In the first major step he's taken since accepting an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, McCallie wrestler Adam Connell will be sworn in this morning in Knoxville as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
About six weeks from now he'll begin his Navy career when he reports to the Academy's prep school. Before that, though, Connell has planned -- with his parents, Gordon and Jan -- the adventure of a lifetime.
Gordon and Adam will climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 19,341 feet above sea level. The family also has planned a safari and a visit to the Great Pyramids during the three-week trip.
"I'm most excited about the climb. There's just something about being at the highest point in all of Africa," Adam said.
"I've been wanting to do it for four years," Gordon said. "Adam is going to be gone in less than two months, and I wanted us to share an incredible adventure. Relationships are more about memories that you have, and this would be a culminating experience."
The two already have traveled far together. They trekked the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu in Peru, one of the seven wonders of the world.
Upon their return from Africa, Adam will have a couple of weeks before he joins others at the Navy Prep School at Naval Station Newport (R.I.).
"I'm extremely lucky to be able to do this," he said of his choosing Navy over the Air Force Academy. "At first I was thinking I didn't want another [extra] year of school, but the more I thought about it, I realized it was better for me. In talking with wrestlers that had done it, they said it was one of the most fun years of their lives, and that they wouldn't want to do it again but that they wouldn't trade it, either."
If he'd chosen Air Force, Connell would have gone straight to that Academy in Colorado Springs.
"He loved Colorado Springs," said Gordon, who also has been Adam's coach throughout his wrestling career. "The facilities are more modern, they appeared to be less rigorous with the military side of things and there seemed to be a little more freedom."
After the trip to the Air Force Academy, though, the Connells made a trip to Annapolis, where the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team was competing in the Navy Classic.
"He'd gone to camp and summer seminar there, and the Navy Classic brought back that familiarity. It was something he has long wanted to do. He had written in an eighth-grade essay journal that he wanted to go to the Naval Academy," Gordon recalled.
"It's starting a new chapter in my life," Adam said. "There are unknowns -- I'll be leaving my family and friends, and unlike a normal college student I won't be able to come home as much. But I'm more excited and ready than apprehensive."
Wrestling achievements as much as academic prowess opened the doors for him to Navy.
He will join Navy as a three-time Tennessee state champion with a senior record of 46-3 and a career record of 180-23.
"He's very flexible and he's very competitive. I think any real competitor has to hate losing, and he doesn't like to lose," Gordon said. "Obviously college wrestling is a whole different game, and being at Navy he may not have as much free time to work on things, but if he listens to coaches and adapts, he could be a good college wrestler."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.