Wrestling showcases perseverance and physical and mental toughness. Guilford grappler Tony Dinse demonstrates all of these intangibles with the heart of a lion in a body that refuses to quit.
Tony's durability was put to the test last spring, when the then-junior suffered a weightlifting accident that nearly crushed the tip of a finger. Tony remained unfazed and began to work his way back to the mat. After months of rehabilitation and about 200 stitches, Tony was back at it this winter for Guilford. Tony reports that it was tough for him to be immobile.
"I am known as a hyper kid, so it was hard to sit there and do nothing all that time," says Tony, who also missed football season last fall. "I was getting dropped off to the weight room, though, and it was so hard to watch the other guys work out, knowing I couldn't do the same. The good news of it all was that the day I got hurt, I was with coaches and teammates learning about the Olympic style of wrestling. After learning about it that day, it was a very big encouragement to try to get back. I have also developed a friendly rivalry with Branford wrestler Jorge Meralla, so another part of my fuel was to come back to compete with him. I just love wrestling and it is my life for the winter."
Fighting back after a fall is nothing new for Tony. While he has suffered some losses this season, he always has the knack of improving in the rematch. A fine example of that was the recent Class M State Championship, at which Tony fought through familiar regular season foes to finish fifth in the 220-pound division. Dinse defeated his rival Meralla 10-8 to claim his fifth-place spot and also beat Foran's Luke Edmonson (pin at 3:48), No. 2 seed William Szozda of Suffield (1-0), and New London's Shawn Brown (11-2). He credits a mentor with inspiring his appetite for victory.
"Jack Whaley, a former wrestler, would tell me a story of one of his losses after every one of mine and how he got back after them," says Tony. "Those stories just made me hungrier after each loss. He also spent time with me in practice to correct a lot of little things, such as making sure to stay in my stance. I would also study other wrestlers if I had a break in practice. Jack has certainly been a big inspiration for me."
While he may not have won a state championship, Tony feels the way he captured the fifth spot was equivalent to being number one. This was due to not only winning his spot in the consolation bracket, but the praise he received afterward.
"It meant the world to me to finish that high," says Tony. "I was upset after losing in the main bracket the first day, but I went back on Saturday with that unbeatable attitude from Jack and he told me that if I kept going, I would finish with a better record than he had wrestling. With that mindset, I became a wrestler I didn't know I could be. When I faced Jorge, he had me on my back in the first period, but a random parent gave me advice, which was really inspiring. It ended up going into overtime and I used a hold that parent was telling me to do and won the match. I had so many parents and coaches from other teams coming up to congratulate me after I won. A Foran coach came up to me to say, 'I wish I had wrestlers with your heart.' It felt like I won the title and is something I will never forget."
Indians' Coach Craig Vedrani adds, "Tony has made more progress than probably any wrestler I have ever coached within his four years. He is an extremely trustworthy individual who is going to go far in life and I am very proud of his accomplishments both on and off the mat. Tony has a heart of a lion and has come up big for us numerous times. Our match against Middletown, Tony was the last bout. The team was losing by three points and Tony was losing 10-2 before he turned around and pinned his opponent to give us the win."
Tony also shows off a heart of humanitarianism when he's not on the mat, working at the Branford Soup Kitchen and volunteering with the Arrowheads wrestling team, along with helping out various special needs children through Special Olympics and other avenues.
"I see people struggle in the world and it makes me want to help them," says Tony, who thanks Whaley, Vedrani, his parents Ed and Dolores, and Pete Connal, along with all his Guilford teammates and parents. "It also makes me feel better, knowing I am making that difference in their lives. In life, if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything."