Arsen Ashughyan, a member of the Ohio University wrestling team, poses for a portrait in the wrestling room of the Convocation Center on November 18th, 2015.
Wrestler Arsen Ashughyan came to America last August from Armenia knowing hardly any English. Not only did he not know the English language, he also didn’t know how to paint a room.
“He has a bedroom in the upper part of the house, and he painted it,” Richard Davis, Ashughyan’s 80-year-old godfather, said. “He learned to paint as he went along, and it turned out to be a nice room.”
Ashughyan stays with Davis in Marietta when he is not at Ohio University, and painting is one of several activities Ashughyan does around the house. Davis said Ashughyan is also a pretty good cook, especially barbecue, which he learned from his father.
Davis’ relationship with Ashughyan’s family stems from meeting some of the relatives during his training for the Peace Corps in 2007. Davis said he “fell in love” with the Ashughyan family and has maintained a good relationship with them ever since.
Ashughyan, who tried to get a visa to travel to the United States three times before coming last August, is a sophomore by status, as he graduated high school a year early, but is still registered as a freshman for wrestling.
Ashughyan has excelled in the classroom in his two years at Ohio — he is a business major who speaks English, Russian and Armenian fluently — but it is the connection he has with his father that has helped spark his wrestling career.
“I started wrestling when I was 8 years old,” Ashughyan said. “My dad just took me to the wrestling gym in my area.”
Ashughyan’s dad used to do sambo, a form of martial arts similar to wrestling, which was a factor in Ashughyan pursuing wrestling.
Even though he is new to the Bobcats, he seems to be climbing the ladder on the team about as fast as he learned to paint in Davis’ home.
“He’s gotten better and better,” Ohio coach Joel Greenlee said. “I think he’ll continue to get better and be pretty good.”
As Ashughyan’s wrestling career took off, he started to make a name for himself in Armenia, a hotbed for one of the oldest sports in the world.
Wrestling has existed in the Armenian Highlands, one of the three plateaus that helps form the northern section of the Middle East, since 281 A.D., according to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator. The country even has its own form of wrestling called Kokh, which has influenced sambo.
“I would say it’s a big part of our culture,” Ashughyan said. “It’s one of the biggest sports in Armenia that people respect. People go watch wrestling matches all the time.”
Growing up in Armenia, Ashughyan wrestled for the Armenian national team. Two years ago, he wrestled at the Armenian championship, which decides who will go to the European championship or the world championship.
“My first year, I got fifth, and my second year I got third,” Ashughyan said. “When I got third, I was on the Armenian European team, the team that is supposed to go to the European championship.”
In Ashughyan’s third year with the Armenian team, he placed second. That second place finish wasn’t in vain, however. The wrestler who beat him went on to the Cadet Olympics.
Other than being on the Armenian national team at the age of 17, though, the cook, painter and trilingual wrestler isn’t just an athlete.
“He fits all the descriptions of ‘nice,’ ” Davis said. “He is a nice kid, and he likes his fellow wrestlers.”
Davis pays for Ashughyan to go to school in Athens, and although he says he isn’t a “rich man,” he believes he’ll be able to pay Ashughyan’s way for the rest of his college career.
Davis added that he has an agreement with Ashughyan in that he pays for his tuition, and once Ashughyan finishes college and gets a job, he will take care of Davis.
“He’s a very close person to me, so that’s why I help him,” Ashughyan said of Davis. “Sometimes I call him grandpa just because we are that close to each other.”