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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
James Demos once had a shot at the Olympics. Now after losing 80 pounds, he is competing again.
By DOUG KATES
Published June 2, 2006
At 40 years old and 360 pounds, James Demos had lost most of the physical characteristics he had while wrestling for Pinellas Park and the Army.
But with a lot of encouragement from friends and his daughter, Megean, thoughts of returning to a wrestling mat quickly became a reality.
It took Demos five months to lose 80 pounds. By April, he was ready to compete in a national tournament in Las Vegas. He thought about going just to watch but decided to go all out.
Not only did Demos compete, he went 14-0 in winning Greco and Freestyle titles. "I was a little apprehensive," said Demos, now living in Georgia. "I was kind of worried. I figured I was going to get someone who hadn't been off the match too long."
Demos competed in the veterans division. Competitors must be 35 or older and retired for at least two years. Most competitors are actively involved in high school or college programs. "(James) watched what he ate, worked out in a club and did other exercises," business partner Mike Thomas said. "But he had not had much time on the mat prior to that weekend. However, the big man ... found some old magic."
Demos was born in Largo and graduated from Pinellas Park in 1984. He was a two-time state qualifier and placed sixth in 1983.
He enlisted in the Army and wrestled for 12 years. Army workouts were three times a day. It was vigorous, but Demos said, "I loved every minute of it."
In 1996, Demos went to an Olympic tryout, earning the second alternate spot at heavyweight.
From there, he started an industrial maintenance business in Columbus, Ga., and admits he had so many workers, all he had to do was sit around and be lazy.
While the weight began growing, his daughter grew up. Megean became interested in cheerleading and has seen great success herself. Demos admitted he had become a "cheer dad."
"I tried to convince her to wrestle, but she'd have no part of it," Demos said.
Last year, an Army buddy, Keith Siracki, told Demos he was going to compete in Vegas. At first, Siracki asked Demos to watch. But then the juices started bubbling, and Siracki asked Demos to compete with him.
Demos said his daughter overheard the conversation, and the 11-year-old convinced her dad to do what he loves to do.
"She's a good kid," Demos said. "She made sure I worked out. She wouldn't let me eat junk food."
Now Megean enjoys watching her dad wrestle, and dad enjoys taking his daughter to cheerleader competitions.
And there will be no letup. High school is approaching fast while dad is now eyeing a world tournament in the former Soviet Union. Demos said he never imagined he would ever consider wrestling at a world event. With the September deadline approaching, it looks like there's a good chance he'll go.
"The fun is the competition," Demos said. "It's hard to put it down."