Ryan Rawl and John Meador gave their all on the wrestling mat — training in the same room.
Wednesday, the two men gave their lives for their country — fighting in the same military company.
The two former wrestlers, who were both deployed to Afghanistan with the South Carolina National Guard, died when a suicide bomber attacked their patrol. Another South Carolina soldier, , also died in the attack. .
Apart from wrestling and the military, Meador and Rawl had something else in common: they both cared about people.
Rawl was a Richland County Sheriff's deputy and a resource officer at Crayton Middle School. Meador spent time coaching wrestling at White Knoll Middle School.
They were hard-working, dedicated and loyal, said Roy Turner, their coach at Lexington High.
"The same great things you could say about one," Turner added, "you could say about the other."
Passion for coaching
Meador, a 1993 Lexington High wrestling state champion, was serious about wrestling and genuinely cared about the children he coached at White Knoll.
"He was always cognizant of kids who might be without. If they needed wrestling shoes, he would find a way to get them some,” said Robert Wolfe, whose son was on the wrestling team around 2000. “He was just really cognizant of others and what their feelings were."
Wolfe assisted Meador with coaching, traveled to tournaments with the team and, over time, became friends with Meador.
Meador was good at interacting with parents, made sure the children got a ride home after practice and cared about their success on and off the mat, Wolfe said.
"He coached a whole generation of White Knoll wrestlers,” he said. “He would take the time after practice if they were having a problem and work with them on it."
And the extra time spent with the wrestlers paid off. The athletes Meador coached were “extremely successful.”
"He really cared about the kids,” Wolfe said. “I guess that'll be the legacy he left behind — the kids he coached.”
A huge smile and a big hug
Ryan Rawl was a senior at Lexington High and one of the wrestling team captains when Derek Strobel started his first year as head coach.
It could have been a difficult time for Strobel. A change of leadership isn’t easy for a team, Strobel said, especially for some of the older members. But Rawl helped make the transition a smooth one.
"Ryan was one of those seniors who just totally welcomed me,” Strobel said. “He just totally bought into everything that I tried to do. He just made me feel like what I was doing was accepted."
After Rawl’s high school wrestling years were over, he kept in touch with Strobel. The Monday before Rawl died in the bombing in Afghanistan, he sent a Facebook message to Strobel just to say "hey" to his former coach and ask how he was doing.
“He was the guy who would always come up with a huge smile on his face, give me a hug and ask how my family was doing," Strobel said.
Rawl, a deputy with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, was married with two kids of his own.
"He loved his family so much. He loved his kids,” Strobel said. “He was just an all-around unbelievable person."
A 2004 graduate of the Citadel, Rawl served as military police platoon leader in the 133rd Military Police Company.
“He was an absolute leader, always leading from the front. He motivated his platoon to do everything they could to the best of their ability,” said Chad Bryant, a 2005 Citadel graduate who served as Rawl’s company leader.
“Ryan was the most genuine person I have ever known and absolutely loved leading soldiers,” Bryant said. “His magnetic personality inspired all around him to be the best that they could be.”
Honor these men
When Strobel heard about the death of the two former Lexington High School wrestlers, he wanted to do something to honor them.
The team champion trophy at the 2013 Military Duals will be named after Rawl and Meador.
The Military Duals, a wrestling tournament sponsored by the U.S. Navy and hosted by Chapin High School wrestling, will take place at Lexington High School in 2013.
"We're going to try and honor both of these guys as much as we can,” Strobel said.
In the same way Meador and Rawl wanted to make a difference in the U.S., they tried to make a difference in Afghanistan.
"They were two very patriotic boys, two family-oriented boys. That's the backbone of America," said Roy Turner, who coached the two of them. "They felt like they could help those people over there."
But even in Afghanistan, they never forgot about their roots.
"Since they were both in the same unit," Turner said, "you know what they were spending time talking about: wrestling."