His opponent’s legs scissoring around his neck, senior Walter Peppelman found a last reservoir of strength, pushing upward to lift his Rutgers opponent into the air before turning the tables and pinning him to the mat. Peppelman’s victory in sudden-victory overtime was his 100th as a Harvard wrestler, making him only the seventh wrestler in Crimson history to accomplish such a feat.
“It was a hard-fought overtime victory so I was pleased with that,” Peppelman said. “It’s great to be part of a program that’s so special and to reach this milestone. It was a really nice accomplishment.”
Peppelman said that at the beginning of the year, he listed two goals for himself—win every match and win the national championship. He described the victory as a “pit stop” along the way but his focus is on winning the national title, which is decided in March.
Junior Erik Gobbo said that Peppelman is an inspirational leader who leads the team with the standards he sets. Gobbo said that Peppelman will identify teammates who are having a bad day and go out of his way to pick them up.
“He’s a great leader and an inspirational wrestler,” Gobbo said. “It’s just incredible. He’s one of the hardest workers in a room. He’s a great person to be a role model and he leads by example.”
Gobbo sees Peppelman—who has been a captain for the last three years—as an exemplification of the two traits that the team aims to emulate.
“When I was a freshman, we did something where we picked two words to describe the team,” Gobbo said. “The words were discipline and integrity and those are two things that he has stressed for our team and he is a great example of those and a great leader for our squad.”
One year in, Peppelman’s career at Harvard reached a low note. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native came to Harvard as a prized recruit and impressed on his first year of the team. However, before he could begin his second season, he suffered a partially-torn elbow ligament that would take him until the end of the season to rehab.
Instead of staying on campus, Peppelman withdrew from school for a year to maintain athletic eligibility due to the eight-semester limit Harvard enforces. When he had time off, the wrestler served as an assistant coach at his old high school—coaching younger brother Marshall, now wrestling at Cornell, and the rest of the team to a state title.
After the season ended, Peppelman was able to work in the office of his local state senator and travel to Russia to train. When he returned to campus, he competed in a different weight class and was named co-captain of the team as a sophomore.
Peppelman’s career falls ranks third in Harvard history and his 33 single-season wins last year is eighth all-time. Last year, he earned All-American status and finished eighth at the NCAA championships, honors identical to those earned in his sophomore year. Peppelman finished second at the EWA championships as a junior and recorded a win over the No. 3 wrestler in the nation en route to the final. Now a senior, Peppleman is ranked eighth in the nation and can reflect on his Crimson career.
“I’ve been in the program for five years and my big goal was to leave the team better than I found it,” Peppelman said. “One of the best ways that I’ve tried to do that is to give everyone on the team the power to lead and the power to influence on the team. It’s been showing up recently with people doing well and saying the right things both on and off the mat. Hopefully at the end of the season I’ll leave the team with twenty leaders ready to move forward.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.