BEDFORD, N.Y.—New York State high school 2012 wrestling champ Sam Speno, an alumni of Fox Lane, can still be caught on the high school’s track from time to time, but now, it’s not him running the drills. For two-and-a-half years, Speno has been mentoring 67-year-old Mixed Martial Arts fighter Al Bruhn.
Bruhn, an MMA amateur champion out of Ridgefield, Conn., said Speno influenced him in writing his new book about recovering from two near-fatal heart attacks, titled "How to Prevent a Deadly Heart Attack: Fight!"
The book project, which includes training advice, workout plans from Speno and motivational tips, began with the support of Western Connecticut State University, where Bruhn volunteers as assistant alumni wrestling coach.
Mount Kisco resident Speno, now a freshman wrestler at Raleigh’s North Carolina State University, has been volunteering his time to help Bruhn with wrestling and grappling, cardio and weightlifting, aqua sports and nutrition.
Bruhn began wrestling in college, but, he said, after a heart attack in 2003, he became committed to MMA and is now a 2011 MMA Hall of Fame Inductee, undefeated American Kickboxing Federation champ and top-ranked North American Grappling Association fighter.
After his second heart attack in 2010, Bruhn said his doctors told him his heart would not have restarted without his tough MMA training.
When Speno, a three-time Section 1 Division I wrestling champion and three-time New York State place finisher, comes home for school breaks, he and Bruhn work out together in Ridgefield, at the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco and on the Fox Lane campus doing hills and track work. Back at school, Speno said, he calls Bruhn to check in.
Their conversational give-and-take during work outs is revitalizing, Bruhn said, inspiring him to work hard to stay healthy, as he shares his wisdom and Speno his youthful energy.
Over time, Speno said he has seen "a big, big improvement. He's been getting stronger and his weight is slowly coming down." Bruhn said his cardiac specialist Dr. Brian Pollack of Danbury Hospital wholeheartedly supports their work together.
Speno, who teaches at the New York State Wrestling Camp in the summers, plans to pursue a career in physical education. He said he hopes to teach at the middle or high school level and would like to coach.
"I would say (Speno) is stellar because he knows how to work with people. I think he’ll be an outstanding teacher,” said Bruhn, who taught in Danbury schools for 40 years.
"Sam's a mentor to me and I'm likewise a mentor to him," he said. "It's a two-way avenue. That's the theme of this book,” he said. Bruhn said "Fight!" is set to be released this year by self-publisher Ex Libris.