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 Montpelier Magazine

Bullish on life

THE HORNS MAY HAVE been corked, but those bulls were still intimidating beasts, particularly when they were rumbling down a crowded, narrow Spanish street. Just ask Pat Diaz, who took part in the running of the bulls in Pamplona last summer.

"Once those things looked me in the face, I just ran," says Diaz, a senior wrestler. "Those things are just so immense."

Diaz spent two months in Europe, studying at the University of Salamanca for six weeks before touring the continent and sky diving over the Swiss Alps.

The Rochester Hills, Mich., native also worked as a senior counselor at Camp Heartland in Willow River, Minn., a  non-profit organization dedicated to children infected by HIV and others affected by AIDS.

After exotic European adventures, Diaz returned to JMU to hit the books and the wrestling mat. The 141-pounder is a former NCAA tournament qualifier and academic All-American double majoring in international business and finance.

"Anyone can just be good at a sport," he says. "There are a lot of people who are just good athletes. I pride myself on being a good student, too. You're a more well-rounded person."

Diaz vies with his roommates, fellow wrestlers Steve Kodish and Jon Huesdash, for the best grades. The competition has driven Kodish and Huesdash to their first 4.0s. "I haven't met a harder-working person," Kodish says. "It helps me, too. When I see him go running at night or studying extra, I'm like, 'may-be I need to be doing the same thing.'"

Diaz originally signed with American University after a stellar career at Rochester Adams High School. After his father, Armando, died of lung cancer in November of his freshman year, Diaz wanted a "new start" and fresh surroundings, so he transferred to JMU. He credits his father with much of his success.

"He's been kind of a motivator for me, keeping my family together by talking about my success with wrest-ling," Diaz, who has two sisters and a brother, says. "I just wanted to win for my family."

Diaz did exactly that as a sophomore, going 23-14 and earning a wild card to the NCAA tournament, where he went 1-2 in the double-elimi-nation format. Diaz ended the 2003 season with a 4-2 record in the CAA and 18-9 overall. He ranks 16th all-time at JMU for career wins with 78.

"He's definitely not the strongest wrestler, but he's very good technically," says first-year coach Chris Elliott. "He thinks about what he's doing out there and doesn't get himself into bad positions. Pat's definitely a hard kid to score on."

Diaz is one of JMU's few remaining scholarship wrest-lers since the 2001 reorganization of the university's varsity sports program. Yet wrestling is only part of Diaz's story. His father's death put him in touch with his own mortality, thus the search for adventures like sky diving and running with the bulls.

"I just kind of wanted to go out there and do something different," Diaz says. "When I got into college, I started looking into unique ways to spend my summer."

He seems most proud of his work with Camp Heartland, having spent the last two summers as a counselor. Founded in 1993, the organization offers seven one-week summer sessions in Willow River and in Malibu, Calif.

"Pat has certainly been among the greatest male counselors we've had," says Camp Heartland founder Neil Wilson. "The kids look up to him. He is overtly a strong person, but they also see a caring side to him."

Not surprisingly, Diaz has already been offered a job in the real world from BearingPoint, a consulting firm in Mc-Lean. He hasn't accepted yet, but most likely will join the company in August.

In the meantime, he's planning to spend another summer at Camp Heartland, perhaps mesmerizing the campers with tales from Pamplona and getting "squashed" by a bull-avoiding mob. "You try to get close to the bulls, and they have these corks on their horns, and they just throw people," recalls Diaz. "But they're not getting killed, so everyone's having fun. It's just an amazing experience.

One of many for Diaz.

By Tom Stevens, Courtesy of the Daily News-Record