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Wrestling with adversity

Former Lehigh All-American wrestler Jon Trenge is profiled in Veritas, a movie that will be shown June 21 and 23 at the SouthSide Film Festival.

In a region where wrestling reigns supreme, Lehigh Valley residents have been following the courageous story of Jon Trenge ’05 for years.

This week, area residents can watch the story of Trenge on the big screen at the SouthSide Film Festival.

Veritas: The Jon Trenge Story, a documentary by Howie Miller, covers Lehigh’s 2004-05 wrestling season and focuses on Trenge, a Parkland High School graduate and Lehigh’s three-time All-American wrestler, whose dreams were almost shattered after a retinal tear nearly ended his career.

While doctors urged him to quit wrestling to save his sight, Trenge’s passion for the mat couldn’t be suppressed.

With a pair of specially designed goggles, Trenge was back on the mat becoming the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) champion at 197 pounds in 2002 and 2003, but his troubles were far from over. The film highlights Trenge’s struggle to control his anger over opponents deliberately trying to attack his eyes during matches. Trenge had the word “veritas”—which means truth and inspired the movie’s title—tattooed to his leg as part of his effort to keep his anger in check.

“I think it is very representative of what I went through that year,” Trenge says. “There are some things that are in the movie that are very therapeutic for me to watch.”

Greg Strobel, Lehigh’s wrestling coach, says it was difficult at times for Trenge to control his emotions when an opponent attacked his eyes, especially because there were no specific rules at the time to control the unnecessary physical attacks.

“When you watch the movie you will see and hear my conversations with the officials,” Strobel says. “I’m on the NCAA rule committee right now. This year, I proposed specific rules that makes it unnecessary roughness and therefore illegal to poke the eyes or get in your opponent’s face. Previous to this legislation, officials didn’t have a specific rule that allowed them to control what I would call unscrupulous behavior.”

Miller says Trenge’s relationship with Strobel is one of the most poignant aspects of the film.

“I think that the most important message in the film is that we are all not only remembered by our achievements, instead our success is measured by the relationships we have and the people who care about us,” Miller says.

Miller, also a former Parkland High school wrestler who went on to earn All-ACC honors in the sport at the University of Virginia, says combining his passion for wrestling and filmmaking was the perfect opportunity to create a positive and realistic wrestling movie, which highlights the passion for wrestling in the area.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to show Veritas in the Lehigh Valley because it is the setting of the movie and honors this area’s great wrestling tradition,” Miller says. “Also, many of the film's investors are Lehigh Valley natives and they deserve a lot of credit because we could not have made the movie without their support.”

Well received thus far

Miller says that you don’t have to be a sports aficionado to be moved by Trenge’s powerful story.

“We are pleased at the positive response that we have received from audience members who knew nothing about wrestling or even liked sports,” Miller says. “Wrestling serves as the backdrop for Jon’s human story, which shows his perspective change as he discovers the person he wants to be.”

Trenge went on to graduate as Lehigh’s career leader in victories with 133 and now works side by side with Strobel as Lehigh’s assistant wrestling coach.

“Our relationship has taken on a new dimension since Jon became a coach in our department,” Strobel said. “It’s interesting how that relationship changes from working with Jon as the athlete to working with Coach Trenge.”

Veritaswill be screened twice at the fourth annual SouthSide Film Festival, June 19-23. The first showing will be premiered Thursday, June 21 at 7:15 in Packard Lab Auditorium. The screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker Miller, Strobel and Trenge.

The second screening of Veritas will take place on Saturday, June 23 at 2:10 p.m. in Packard Auditorium. Trenge and Miller will take part in another question and answer session after this showing.

Strobel says he is glad the film will be showing in the Lehigh Valley and is sure that the residents will be moved by the raw emotion of the film.

“Howie Miller did an outstanding job of capturing the emotion, conflicts, adversity and struggles Jon and the team went through that season,” Strobel says. “It is very accurate. We are not actors playing out scenes—this is the real deal.”

--Madelyn King

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2007

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