The following images were exhibited at the Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles, CA during World Cup Week, June 6-13th, 2016. Alongside works by Jonny Ruggiano and Joey Krebs/THE PHANTOM STREET ARTIST, I was honored to display images and stories from my project, The Fire Inside.

Adeline Gray - The Fire Inside portraitAdeline Gray

If she were only a three-time world champion, Adeline would be impressive enough. But add to that her other accomplishments—first woman to have a signature wrestling shoe, five world medals overall, and recent college graduate—and her story starts to become legendary.

In a way, she’s quietly amassed what could be the greatest career in US women’s wrestling history. If she becomes the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in Rio, winning her fourth world level championship in the process, then it would be hard to argue against her.

She takes great pride and responsibility in being a role model for girls, demonstrating how strong and powerful women can be. She’s on a mission. As such, she contributes to the community, goes out of her way to sign autographs and take pictures with wide-eyed, reverent fans, and is constantly learning and growing.

Her dedication and focus are terrific examples for us all.

Jordan Burroughs - The Fire Inside portraitJordan Burroughs

Jordan is a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and a 3x World Champion at 74kg/163lbs. for the United States men’s freestyle wrestling team. He is inarguably the most accomplished active wrestler from the United States, and if he continues his current pace, will be in the conversation for greatest wrestler in American history, and perhaps the world. His current string of dominance is nearly impeccable, with a career international record of 125-2.

As such, he is the face of the sport.

He’s also a dedicated family man, a universally-well-liked human being, and a conscientious, approachable superstar to his fans—you can follow him everywhere: @alliseeisgold.

Within the wrestling community, Jordan is The Man. Outside in the rest of the world, he doesn’t have such universal name recognition. For many, that’s hard to understand. But it also may be changing. During the 100 Days to Rio event in New York City’s Times Square, Jordan was chosen from amongst many Olympians in attendance, including several who might have higher Q Scores, to be the emcee and introduce surprise guest Michelle Obama to the crowd. Along with recent endorsement deals with mainstream brands Hershey’s and Ralph Lauren, Jordan is making inroads to mainstream awareness.

This photo was taken in Las Vegas, NV, the night he won his most recent world championship.

Monil Shah - The Fire Inside portraitMonil Shah

Monil first started wrestling in 10th grade. His father didn’t want him to shave his mustache, but the wrestling coach at his school said that everyone had to shave to be allowed to wrestle. So, like any dutiful teenager, he jumped right in.

Now in his fifth year out of high school, he is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Economics at Hunter College, interning at a boutique investment bank, and working at his father’s wholesale diamond and custom jewelry office. But he still makes time to return to the mat.

He says: “Wrestling has taught me to leave no stone unturned, to knock on every door, and of course, to never give up. It has taught me to do sets of 11 pushups when everybody else does sets of 10. It’s given me family and a team to belong to when I had nothing else.”

His goals in life are big: he wants to help eradicate poverty, and improve the living standard for people in developing countries. And given the size of his heart, care for others, and determination, I know he’ll have a big impact.

Nyasa Bakker - The Fire Inside portraitNyasa Bakker

Nyasa was the first rostered female on the men’s varsity wrestling team at the State University of New York College at Cortland. At 4′ 11″, everyone knows her as Tiny.

A freshly-minted graduate, her college career saw her serve on the executive board of three organizations, including as President of the Educational Opportunity Program Executive Board. She was also active in a number of other clubs and served along with school faculty and other students as a Student Justice on the Cortland judicial board.

Back home in the city, she works with Beat the Streets New York as a summer camp counselor and assistant with Big Apple Games. She mentors, too. She plans to continue her involvement with BTS post-college and has even been thinking about heading up an entire program.

She is one of the many burgeoning examples that power the cycle of development and progress of the Beat the Streets programs. Her enthusiasm and energy are infectious and she serves as a powerful role model for those coming up through the system.

Milena Wick - The Fire Inside portraitMilena Wick

Milena has wrestling in her blood. Not only is she the mother of some of the baddest boys on the California mats, but she also serves as the Director of Operations for powerhouse wrestling club Titan Mercury.

