By Peter Schwartz
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Growing up in Ohio, Jason Pryor was looking for a sport that he liked and would keep him active. He gave soccer a try, but quit the sport at the age of 11 and was in search of something new.
“I was very chubby, so my parents told me I had to do sports and I could pick any sport,” said Pryor.
A friend of his in school told him about fencing and discussed it with his parents. Within 10 minutes, they found the nearest fencing club and the rest, as they say, is history.
Born in Cleveland in 1987, Pryor is now 28 and resides in New York City, where he is a member of the New York Athletic Club. The first-time Olympian, who also enjoys screenwriting, eating and sleeping, will compete in the epee event in Rio.
Needless to say, he’s pretty excited.
“Overwhelming is almost an understatement,” said Pryor. “To give you an idea, if a stray Olympic thought will hit me on the subway, in two minutes I’ll be pacing and shadow fencing on the G train on the verge of screaming, ‘Let’s do this!'”
Pryor, who stands 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds, is one of 20 Olympians heading to Rio that use the WHOOP Performance Optimization System that provides athletes with data to reduce injuries and predict peak performance. The system is not only used by Olympic and professional athletes but also by the U.S. military and collegiate athletes. It’s a sophisticated wrist device that tracks training and sleep.
It’s been a valuable tool for Pryor, who has been able to track just how much actual REM sleep he has been getting.
“Sleep is one of the most important factors of recovery,” said Pryor. “Being able to see how much sleep I receive as opposed to just counting how long I was in bed has been pretty eye opening. With better sleep, I can train better every day, and with better training, I can get just a fraction sharper leading into the Rio Games.”
Other Rio Olympians that utilize WHOOP include Kyle Lowry from the men’s basketball team, swimmers Connor Jaeger and Ryan Lochte, wrestler Adeline Gray and beach volleyball players Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson. WHOOP works closely with trainers, athletes and nongovernmental bodies, and the objective is to have as many Americans on the podium as possible.
“We have already seen great success in the Olympic trials,” said WHOOP founder and CEO Will Ahmed. “For example, swimmer Connor Jaeger learned through WHOOP how travel and time change affects his body. Previously, he would arrive at events two days before.
From his WHOOP scores, Jaeger learned that his performance level was not at its peak at that point, so he made an adjustment in his travel schedule and arrived at the trials five days before the start and went on to win.
“We’re proud to have been a small part of helping him attain that success,” said Ahmed.
A study of NCAA athletes using WHOOP found that athletes started sleeping an additional 41 minutes each night, reduced reported injuries by 60 percent, reduced self-reported illnesses by 53 percent and reduced alcohol use before bed by 79 percent.
Pryor has been another success story for WHOOP and heads into the Olympics after picking up an individual silver medal at the 2016 Pan American Championships. A 2009 graduate of Ohio State, Pryor also won a team gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Championships and both individual and team bronze medals at the 2014 games.
Pryor is hoping for optimal results in Rio. He is ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 24 in the world, but he is not thinking about winning a medal.
“I’m an enormous underdog in this competition,” admitted Pryor. “I’ve never had a successful competition by thinking about the reward beforehand. For me, nothing exists past my opponent in the first round.”
Depending on the draw, Pryor will face Switzerland’s Benjamin Steffen or Hungary’s Gabor Bozcko.
As a kid, team sports didn’t work out well for Pryor, but he found his calling in fencing. Thanks to that suggestion from a friend of his in school, Pryor is going to represent his country at the Olympics.
Don’t forget to follow Peter on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @Jason Pryor5, @USAFencing, and @whoop.