Amateur wrestling is grueling. That's what brings 900 athletes to Wasilla's Menard Sports Center.

Caden Gerlach is part of the Copper River Basin Wrestling Club. He has his eyes on something more important.

"It's for the titles, it's to get first," says Gerlach.

He is among those from around the state for the annual Alaska USA Wrestling Championships. Gerlach first hit the mat at the age of four.

"I immediately got pulled into it, I enjoyed it, when I was five years old, I went to my first tournament in Anchorage," recalled Gerlach while he had a break between matches.

It's similar for most of the older wrestlers. The tournament's boss is not surprised.

"It's a wonderful sport, and teaches such great discipline," says Alaska USA Wrestling Executive Director Bob Ottum.

Coaches say wrestling does more than just prepare these athletes to compete at the next level, it also teaches important life lessons.

"Wrestling is the best sport for kids, it teaches self-reliance, you're out there by yourself, you make a mistake, it's on you, you've got to learn from that," says Copper River Wrestling Club head coach Chad Gerlach.

For these wrestlers, the learning never stops.

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