While never a wrestler herself, her brother wrestled in high school and she’s been fascinated by the sport for years. She loves how connected the athletes are to their bodies, and their ability to understand their strengths and when to use them.

It’s unsurprising then that her sons, her greatest pride and joy, are wrestlers themselves. She loves supporting them in their endeavors and has raised them to be the best at whatever they do.

“Wrestling has taught me to be strong, to have faith in the process, and that with hard work, anything can be achieved.”

Lydell Henry - The Fire Inside portraitLydell Henry

Lydell is the founding Executive Director of Beat the Streets Baltimore. Before that, he was a coach, advocate, and organizer for one wrestling program near downtown Baltimore. His hard work and success in raising funds and developing young people evolved into the larger BTS organization. And he’s doing some amazing things.

Many wrestling programs have wrestling camps. What most don’t have is a strong academic focus in STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—as well. This training and educational opportunity is critical in bridging the widening gaps seen in STEM degrees and careers between whites and minorities. Paired with wrestling, it’s a unique and exciting proposition.

“Wrestling teaches a person to overcome, to be mentally tough, and to persevere. And that carries over into other areas in their life,” Lydell told CNN.

The goals of Beat the Streets are as simple as they are challenging: cut back on truancies and other poor behaviors, and increase grades. Another key component to the process is the mentoring that helps shepherd these young lives through the vagaries of adolescence. It’s an everyday situation, but Lydell is up to the task.

Last month he and other members of BMe Community, a national social network for inspired black men and community-builders of all races and genders, were honored at the White House with the President’s Voluntary Service Award in recognition for his “work preventing violence, educating children and creating economic opportunity in Baltimore.”

It’s a well-deserved honor.

Isaiah Bird - The Fire Inside portraitIsaiah Bird

Wrestling is his family, his foundation, and his home, all wrapped up in one. He can count on them and there is stability—something he didn’t have in his life before.

Isaiah and his story are no stranger to the spotlight, as it was documented in the ESPN SportsCenter feature about his life that before he came to the sport, both of his parents were charged with domestic violence against each other, his father was in and out of prison, and he was living in a shelter.

Then he met Miguel Rodriguez. He’s not only Isaiah’s classroom aid and wrestling coach, but he’s also like father. In fact, Isaiah stays at Miguel’s home with Miguel’s parents, girlfriend, and teenage son. Along with Miguel, Isaiah has found an entire family who are all there for each other.

He’s been given love, protection, trust, and reliability, a great foundation on which to build a strong life.

Oh yeah, there’s one other thing: he was born without legs. No worries, though. He lives his life following the motto, “No excuses.”

Sage Mortimer - The Fire Inside portraitSage Mortimer

Sage is barely a teenager, but you wouldn’t know it by her laser focus. Six years into her wrestling career, she’s eschewed other sports to concentrate on her mat work, which includes a healthy dose of her favorite style: Greco-Roman.

If you know wrestling, you might be surprised to read that, because even as uncommon as it’s been for girls to wrestle freestyle and folkstyle, it’s quite rarer indeed—by magnitudes—for a girl to venture into the deeper waters of upper-body-only battle. There is women’s freestyle in college and the Olympics, but not Greco.

Sage hopes to change that. She loves throwing. Check out the many video clips of her launching her male opponents. She’s tough. Her mom, Shanille, loves her approach to challenges. Sage is like a honey badger (my words, not hers) in that she just doesn’t care about any negative commentary coming her way. She refuses to let anything distract her from accomplishing her goals, a mindset they both attribute to her hours and hours of practicing and competing in wrestling. She sets her mind to a goal and smashes them, whether it’s getting straight A’s or plowing through the resistance to let girls wrestle against boys in her home state of Utah.

There’s been rumblings of women’s Greco being added to the world and Olympic docket. Sage would obviously love for that to happen: one of her goals is to be a Greco Olympian. Well, and freestyle, too, of course.

Sage was named USA Wrestling Utah’s Woman of the Year in 2013.

