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UNWELCOME MAT : Dave Schultz's Widow Struggles to Keep His Wrestling Dream Alive, While Others Get Financial Support From Alleged Murderer Du Pont

June 09, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SPOKANE, Wash. — "I watched David die."

Nancy Schultz drops her head, covers her eyes, tightens as if waiting for an explosion.

But instead of tears, there are breaths. Rhythmic breaths. Deeper with each one.

Moments later her hands are down, her smile back, her mind racing.

As manager of the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club, she has a spirit to nurture and money to raise.

"I'm prepared to do so much begging, I'll need knee pads," she says with a laugh.

So this is how it works. This is how a woman loses a husband in January, and is the leader of a new family by June.

Many in the amateur sports world had wondered.

How could someone recover from the shooting death of her renowned wrestler husband quickly enough to form a club so his wrestling friends can continue their Olympic dreams?

One month, a grieving widow and mother. The next month, an inspired manager of 35 of the toughest men in America, including one, Kurt Angle, who will compete in the Olympics.

The sudden success of Nancy Schultz's move has been so confounding, it initially united the wrestling world . . . but now threatens to divide it.

In four months, it has caused enemies to hug . . . but longtime friends to fight.

There are those who have refused further funding from alleged killer John du Pont's foundation to join Nancy Schultz's less lucrative endeavor.

But then there are those 16 elite wrestlers--including Olympian Tom Brands--who continue to accept money from du Pont's group and sometimes wear his green Foxcatcher team clothing.

Schultz's team categorizes this group on the order of prostitutes, even though some of them will also be Olympians.

"The guy who shot Dave Schultz . . . people are still taking money from him and wearing his clothes?" said wrestler Dan Chaid, adding, "It's a real perversion."

The opposing group, many of whom attended Schultz's memorial service, say that Schultz's group are just so many dreamers.

"I loved Dave Schultz, and I would join his club if I thought they could take care of me," said Royce Alger, who sang at his memorial. "But you know how it is with these causes. I think they are going to be defunct after a year."

The only thing all agree upon is that the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club is a perfect symbol for its namesake: strong, unafraid and backed by one serious woman.

"Nancy would be one of the boys," wrestler Brian Dolph says. "Except she's tougher than the boys."

*

So this is how it works.

You stand inside your home on a January afternoon and hear shots. You run to the door to see your husband being shot by unstable wrestling benefactor John du Pont.

Your husband dies in your arms. You understand what has happened. You understand what must happen now.

"By witnessing the incident, Nancy has been forced to deal with it," says Chris Horpel, DSWC coach. "She was there. She knows he is dead. There is no doubt."

Within weeks, several dozen wrestlers had renounced du Pont's Foxcatcher Club and refused funding checks from his foundation in support of Nancy Schultz.

"Then we all realized, what now? What do we do now?" Schultz, 37, said during an interview before this weekend's Olympic trials. "Dave was working with guys who couldn't even pay their parking fees at their workout gyms."

She thought about the many times her husband had awoken her with the news that there was a stray wrestler on the couch.

She realized that Dave Schultz's gold medal in the 1984 Olympics and No. 1 ranking in the 163-pound category at age 36 were the least of his accomplishments.

"Dave would have wanted to continue to help his friends," Nancy said. "We needed a vehicle to get them from February through August."

She knew she was that vehicle. She picked up the phone. She started by calling wrestlers. She continued by calling sponsors.

Only nine wrestlers could be fully funded by the team, which pays tournament expenses and small training stipends. But anyone was welcome to honor their friend's name by joining.

When she walked into their first official team meeting at the national championships in Las Vegas at the end of April, she gasped.

One small hotel room for 35 people.

The group included a 40-year-old heavyweight businessman from Wisconsin, Fred McGaver, who wanted only their inspiration.

Also present was Jim Scherr, 34, who literally walked out of his office as director of USA Wrestling to return to the mats for the first time in five years.

"After what happened to Dave, I realized, you only have so many opportunities in life," Scherr said.

Nancy Schultz look around the crowded room and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She did a little of both.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is real,' " she said.

The oldest of her two children, 10-year-old son Alexander, passed out the equipment. This included shirts with a photo of his father that read, "The Legend Lives On . . . "

Mom gave the speech.

"I said 'Thank you, thank you, for honoring my husband,' " she said.

And honored he was.

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