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|BEACH FEATURE: Ray Downey wrestles at the beach for fun and with the memory of his father, a 9-11 hero|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
The development of Beach Wrestling has re-opened wrestling to numerous people who have not competed for many years, but have stayed physically active and interested in the sport. One such person is Ray Downey.
Downey, 39, is now competing in Beach Wrestling events for the second straight summer. He entered the 2005 ASICS East Coast Beach Nationals in Long Beach, N.Y. and found his passion for wrestling again. This year, he not only entered the ASICS East Coast event, but will be traveling to Palm Beach County, Fla. in a few days to enter the first U.S. Beach National Championships, August 19-20.
The name Downey is very familiar to anybody in Long Island, N.Y. wrestling circles. He was one of three brothers who were successful prep wrestlers from Deer Park. His older brothers Joe and Chuck were champion wrestlers, and Ray built on the legacy, becoming a 1985 New York high school state champion and the Outstanding Wrestler. He competed at Div. I Hofstra Univ.
Downey was the head wrestling coach at Levittown Division High School in Nassau County for seven years, and is now an assistant coach at East Meadow High School, one of the region's stronger programs. An elementary school teacher for 15 years, Downey has remained involved in wrestling as an adult.
You may have heard the name Downey in another context in recent years. His father, New York City Fire Department Chief Raymond Downey, was a hero during the September 11 attacks. As the Chief of Special Operations, he was in charge of the rescue mission at the World Trade Center, and was among those killed in the line of duty helping save lives during the disaster. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame honored Raymond Downey with the 2002 Medal of Courage for his service and sacrifice, and he has become an inspiration to so many people.
"I have got to give the inspiration to my father," said Ray Downey between matches at the ASICS East Coast Nationals. "Wrestling is like a disease. I don't have the desire to keep the singlet on. But, I am in the sand with my family for 45 days a summer each year. Wrestling on the beach is great."
The Downey family keeps the memory of their father alive in all that they do, taking pride in him and living by the example that he set for them. All three of the Downey brothers wear the same tattoo, which has the world DAD at the top, and features an American flag, the numbers 9-11, and a U.S. Marine Corps logo. His brothers Joey and Chuck followed their father's professional path by becoming firemen, and both have risen to the rank of Chief in a very short time.
Raymond Downey was an active wrestling father, traveling with his talented sons and supporting their careers on the mat. He was always with the boys throughout their wrestling careers, and remains alongside Ray as he pursues his interest in Beach Wrestling.
"He was right there for us. I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for him," said Ray. "He loved this stuff. He would be here if he could. He had a passion for wrestling. When he was young, he couldn't do sports. He had to work. But he supported our wrestling. He drove out to Iowa four years in a row for Junior Nationals. He was involved."
These days, his father isn't physically with him while he wrestles, but his spirit is always there. Ray also has tremendous support from his immediate family, his wife Carolyn, who is also a teacher, and his three daughters, Kayla (5), Ellie (3) and Lacy (18 months). When Ray wrestles in a Beach Wrestling match, Carolyn is running the video camera, and all three girls are right next to the ring, cheering for their dad.
One of his daughters was at the beach at the East Coast Nationals, wearing a t-shirt with the name Raymond Downey on it. The shirt was from a popular roadrace which is held every year in Deer Park in his memory and provides those in the community a chance to celebrate the life of Raymond Downey through sports.
Just like during his mat career, Ray Downey doesn't play around with Beach Wrestling. He has the same approach as when he competed in high school and college. Ray Downey is serious about it. His competitive spirit remains very strong.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want to win," said Downey. "If you are a wrestler, you just don't like losing. You enter to be a winner."
Ray has kept in great shape, working out, running and coaching. He and his brothers have participated in marathons. He comes to these events prepared.
"What really helped me out this year was that my brother Chuck and I spent seven days out at Montauk Point at the beach," said Ray. "We battled each other for five days in the sand and alongside the ocean."
Downey will be traveling with his wife to Florida for the U.S. Beach Nationals, a perfect opportunity for another competition as well as a short vacation with the kids staying at home with family. One of his wrestling teammates, Ted DiPasquale, also a champion from Long Island, will also be going to Palm Beach and is expected to enter the tournament, as well.
There is something about Beach Wrestling which keeps Ray working out and stokes the fire that still burns inside him.
"Beach Wrestling is super for the sport. It's something different. It keeps you working out in the summer. You can get in more matches, stay healthier and feel better afterwards," he said.
And every time Ray steps into the ring on the sand, he continues to wrestle with the memory of his father in his heart and his soul.
Editor's Note: The photo with this story features Ray Downey with his youngest daughter Lacy at the ASICS East Coast Beach Nationals in Long Beach, N.Y.