Destane Garrick - The Fire Inside portraitDestane Garrick

Destane’s on-the-mat credentials are up there with any other wrestler to come from New York City: seven All-American honors, including one national championship, and a 4th-place finish at the Junior Pan Am championships.

But it’s her life wins that truly set her apart. She displays a genuine sense of gratitude, as evidenced by her thanking multiple coaches for their contributions to her development; a beautiful heart full of generosity and service to others, as illustrated by her work as a Beat the Streets office intern and staffer, summer camp and Big Apple Games counselor, and coach for the New York State girls Fargo team; and her habit of overcoming obstacles, as shown by everything she does in life.

She has been very clear about who she wants to be and conscious of the immense work it takes to get there. But she hasn’t let that intimidate her or slow her down.

She credits wrestling with giving her that confidence.

Barry Hart - The Fire Inside portraitBarry Hart

Barry Hart is one of the many Beat the Streets kids who are now helping out with the next generation. He’s served as a coach, a camp counselor, an office assistant, and most importantly, as an example of what is possible when you commit to a positive life with hard work and dedication. He’s currently enrolled at Hunter College.

And he very well might never have made it out of high school, if not for wrestling. With both of his biological parents deceased, Barry didn’t even have a valid social security number until he was nearly 18 years old.

Wrestling played a huge role in his development and in providing mentors and opportunity.

He’s paying it forward to the next generation and doing extraordinary things with his life.

I couldn’t be more proud of the man he’s become.

Tony Rotundo - The Fire Inside portraitTony Rotundo

For the past 10 years, Tony has been one of the premiere image-makers in the world of wrestling, helping to shape the way we all view and share the sport with each other and the outside world. His photographs have been on dozens of magazine covers, and—in the highest honor of modern expression—served as the social media avatars and profile pictures for hundreds.

And like many of us still involved with the sport, Tony started as a competitor. His father was a coach, so he has been around the sport his entire life. At the ripe old age of 5 years, he began his competitive career and hasn’t looked back since, attributing his confidence, fortitude, and fearlessness to the fraternity of wrestling.

Through his website, Tony serves up coverage of many of the premier wrestling events around the world. Check it out.

Lauren Burroughs - The Fire Inside portraitLauren Burroughs

Lauren is a testament to the power of a strong support system behind our athletes. If you ever read or watch an interview with Jordan, it is immediately clear that a big reason he’s able to be successful is the partnership he has with his wife. The saying “teamwork makes the dream work” is a favorite of mine, and I see that played out in their union.

They’re both strong-minded individuals and they work well together making things happen in their lives. With matches to break down together and in building a growing family (she’s due any day now with Baby Burroughs #2!), they have big goals and are creating an incredible legacy—both for themselves and the country.

Kyra Tirana Barry - The Fire Inside portraitKyra Tirana Barry

Kyra never wrestled, but she’s become one of the most active and influential advocates for the sport, carrying out a number of roles and helping lead the advancement of women’s wrestling and youth opportunities in the sport.

Her contributions are many and varied. She’s the President of the board of Beat the Streets New York, the current Team Leader for the USA Wrestling women’s freestyle team, and an active parent to two wrestlers of her own—in addition to being on the board of several other organizations outside of wrestling.

And to think, it all started off as an occasional casual spectator.

Through watching her husband, Dave, and seeing how the sport has impacted him and many others, she developed a passion and motivation to spread opportunities, saying, “There is something very powerful about being embraced by and being a part of this community.”

As a member of the first full co-educational class at Columbia College, Kyra is no stranger to being at the forefront of institutional change, and that experience has helped her continue expanding opportunities for others, with specific focuses on women and youth. Strengthening Beat the Streets, enriching her community, working to see every state recognize girl’s wrestling, expanding collegiate wrestling programs for young women and getting NCAA sanctioning—these are the goals that she’s working toward.

We are fortunate to have her on our team.

Kyra was recently named the 2015 USA Wrestling Woman of the Year.

