhaps my advice is soak up all the great parts of the sport while you can: the way it rewards hard work and dedication; the way it’s absorbing and all-consuming; the way it combines the camaraderie of a team sport with the personal responsibility of an individual sport; the way it’s so tough, so demanding, so exhausting, but so fun. And then, after wrestling, try to find another passion and approach it with the same spirit that served you so well in wrestling. All the great parts of wrestling are present in every other endeavor — but sometimes, it’s up to us to carry those lessons with us from wrestling and inject them into whatever we’re doing.