It was a leap of faith when Travis Conely agreed to hop a plane to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobogo to compete on Team USA at the Pan American Sambo Championships.
“It was crazy,” Conely said.
He got a letter inviting him to compete in the event and decided to buy a ticket. He had about two weeks to prepare.
He wasn’t formally trained in Sambo, a unique combination of wrestling, judo and jujitsu. The sport has origins in the 1920s Soviet Union’s Red Army and is popular in Russia and eastern Europe.
Conely had trained in jujitsu for 9 years, and the 2002 Spring Hill High School grad wrestled in high school.
“I’ve been really active on the mats throughout my life,” he said.
He also has professional wrestling experience. Yes, that kind of wrestling.
Shortly after high school, he was promoted as T-Money.
Though fake, Conely said professional wrestling is hard work.
“People would say that’s fake wrestling, that it’s not real,” Conely said. “But I was really getting slammed out there. All of that stuff was really happening.”
Conely is no longer a professional wrestler. He now owns a personal training gym in Lee’s Summit, Mo., but he still spends time on the mats training in jujitsu and martial arts.
“My job is my hobby, and my hobby is my job,” Conely said.
The hobby is paying off.
In his first match, Conely faced an experienced competitor from Mexico. Using his martial arts training, Conely secured a submissions in less than 30 seconds.
He fought an experienced competitor from Trinidad and Tobago in his final match. He secured another quick submissions, and with the win, Conely qualifed for the Sambo World Championships.
Conely likens the world championships to the Olympic Games.
“It will be the equivalent level of competition,” he said. “Guys try for years and years and they may never make an Olympic or world team.”
Set for Nov. 20-24 in Narita, Japan, Conely leaves Kansas City on Nov. 18.
There will be up to 70 countries represented. Conely is considered a favorite in the 90kg weight class at the Sambo World Championships.
“It’s a really big deal. It’s the best in the world,” he said.
SHHS grad takes gold for Team USA at Pan-American Championships