Mike Novogratz - The Fire Inside portraitMike Novogratz

Mike is one of wrestling’s great supporters. From his visionary leadership of the Beat the Streets New York program, which has inspired the creation of over a dozen other programs around the world, to his serving as spokesman for the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, which was successful in getting wrestling reinstated onto the Olympic program, this Princeton grad and former army helicopter pilot serves in many capacities in the sport and is one of the key figures in the current push to grow the sport to reach more people.

Of particular interest is in providing opportunities for more kids to have access to wrestling programs. Why this is important gets to the crux of what it is about wrestling that makes it so special. The idea of youth development, of taking the raw material of a boy or girl and turning it into a healthy, happy, productive adult is a complex process. It’s fraught with complications, competing opinions on what is effective, and a myriad of potential distractions from a life well-lived. For many of us, wrestling stands out as the absolute best tool to provide the structure and mechanism for positive development, both individually and communally. We know because it has been that for us.

Novo likens wrestling to a cauldron. In the same way that a cauldron serves as the point of convergence for a host of ingredients, where heat and pressure are added, and where all of the inputs coalesce into a final product, so too does wrestling create the environment, mechanism, and process for all the aspects of personal development to converge: the physical, emotional, social, psychological, and even spiritual. It’s the apex of development frameworks.

The result is an education in grit. That’s why we do it, and that’s why parents drop their kids off at wrestling practice. It teaches confidence and how to not be afraid in the face of daunting challenges. It breeds toughness and discipline. Forces you to get back on your feet after getting knocked down. It creates a faith in yourself, that no matter what you’re faced with, you have the belief that you’re capable and will be able to handle the situation. That calm in a firestorm is the essence of leadership.

And wrestling is the cauldron where it all comes together.

Paul Kieblesz - The Fire Inside portraitPaul Kieblesz

Paulie has been involved with the sport of wrestling for nearly 60 years. Beginning in his native Poland as a precocious junior-aged wrestler, his early promise prompted a quick move up to the senior level where he had success on the army team.

He came to the United States in 1964 and joined the New York Athletic Club team where he continued to compete in both freestyle and Greco-Roman until 1973. His next incarnation was as a referee, where he attained a Category 1 ranking and was known around the world. Following his retirement, he entered his current role as an elder statesman and team leader, using his fluency in three (and a half) languages to liaise between various countries and teams during times of travel and exchange.

Like many others, Paulie points to the people he’s been able to meet and help as his greatest appreciation in the sport. He says, “No other sport is like wrestling. It unites us all, no matter of religion or nationality.” He’s proud of the friends he has made and broken bread with over the years.

From the athletes and coaches to the fans and sponsors, there’s a definite sense of family within the wrestling community, and it’s a beautiful thing. “It’s important that we continue friendships, being trustworthy and respecting each other.”

Vy Vivian Vu - The Fire Inside portraitVy Vivian Vu

Vivian is like many others who credit wrestling with giving her the opportunity to meet people and make friends from all over the country, build a sense of confidence and discipline on the back of hours of toil on the mat, and keep her on track through the gauntlet of responsibilities and distractions in high school.

But Vivian is unlike anyone else because she is the first female wrestling referee in New York City.

A graduate of Brooklyn Tech, one of the most competitive and esteemed high schools in the country, Vivian started wrestling as a freshman. She was the only girl on the largest team in the city. She’s currently taking a gap year to work an internship at Facebook. She’ll continue her education in pursuit of a Computer Science degree with a concentration in bioinformatics at Hunter College in the fall.

Her proudest achievement was winning the girl’s Mayor’s Cup tournament her sophomore year because that was the first time she saw herself as a winner.

She’s been winning ever since.

Marian Olalde - The Fire Inside portraitMariana Olalde

Mariana is a tremendous asset to the wrestling community. She is a shining example of the good the sport does for people and, in turn, the good that people do for the sport.

She started wrestling only in 11th grade, but since she began, it has been a daily part of her life, as none pass where she doesn’t think about the sport and what good it has done for her. “It helped me realize that people are capable of pushing past and destroying the limits they think they have,” she says. “Wrestling helped me build a community, and also gave me a sense of strength and confidence and the ability to keep going despite falling down; a sense of what I am capable of, mentally and physically.”

