Wrestling Into America: The Heroic Story of Reza Told By Kristin Orloff
The American Dream holds a different meaning for everyone. For some, it’s the standard idea of a married couple with
The American Dream holds a different meaning for everyone. For some, it’s the standard idea of a married couple with two kids a dog, and a white picket fence surrounding a suburban home. Others use the statement sarcastically as a way to relay their exhaustion from “achieving” the dream itself. And then there are individuals who dream of coming to America to give themselves a lifestyle that they weren’t born into. The story of Reza Abedi is about a man who bravely escaped Iran while wrestling for his country to move himself and later his family to America. Author and friend of Reza, Kristin Orloff, was kind enough to sit down with CELEB to share the details of the story as well as her perspective while learning it from the wrestler-turned-wrestling coach himself.
Running To Third Base First
Reza and Kristin were colleagues at a high school and also happened to have kids on the same little league team. They were sitting on the bleachers together one game when Reza shared with Kristin that the first time he hit a baseball, he ran to third base.
Kristin shared the story with CELEB saying, “I kind of laughed. I go, ‘Oh you must have been little.’ And, he goes, ‘No, I was in college.'” Kristin laughed, “‘So I go ‘Oh, you must’ve been drunk,’ he goes, ‘No, I don’t drink,’ and I said, ‘Well why weren’t you running to first?’ he said, ‘Nobody told me to run to first.’ He said, ‘Kristin, in Iran we didn’t have baseball. We wrestled [or] we played soccer.'”
Kristin then shared an insightful thought with CELEB, “What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was running to third base with my knowledge and understanding of Iran.” Their initial conversation about baseball became an entire little league season of Reza sharing his story with Kristin.
Kristin told CELEB, “As he was telling me these bits and pieces of his story I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.’ And, it was amazing not just because it was an incredible ‘escape from insert name of the country here,’ it wasn’t just that. But it was incredible to me because it was against this backdrop of this world-altering event of the 1979 revolution. It really was the first domino to fall in the middle east.”
“People completely skate over what happened in Iran and what the Shah was doing and how Ruhollah Khomeini was able to take over power. And, because prior to Ruhollah Khomeini coming in, I’ll just give you one example, women didn’t wear a hijab, they weren’t forced to cover. If you see commercials or pictures of Iran under the Shah in the 60s, they’re wearing bikinis, they’re smoking, they’re wearing 60’s fashion and go-go boots. And, they are a very sophisticated society,” Kristin told us.
“How do you go from that? To what they are undergoing now?”
“They Are Such A Close Loving Bonded Family”
“That was the story that I found compelling.” Reza and his family’s stories about escaping Iran became Kristin’s way to contextualize and humanize that part of history and put it into a book, “American Wings, Iranian Roots.”
“I always liked that mantra, ‘There are two things we can give to our children. One is wings and the other is roots,’ and Reza’s parents play such a pivotal role in his brothers and sisters [lives].”
Kristin talked about her trip to Brussels to film a documentary about Reza and his family where she had the opportunity to talk and get to know each member individually. “There is no question they would die for each other in a heartbeat. They are such a close loving bonded family. And, it just comes out in everything that they do,” says Kristin.
Kristin shared, “It’s amazing to hear their story from Reza’s perspective as well as his sister’s perspective,” referring to a time in the story when they had to trek through the snow with their father who was old and sick and was telling them to leave him so they can move quicker.
“They all kind of remember different parts differently. Which I totally get. But, They’re all telling the same story. And they’re consistent with it,” says Kristin admitting to questioning the reality of it all at moments. “But when you hear people and you see it in their face and you hear it in their voice and they’re recounting the same sequence of events, you know this is what happened. And, you ask yourself, ‘What would I do for my family?’ ‘what would my brother do for me?’, ‘What would I want my son to do when the father is begging him, just leave me here to die, take care of your sisters and he’s saying, ‘No baba I’m not gonna leave you here.”
“That’s just such a powerful moment that you can see what people are willing to do to escape, to be free, to be together as a family. And, I think that’s why his story resonates with so many people.”
Wrestling- Litteraly and Figurativeley
“Reza was a gold medal wrestler. So he was one of the best in the world,” Kristin says to CELEB. She continued to explain that “Iran takes pride in their wrestlers. These are the warriors. These are their superstars. These are their Derek Jeters and LeBron James‘, these are their elite, elite, elite.”
Reza’s only way out of Iran was to make their A-list traveling wrestling team and escape while competing in another country. He put his plan into action, made the team, and set forth to escape. However, shortly before he was leaving his younger brother was put in jail, forcing Reza to have to second guess his plan for the safety of his brother.
Kristin shares, “Reza has to wrestle with himself, and that’s one of the big themes in this book, there’s a lot of wrestling going on, both figuratively and literally. And, so he had to wrestle with, ‘if I defect, that will cause such humiliation to the government and to Ruhollah Khomeini because we are considered the elite athletes. We are the best in the world and we are representing Iran.'” Reza explained to Kristin that Iran was trying to put their best face on at this time given their reputation from the revolution. This forced Reza to have to think about how his actions would punish his family, specifically his brother in jail. “Do I want my 15-year-old brother to pay that price for my freedom?” Kristin shared of Reza’s story.
“American Wings Iranian Roots” is the full story of Reza’s escape from Iran. He escaped with his wrestling teammates, ran from the government, made his way to America, went through college on a wrestling scholarship, traveled across the world to save his family, and shares his story across school districts along with being a teacher and a wrestling coach. He is truly remarkable and Kristin gives him the spotlight in her book. Kristin tells CELEB, “My book is the book written by an American and it includes the American journey within the Iranian journey.”
“When I wrote the book, I write one first-person chapter of me and it’s about a page in a half maybe two pages. And then I do two chapters of Reza’s story in third-person in the past. And then a couple of pages of me, first-person present tense. And then a couple of chapters of Reza.”
Kristin continued to explain, “So I’m weaving my story together with his story which is what makes this book and our journey different.” “This isn’t just a story about the Iranians but it’s a story about an American learning about the Iranians.”