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Freshman Adam Thomson faces off against teammate junior Lucas Revano during the first day of the Wrestle-Offs competition at the Palestra on Nov. 5. Credit: Derek Wong

Adam Thomson went from completing a two-year mission trip to representing his home country in multiple wrestling world championships in under a year.

Now, Thomson is a 22-year-old freshman for the Penn wrestling team. It's been quite the journey for the Calgary native, which he knows better than anyone.

“I had a little bit of a different path than most athletes,” Thomson said. “After I graduated high school, I went on a two-year mission trip with a faith-based charity in Canada, mostly just working in the eastern United States and eastern Canada.”

After his two years of service were complete, Thomson went to America with the intention of resuming training for the 2022 U23 World Championships in Spain, and to figure out what he wanted to do for college. Eventually, he decided that a good place for both of those hopes would be the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center.

“I was just looking for a place to train,” Thomson said. “I had heard about the PRTC. I thought, 'Ok, I'm going to go there.' I'm going to train for a little bit. I'm going to see if I can figure out how this university thing is going to shake out as well.” 

Before his charitable excursion, Thomson had established himself as one of the best young athletes in Canada by becoming a four-time national wrestling champion, two-time freestyle wrestling national champion, and a two-time national judo champion. So with that pedigree, and time at Pennsylvania's RTC, his path to Penn became clear, if not wholly unique.

“One day he walked into our wrestling meeting — we call it our film room — and he said, ‘I've decided I would like to go to university,’” Penn wrestling coach Roger Reina, who worked with Thomson at PRTC, said. “And he came in with a manila folder filled with exceptional academic acumen.”

The time spent giving back to the community, which Reina noted as a key factor in his acceptance to the school and to the team, allowed Thomson to keep his NCAA eligibility for sports due to the charitable nature of the break, and it also explains his unusually old age for a freshman.

His first semester of college, though, overlapped with his expected appearance at the U23 Wrestling World Championships, which was slated for late October. Thomson's already-packed schedule started to become even more busy when he learned he would have the chance to represent his country in the Senior Wrestling World Championships just weeks before his U23 competition.

“The week before the senior tournament in September, I got a call from my coach from Canada,” Thomson said. “He's like, ‘Hey, look, the No. 1 guy, he's injured. He's out of the tournament. Would you be interested in going to Serbia next Saturday and competing? And obviously you don't get a ton of those opportunities. You only get to do those a couple times. And I said, 'Absolutely.'”

On only a half week notice, Thomson performed valiantly in the Senior World Championships against other more-prepared opponents representing their home countries, but he truly shined with his eighth-place finish in the U23 Championships finish, where he lost in the quarterfinals.

“I feel pretty good about how I did,” Thomson said. “Obviously, there's things to work on all the time. And there's lessons to be taken away from that tournament. I didn't win a medal and that's always the goal, but there's a lot of positive takeaways.”

Now, Thomson’s focus is directed towards succeeding nationally for Penn, which poses a unique challenge for the Canada-based wrestler.

“I'll be competing and hopefully earning a starting spot,” Thomson said. “But NCAA wrestling competes under different rules than the rest of the world. So there's some adjustment to be made there. I'm going to try as hard as I can, but I'm not expecting to go be an All-American or an NCAA champion this year. I'm just going to try and compete as hard as I can and learn as much as I can.”

Despite the whirlwind of changes, setbacks, surprise tournaments, and Penn classes, Thomson has kept the same resolve for the future that he has held for both his competitions and his missionary work.

“I take it one day at a time.” Thomson said. “It's a much more surreal experience than I was expecting it to be. But I'm just trying to enjoy it all while it happens.”

As Thomson’s wholly unique ride from national champion, to missionary, to international competitor continues at Penn, Thomson plans on attacking his new challenges at Penn like he always has: one step at a time.