She says that Beat the Streets was a safe haven for her where opportunities, experiences, and supportive peers and mentors provided her with the resources necessary to create a better life trajectory.

She is now one of those mentors.

In addition to serving as a volunteer for wrestling events, she has also been an office assistant for a year and a half and coached a Junior League team. Adding those learning opportunities to the lessons she learned on the mat, she now feels capable of reaching her goals to give back what this world has given her. She wants to continue helping other kids who come from similar neighborhoods and circumstances as she did to achieve their goals.

It’s the best kind of repayment she can make and perfectly embodies the power of the sport. She says: “Wrestling is a part of life, whether you’re on the mat or not.”

Hooman Tavakolian - The Fire Inside portraitHooman Tavakolian

At family gatherings in Iran, Mo and his cousins would wrestle, with dads serving as referees. But it wasn’t until 7th grade that he began formal training in the sport. Now, it’s such a fundamental piece of his life that he calls it an extra chromosome; it’s part of his DNA.

His consulting agency Tavak Partners collaborates with governments and non-governmental organizations around the world, bridging gaps between nations and peoples through sport. Working closely with Iran, the United States, and Brazil, among others, Mo and his cadre of diplomatically-minded collaborators bring people together into the common culture of wrestling.

He is also the newest board member of Beat the Streets New York, an organization with which he has worked closely for years. Now in its 5th year, the Become Your Own Dream Scholarship he founded with his wife, Lorelei, and dear friend, Jon Tush, goes to a deserving New York City student-athlete who has overcome hardship, graduated from high school, and plans to wrestle in college.

Going forward, Hooman has big plans to expand the reach of Tavak Partners, continue helping the kids of New York City, and give back on all the generosity he has received throughout his life. He urges us all to contribute in whatever way we can, as wrestling is a unique movement, especially positioned to effect positive change around the world.

John Smith - The Fire Inside portraitJohn Smith

John is one of the faces on the Mount Rushmore of American wrestling. No American has won more world championships (4) and Olympic gold medals (2). He’s one of the most successful college coaches with five NCAA team titles and 102 individual All-Americans. He was the first wrestler to win the Sullivan Award, which goes to the top amateur athlete in the country.

And he’s a fierce advocate for wrestling. When University of Iowa Head Coach Tom Brands called him up with the idea to stage an early-season dual meet outside in Iowa’s football stadium, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. Some coaches may have balked at the idea because it wasn’t a typical early-season matchup and it most definitely did not favor his Oklahoma State Cowboys, being on the road. But John recognized it was good for the sport, and ultimately the challenge and trial by fire was good for his wrestlers, too. They certainly weren’t going to get better without challenges, after all.

It should also be noted that he gives regularly to the Beat the Streets New York program, where he sits on the board, heading out for clinics and camps to teach wrestlers and coaches the ways of the sport. As such a respected figure, and having so much knowledge about every facet of the sport, his advice and instruction are hugely beneficial to the coaches and wrestlers of New York City.

Tricia McNaughton Sanders - The Fire Inside portraitTricia McNaughton Saunders

Tricia is the pinnacle figure of United States women’s wrestling. Not only was she the first American woman to win a world championship, she has also won the most titles and medals. Her four world golds and a silver put her in the conversation for best American wrestler in any style.

Astoundingly, she never lost a match to an American, reeling off a record 11 U.S. National Championships and winning the World Team Trials 11 times, as well. She was named the Outstanding Wrestler at the 1992 World Championships.

Post-competitive career, she has continued pushing for opportunities for women in the sport. She served as a coach at both the first Pan American and Olympic Games to include women’s wrestling, and she served on the board of USA Wrestling for a number of years.

Tricia was given the first-ever USA Wrestling Woman of the Year award in 1997 and was named USA Wrestling Women’s Wrestler of the Year twice, along with earning the US Olympic Committee’s Women’s Wrestler of the Year award three times.