FOREST CITY | Richard Jensen, who went from being a drug addict and convict to winning a national wrestling title, recently told an audience in Forest City his story really isn't about sports.
"The man I became in the process was the biggest championship of all," he said during his Oct. 24 appearance at the Boman Fine Arts Center Auditorium.
Jensen said he's now a good husband and father and has become a motivational speaker, traveling around the country to encourage others to "Be a Champion in Life."
The Waldorf University Athletic Department and Student Life hosted Jensen, who was the subject of an episode of the ESPN series "Outside the Lines."
Waldorf student-athletes, students from area high schools and members of the community came to hear Jensen speak.
Jensen was a wrestler at his high school in Oregon.
After graduation he became addicted to methamphetamine, and spent time in and out of prison for drug, robbery and assault convictions.
His mother died of cancer while he was in prison, which prompted him to beat his addiction for good and turn his life around.
Jensen described getting out of the Oregon State Penitentiary for the last time on the day after Thanksgiving in 2004 and boarding a city bus to go downtown.
He was 34 years old and had only $32 to his name.
"I wanted to stay clean so bad," Jensen said. "I wanted a different life."
However, "I was scared to death because I didn't think I could do it," he said.
When he got downtown, he got in a long line outside a homeless shelter.
Jensen said he wanted to run and find some drugs or some whiskey, and to hide from his feelings.
But he stayed in line and got into the shelter, where he slept on the floor under a tattered blanket.
Jensen said he carried around "the guilt and shame of all the time I had wasted."
He thought a way to stay focused would be to wrestle again.
Jensen enrolled at Clackamas Community College in Oregon and went out for the wrestling team.
During his first season he lost every match but one.
However, "I was winning my life back," he said.
One thing he won back was his relationship with his two daughters, which had been broken because of his addiction.
During his second season, Jensen began winning on the mat as well, and qualified for the National Junior College Wrestling Tournament.
He won his first match at nationals before losing his second.
But his story didn't end there.
From 2009-2014 he placed four times in the top three in the country at the Veterans National freestyle and Greco wrestling tournament.
In 2015 he competed in Athens, Greece as part of the USA Veterans Team at the World Championships.
In 2016 he won the National Folk Style Wrestling Tournament.
Jensen told the young people in the audience not to waste their opportunities like he did, noting he still regrets not going to college when he was younger.
He encouraged them to find their passion and follow it.
Jensen advised them to surround themselves by positive people and "shut down the naysayers."
During the question and answer period following Jensen's talk, someone in the audience asked what he would advise doing about a family member addicted to drugs.
"There's no magic word that's going to cure somebody else," Jensen replied.
However, he advised sharing information and "little nuggets in inspiration" to him, and hopefully he will decide he wants to get clean.
Jensen also said to stay supportive and lead by example.
"Do the right thing," he said.