Written By: Charlie Goldberg
Former high school champion. Two-time National Cadet champion. Junior World Team member. Bronze medal holder at the UWW Veterans World Championship. These are just some of the accolades Rob Prebish has earned in the sport of wrestling.
However, to say that Rob’s journey to success was challenging would be an understatement. He sacrificed his mental and physical health to defeat his toughest opponent: himself.
Growing up in State College, Pennsylvania, Rob began wrestling at just nine years old. Compared to his peers in the area, Rob started wrestling late. But Rob caught up to his peers in skill in no time. His love of wrestling spread to his parents, who began officiating the sport themselves.
“There was a match early in my career where the referee made the difference in the match and my parents were like, ‘We can do better than that as officials we owe it to the sport,” Rob said.
While his parents were both officials, they never officiated Rob’s matches to keep the sport fair. Rob did talk about how he loved how his parents were still able to attend most of his matches to support him.
When he was 16, Rob consistently worked out at the Penn State gym. This is where he formed a connection with Penn State and Olympic wrestler Ken Shartow. Shartow and Prebish not only shared a connection to wrestling, but they both shared one to Judaism. Shartow, who competed in the Maccabiah in 1985, saw Prebish’s potential and suggested he try to qualify for the games in 1999.
While Prebish thought he would “get his butt kicked by a couple of college kids” and gain experience, he instead wrestled a great tournament and qualified for the games at just 16 years old. In the summer of 1989, Rob traveled to Israel for the first time and took home gold medals in both Freestyle and Greco wrestling.
After graduating high school, Rob moved to a college level of wrestling, where he was a starter for the 118-lb weight class at Millersville University in south-central Pennsylvania. It was at Millersville that Rob started to struggle to make weight.
“I would cut about close to 20 pounds literally in 4 to 5 days trying to make weight. Working out 4 or 5 times a day, sitting in a sauna, wearing plastic, starving and all other kinds of methods that aren’t good for your body and it just took a toll.”
Rob’s unhealthy weight loss methods caught up with him at the games in 1993. He came to Israel six pounds overweight. And despite trying to lose those pounds at the games, Rob did not make weight at the official weight-in and was ruled ineligible.
“To be perfectly honest, I broke psychologically, I broke physically and I just quit,” Rob said “My coach was trying to get me on the bike and I was just pedaling in tears and there was no way I was gonna make weight.“
After not making weight, Rob was sent home from Israel early. “I felt awful about it, I still do and that was 30 years ago.”
After his unceremonious return home, Rob continued to try to make weight the wrong way for his wrestling matches at Millersville putting his life in danger.
“I literally passed out once while trying to make weight,” he recalls. “They took me to the emergency room.”
There Prebish was told that he was close to cardiac arrest. He made the tough decision to quit wrestling. But his time with the sport was far from over. Rob transferred to Penn State University with the goal of becoming a teacher. In a short time, the sport of wrestling returned to Prebish’s life as Rob was pressured to become a coach.
“I was just content being a college student but to get my first teaching job they needed me to coach and they saw my wrestling background and they said they needed a wrestling coach,” he says.
After coaching for a couple of years, Rob gained a new love for the role, one that he has now held for 25 years. Rob currently coaches for St. Christopher’s High School Team. He also returned to the Maccabiah as assistant coach for Team USA in 2017.
“I went into this trip knowing that this was my chance to redeem myself and to show who I truly am,” he said.
And in July, Rob will be back with another return to Israel as assistant coach ready to write another chapter.