Clay Perry, a member of the UCF Wrestling Club, had the opportunity to do what many collegiate athletes only dream of doing: becoming a national champion. The senior from St. Cloud, Florida, claimed the gold medal in the 174-lb. weight class at the annual NCWA Championships in March.

“If I didn’t win this year, none of this [hard work] was really worth it,” says Perry, who walked away from the sport at age 13 but an opportunity with UCF Sport Clubs brought him back.

The psychology major in the College of Sciences led the Knights by taking first place in his weight class. Ironically, the wrestler began his career in the hopes of improving his chances of success in another sport: football. But along the way, many wrestling experts recognized his wrestling talent.

After walking away from wrestling for three years to try other sports, Perry went to American Top Team, a martial arts and athletic training facility in Orlando for some casual fun. Perry says he missed the individuality of wrestling, unlike other sports he participated in. American Top Team owner Jayson Patino spotted Perry and told him that he could be a valuable attribute to the Wrestling Club at UCF.

“He told me I would do very good right off the bat,” Perry says. “Five years later I am an undefeated national champ.”

Perry’s athletic success as a freshman was enough to solidify his confidence in being a leader in the Wrestling Club. He described his freshman year involvement in Sport Clubs as a turning point for his wrestling career. He thanked coaches J.D. Robbins, C.J. Cook, Jason Balma and David Setner and his many training partners throughout his collegiate career.

He also credits his competitive personality in separating himself from other athletes.

“I love winning so much,” he says, “but the biggest thing is that I hate losing so much.”

Perry hopes to continue to be involved in wrestling for the rest of his life. His advice to his successors is not to focus so much on the start, but to focus on the finish during their wrestling careers.

This is the 19th individual national title for a UCF Sport Clubs member. UCF also has 20 club national titles.