Lori Ann Cramer, a 1987 Grand Haven High School graduate, received a double dose of pride recently when she witnessed her two sons, Alex and Adrien, win national championships at the USA National Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships in Fargo, North Dakota.
"It was great. It really was a special weekend for our entire family," she said of the July 20 tournament. "They had been to Fargo a few times, and I think it was Alex's third time competing at the tournament. They hadn't placed before because the competition is so good there. To see them both excel and succeed at that level was an amazing thing to witness.
"Adrien won his national title first because of the way the schedule was set up. He was so excited to watch his big brother compete for a national championship that he spent half of his post-match interview talking up his brother. He was very humble and gracious after winning, too. That always makes you proud as a parent to see that kind of maturity."
Lori Ann was battling through some pain herself, but she didn't want her two sons to know about it and get distracted.
"On the weekend of July 15, I was in Michigan," she recalled. "I try and come back to Grand Haven as much as I can to visit family and friends. Unfortunately, I ended up tearing my ACL and meniscus. I didn't want to tell Alex and Adrien because I didn't want them to worry about me while they were preparing for the tournament, so I just showed up to the matches in crutches and eventually told them afterward."
As a Grand Haven graduate, Lori Ann is also in charge of setting up class reunions. When she's not doing that, she's usually visiting her family in the area.
"I actually just finished putting together our 30th-anniversary reunion last year, so that was a fun experience to come home to. My sister, Stephanie (Law), lives downtown in Grand Haven and my mother (Linda Hammond) lives over by Pottawattomie Park.
"I met my husband at Grand Valley State University, and he is from Illinois. I wouldn't have planned on moving there, but that's where life took us. Once you move away from Grand Haven, it really makes you realize how much you miss it. It's a great community and I'm glad I get to come back and visit as often as I do."
Jim Cramer, Lori's husband, was an All-American defensive tackle on the 1990 national championship football team at Grand Valley State University. His athletic background, combined with his sons' early success with wrestling, paved the way for both Alex and Adrien to try Greco-Roman wrestling.
"They are just in great shape and the kids have excelled at every sport," Lori Ann said. "They were playing football for a while in middle school and they decided to drop all the other sports to focus on wrestling.
"I have a really hard time watching it sometimes because it's so physical, and I'm worried they are going to get hurt. It's a very intense sport, too. Luckily, they are both excellent at it, but sometimes it makes me a little uneasy."
Alex, a soon-to-be senior at Grayslake High School in Illinois, finished with a 46-1 record in his junior season on his way to a state championship at 170 pounds. Besides winning a Greco-Roman national title in July, he also added first-place finishes at the Central Regional tournament on May 27 and an Illinois Greco-Roman State Championship on April 28.
"I got into Greco-Roman wrestling in seventh grade," he said. "I realized I needed to do a little more work during the offseason of my freestyle wrestling, so I tried doing Greco during the summer before my eighth-grade season and I really enjoyed it.
"I like how difficult it is. It's a lot harder than freestyle. To be good at Greco, you have to be really technically sound and know the finer points of the sport."
Although he had a natural talent for the sport, Alex admits his game didn't really take off until he visited a wrestling camp at Northern Michigan University.
"I was decent at it but not as good as I could have been," he said. "I think I really found that next level when I went to the Northern Michigan camp. That really made me a lot better. It helps you understand positioning more, so you have to learn how to not use your legs and use your body. It just makes you more aware of the little things that can make or break your performance on the mat.
"My sophomore year of high school, I started beating some talented wrestlers that I had lost to during freestyle season. I think at that point, I realized that I had a future with Greco and I really pushed myself to get better at it."
As he lifted his national championship trophy over his head, Alex felt a feeling of validation sweep over him.
"It was a surreal moment, and I felt like it validated all the hard work I had put in. It's not the end of my goals, but that was an amazing feeling and a great accomplishment."
The Old Dominion commit will finish out his senior season at the high school level before taking on the college ranks the following season.
"I still have the high school season to prepare for and maybe some national tournaments after that, but then I'm off to college," he said. "I'm going to Old Dominion to wrestle. The location is nice, it's right on the beach. The wrestling program is up-and-coming and I liked the coaches there. They have a good medical school there, as well, and I want to pursue a degree in that field. It just made a lot of sense to go there."
Adrien Cramer, a soon-to-be sophomore at Grayslake, holds a 46-15 record at the high school level with 22 pinfall victories, 13 technical falls and four major decisions. He has recorded first-place finishes at the Illinois Freestyle State Championship on May 6, an Illinois Greco-Roman State Championship on April 28 and top honors at the Franklin Spring Class on April 7.
"Alex got me into Greco-style wrestling when I was younger," said Adrien. "He was really good right away. Eventually, I developed into a pretty good wrestler, too. He showed me the ropes and really made the transition easy for me. He's also been very helpful and supportive whenever I'm trying to get better at something."
Like Alex, Adrien decided to give up football in order to concentrate on wrestling.
"I played football through eighth grade," he said. "My dad played in college, but I knew if I was going to be good at one thing, my best chance was at wrestling. My dad really seemed to like it and he was supportive of me through the whole process. It's a very intense style of wrestling, so the adrenaline rush you get while you are out there competing is like nothing else out there."
The training process before tournaments and camps can be a gruesome process, but both Alex and Adrien accepted the challenge and thrived off of it.
"There was a training camp before I headed out to Fargo for the national championships and that was pretty intense," said Adrien. "I had three practices a day and my diet was just chicken and broccoli, basically. It was tough, but it made a better athlete and helped me be in the best shape possible."
At the national championship tournament in Fargo, Adrien captured the 160-pound cadet national title, but all he could think about was his older brother.
"It was a pretty cool moment," he added. "There aren't many people who have done that, especially in my town, so I felt so much pride and honor to have accomplished that. Then my mind immediately went to my brother's upcoming match. I was so excited for him that I really hyped him up during my interview. Seeing him win a national title after I made the day that much more special."
Seeing his little brother win a national title gave Alex all the motivation he needed to get the job done.
"I couldn't let him get one and not get one myself," Alex added with a laugh. "I was so proud of him and after I saw him win it, I knew I had to get it, too. That was a big confidence boost for me. I felt like I could do it after that, so I just went out there and gave my best shot."
Both Cramer brothers will be aiming for another Illinois state championship this season in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. After that, a shot at joining a world team isn't far off their radar.
"I want to win a state title this year," Adrien added. "I want to get better with freestyle, too. My goal is to ultimately try out for the UWW World Team. I'd have to come in first place in my division at the trails, but once you are on the team, you get to visit cool places like Athens, Greece, and compete in worldwide events. That would be my ultimate goal with wrestling."