LONDON – When Arthur J. Martori retired from competitive wrestling, his mentor and coach, Tom Dubin, told him it was time to give back to the sport that had given him so much. Martori took the advice to heart and in 1976 founded the Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club in Scottsdale.
Now, 36 years later, the club has become the most successful in the U.S., producing more Olympic, world and U.S. national champions than any other elite wrestling club in the country, according to its website. This year’s Sunkist Kids Olympians include elite wrestlers like Kelsey Campbell, Ben Provisor, Jordan Burroughs and Tervel Dlagnev.
Kim Martori-Wickey, Martori’s daughter and executive director of the club for the last 12 years, is serving as team leader for the USA women’s wrestling team at the Olympics.
“It’s really exciting. We’ve got a good field coming out of Sunkist Kids,” she said.
Wrestling has been a part of Martori-Wickey’s life since she was 3, but she said she didn’t appreciate the sport growing up. As she got older, that changed.
“Ever since I got involved with the sport I’ve just been so in awe of the athletes and how dedicated they are to the sport, so it really makes me proud to be here.”
In 2005, Martori-Wickey was named USA Wrestling’s Woman of the Year for her work with Sunkist Kids. The award, she said, shocked and honored her.
“It’s always great when somebody recognizes the work and energy you put into something, especially when it’s nonprofit and especially being a volunteer,” she said. “I appreciate that they (USA Wrestling) understand how important women’s wrestling is and the advancement of women’s wrestling. Women can get involved in the sport on every level.”
The club has traditionally focused on training Olympic-level athletes. However, it recently opened up to younger athletes and now has students ranging in age from as young as 6 to as old as mid-30s.
Martori-Wickey said the club’s goal is simple.
“(We want to) take them as far as they want to go,” she said. “If that is just high school, great. If it’s college or even (to) the Olympics. Just to make sure they achieve their dream is all we want to do.”
The club also helps the athletes find financial support. As a sport, wrestling does not attract some of the bigger sponsors athletes need to fund training, uniforms and living expenses, Martori-Wickey said. By hosting fundraisers, getting local sponsors and requesting donations, the club can help its athletes fund their dreams.
The club not only guides wrestlers throughout their careers, it supports them as they make the transition into retirement. That isn’t an easy time for most, Martori-Wickey said. Regardless of what point a wrestler is at in his or her career, Martori-Wickey wants the Sunkist Kids Club to provide encouragement.
“I hope that we show them that there are people there that want to help them and support them and encourage them and be a positive influence on them,” she said.
Martori-Wickey is grateful to be in London with Team USA, representing the sport she’s dedicated her life to.
“I’ve been really blessed, and I’ve had a great experience with the team,” she said. “I’m so excited they let me come on this journey with them, for them to share it with me has just really been an honor.”