by Michael Smith
When Grain Valley graduate Drake Tipton joined the wrestling team at Missouri Valley College, there was one person who took him under his wing – Fort Osage graduate Elias Vaoifi.
Vaoifi was a part of a global ministry called Athletes In Action, which has athletes from different sports join from around the world to travel to different countries to share their beliefs and experiences in regard to Christianity and compete against others in their respective sports.
Vaoifi invited Tipton to join the ministry and it led the former Eagle to a trip that changed his life in the summer of 2021.
He traveled to the Ukraine and Moldova to wrestle against overseas competitors and share his beliefs along with other wrestlers from the United States from Athletes in Action. There, of course, was a language barrier when Tipton engaged with those who lived in the Ukraine.
“I couldn’t understand a lick of what they were saying and even though they couldn’t understand me either, they were some of the most friendly people I have ever met,” said Tipton, who was a two-time state qualifier and state medalist at Grain Valley.
Tipton got to face off against some Ukrainian opponents and it ended up changing the way he wrestled. There was an opponent that he went up against in which the Missouri Valley sophomore lost 6-4. But in his second match with the same opponent, he won 10-6, gaining his opponent’s respect.
“They had a relentless style of wrestling there,” Tipton said. “They are constantly on the attack. You have to earn their respect because they don’t respect you when they don’t know your language. When he beat me the first time he gave me this look that was like, ‘Get out of my face.’
“But after I faced him the second time, I won by a larger margin than he beat me, I got his respect after that and we were best friends. In the Ukraine, their job and livelihood is dependent on wrestling.”
While there, Tipton also got to share his story about how he became a believer in Christianity and how it changed his life. One of the members of Athletes in Action, Steve Bennett, served as the interpreter between those who spoke English and those who spoke Ukrainian.
“We shared the gospel and how we came to Jesus,” Tipton said.
It was a trip the college sophomore will never forget and it changed his life and the way he wrestles. When he got back to the United States, he attended wrestling practices and camps at Blue Springs High School in the MO West Wrestling Club. After that, he went back to Missouri Valley College to practice and prepare for the 2021-2022 season.
His teammates noticed a difference in Tipton’s style of wrestling and the change came because of what he learned overseas.
“I used to be a defensive wrestler and react to what my opponent was doing,” Tipton said. “When I came back from Europe, I felt so much more confident on the mat. One of my teammates told me, ‘You are wrestling differently and in a scary way.”
“I was much more aggressive. Even if someone gets in on my legs, I kept on the attack and wanted to score points at all times. That’s how they wrestle in the Ukraine and I picked that up. After coming back from overseas, I really felt like I belonged with these guys (at Missouri Valley College) and that I was on par with them.”
Before the 2021-22 season, however, Tipton suffered a torn labrum while training in August, and decided to wear a brace while wrestling. He then had to change the way he worked out and trained so he wouldn’t make his injury any worse.
“I couldn’t go as hard as I wanted to,” Tipton said. “Sometimes I had to ask to leave practice early and my coaches were understanding. I also wouldn’t have been able to get through the season without our trainer, Jordyn. She was my rock throughout all of this.”
Tipton was able to wrestle and compete in duals and tournaments for the Vikings for the whole season and afterward, Tipton was able to focus on fully healing his injury as he had surgery after the season ended in March.
“Thirteen weeks ago my shoulder felt great,” Tipton said. “I have never taken that much time away from wrestling before. I am excited to get back on the mat.”
Tipton said he plans on attending an Athletes in Action Tournament in late August. It will be a senior-level tournament in which he will be wrestling against those older than himself. He plans on starting a fundraiser and has a T-shirt design in mind that he will be selling to help raise money for the trip. The cost will be around $3,000.
He plans on getting started in July. For more information to donate, Tipton can be followed on Twitter @DrakeTipton79kg.
“I am going to be going against grown men in the 79 kilogram weight class,” Tipton said. “It’s not going to be a cakewalk.
“I truly appreciate the support I have been shown. And I hope we can continue to grow and reach new milestones.”
In the meantime, Tipton will be training for that tournament and his sophomore season at Missouri Valley. He credited Grain Valley graduate Blake Desselle, who is a trainer at Exos Physical Therapy & Sports Performance, with helping him with his lifting program and “helping him compete at a higher level.”
For his remaining three seasons in college, Tipton is aiming high in regard to his goals with the wrestling program.
“I want to be an All-American,” he said. “If I had $1,000, I would bet $1,001 on myself. I am ready to let loose.”
Grain Valley graduate Drake Tipton traveled to the Ukraine in the summer of 2021 to share his story about being a Christian and competed against wrestlers overseas. Photos courtesy Drake Tipton