How did Jason Pryor reach 2016 Olympics from Ohio State and Brush High? It's ludicrous (photos)

Tim Warsinskey, The Plain Dealer By Tim Warsinskey, The Plain Dealer The Plain Dealer
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on April 02, 2016 at 10:01 AM

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio – U.S. Olympic fencer Jason Pryor bet on himself. It was, in his estimation, a ludicrous wager.
The payoff is fabulous.
Pryor, a self-described former band geek at Brush High, is headed to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in men's epee fencing.
"It was impossible to contain my excitement or this incredible mix of pride, awe, and disbelief,'' he said of qualifying. "Six years ago, this idea of Jason Pryor making the Olympic team would be ludicrous.''
Not any more. Pryor is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and wrapped up his Olympic berth last month.
He also is No. 36 in the world, which might seem deceivingly low because his career is on the rise. He was seventh at the U.S championships in 2014, then won it last year.
Pryor won a bronze at the 2015 Pan American Games, and has established himself as one of the top fencers in the Western Hemisphere with podium finishes at the North American Cup the past two years and five other top-eight placements in 2015.
Pryor, 28, has finished as high as sixth internationally this season and upset the world's No. 1 fencer, Gauthier Grumier of France, at a grand prix meet in Doha, Qatar.
Graduation gift sparks career
Six years ago, his international career began almost as an afterthought upon his graduation from Ohio State, which he led to an NCAA championship.
Pryor earned a degree in English in 2009 and considered pursuing a career in Hollywood, but his graduation present from parents Eric and Brenda Pryor was a plane ticket to Brazil, allowing him to enter his first international grand prix there. U.S coaches scouted him, then invited him to join the resident athlete program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"To go to Colorado Springs in 2010 and commit six years of training on the off chance that I might get good enough to make a run for the 2016 Olympics was a bold plan to say the least,'' he told The Plain Dealer in an email from the Czech Republic, where he was training.
"I think what kept me on this path is just this feeling I've always had deep inside that I could do more. Even when I was a kid and my results were heartbreakingly mediocre, I just had this powerful little voice in my stomach that pushed me to try harder.''
Band geek
Growing up in South Euclid, Pryor said he was better known as a "band geek" clarinet and saxophone player at Brush High. Those who knew him well also knew he spent nights fencing in the basement of Shaker Heights High School with the Alcazar Fencing Club.
"As for my friends back at Brush, for them fencing was the interesting thing Jason Pryor did, but no one knew very much about it,'' he said.
Like any teen, he was trying to figure out life. In fencing, he wanted to learn how to win. When he began to win, that raised the stakes.
"If I could just figure out that little something I was missing, then I was sure I could win everything,'' he said. "There was this incredible hunger to feel what it was like to win -- to be 'great,' to achieve these results that seemed almost impossible to my teenage self.
"That voice never went away, and each year I got better and my results became stronger. It's still there, egging me on, pushing me to get training because it's not enough to make the games. I could do something incredible there.''
Pryor (5-9, 175 pounds) is known in fencing circles for being clutch under pressure and for his quickness, disruptive footwork and uncanny ability to strike toward the low target, particularly the foot.
"There is literally nothing more satisfying on that planet than laying into someone with an epee and having the light go off,'' he said.
The face of U.S. epee
He heads to Rio with the advice of many former Olympians with whom he trained and lived in Colorado.
"The common message I heard from all of them is that the Olympics is a competition unlike anything else, and anything can happen,'' he said. "I've gotten this far by keeping my focus on the moment instead of the bigger picture.''
He will be the face of men's epee in Rio. The U.S. team did not qualify. In 2012, the U.S. sent two men, including Weston Kelsey, who finished fourth.
He took the hard way to Rio. After the U.S. failed to qualify as a team in February, he seemed like a long shot to qualify as an individual because his international results were not strong enough at the time.  
He needed to finish as one of the top two fencers from the Pan American Zone in the world rankings from a nation that had not already qualified a team. It came down to the Budapest Grand Prix on March 18, where he finally secured a spot with a stellar tournament, winning seven of his first eight bouts.
He does not look at Rio as the culmination of his career. Far from it.
"Right now, I can't imagine stopping,'' he said. "I've never had as much fun than I did battling through the ups and downs of Olympic qualification. I'm sure I'll go another (four years) for the 2020 Olympics, and after, I'll make moves to get into my dream job of writing for television.''

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