Four years ago last summer, Jimmy Sheptock moved into his freshman dormitory at the University of Maryland and found that his roommate had already unpacked. Sheptock didn’t know his name. Didn’t know what he looked like. All he saw were the crisp sheets that lay before him, spread onto the already-made bed, with pictures and logos from Star Wars.
“Hey Jim,” Sheptock’s brother asked him. “Who’s your nerdy roommate?”
Turns out those Star Wars sheets, bought in middle school, lay the quirky foundation for a friendship that’s lasted to this day. They hit it off immediately and, for going on five wrestling seasons now, Sheptock and Christian Boley have worked out together, sat together on the long bus and plane rides to meets, lived together and, when they moved out, kept talking every day.
On a recent January afternoon after practice, Boley stood outside the wrestling room, sweat dripping to the floor, and looked back on their relationship. Before he met anyone else at Maryland, he met Sheptock. Nothing surprises him anymore. Not Sheptock overcoming an ACL injury their redshirt freshman season or the fractured ribs his sophomore season to reach the round of 12 at the NCAA national meet. Not the all-American status his achieved the year after that. And definitely not the No. 1 ranking, the first in Maryland history, attained this season, their final in college.
After all, they’ve spent hours and hours training for seven minutes of competition once a weekend, throwing each other to the mat, banging heads so hard they sometimes bleed. Over the years, Boley has seen pretty much everything.
“Half-decade. man, half-decade,” Boley said, shaking his head as he walked past Sheptock. He’s been teammates with dozens of Terrapins but feels closest to Sheptock. On road trips their conversations touch on everything. Classes and tests. Family and girlfriends. Sometimes they talk about the future. Bus rides, Boley said, are good times to be transparent.
Recently, they heard legendary college wrestler Terry Brands discuss success. People often claim it’s lonely at the top, but Brand said that wasn’t true. When he won gold at the world championships in 1993 and 1995, everyone wanted to be his friend. But when 5 a.m. rolled around and the alarm clock buzzed for another early-morning training run, the only one with Terry was his brother, Tom.
This is how Boley and Sheptock feel about each other.
“I’m just lucky to have my best friend be my workout partner,” Boley said.
They were members of Coach Kerry McCoy’s first recruiting class at Maryland, highly touted scholarship wrestlers alongside roommates Justin Cash and Dallas Brown. Cash wound up transferring and now wrestles for King University. Brown made it four years at Maryland then decided not to come back for a fifth. Sheptock still lives with him and considers Brown another close friend, but there’s a source of pride in finishing where you began. Wrestling is so demanding – the “most miserable sport,” Boley called it – that between weight-cutting, year-round training and competition, it can take its toll.
“Five years of college wrestling, yeah that’s tough,” Sheptock said. “There’s not that many kids who do it. Some decide after four I’ll cut my losses and I’m done because my body’s beat up. It’s just a testament to me and Christian to say listen we’re here to do the hard work and it’s paying off. It’s nice to see that.”
This November, Sheptock joined the “Century Club” by winning his 100th career match. Two weeks later, Boley followed suit. In two months, both will go for a national title, Sheptock at 184 pounds and Boley at 197. Maybe they will go out on top. Maybe not. In any case, it sure won’t be lonely.