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Different Perspective

Reid Shipley and Gage Baumer have never been closed off to trying something new.

The two wrestling standouts, Baumer, a recent Eagle Point High graduate, and Shipley, a junior-to-be at North Medford, found enough adventure in two weeks this summer to fill a lifetime.

Baumer and Shipley were part of an Oregon wrestling team that competed through a Cultural Exchange program in Yakutsk, a city of about 260,000 people that is the capital of Sakha Republic, Russia.

The trip lasted from late June through July 6 when the Oregon squad touched down in Portland.

"It was awesome," says Shipley, 16. "Just a really great trip."

Yakutsk, located 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle, is just over 4,000 miles from Southern Oregon and is 3,000 miles northeast of Moscow, where the team first landed in Russia.

"Moscow is pretty Westernized," says Baumer, 18. "You get to Yakutsk and it's a real culture shock."

The team arrived in Yakutsk after a six-hour flight and were greeted by locals in ceremonial dress and a drink, Kymys, to welcome their guests.

"They bring (the drink) out to you and it's this chunky, sour milk," says Shipley. "We didn't find out what it was until later."

Kymys, to their dismay, turned out to be fermented mare's milk.

"It didn't taste so great but you've got to try it at least once," Shipley says. "You don't want to be that ugly American."

"That was definitely hard to put down," adds Baumer. "I was turning around trying not to get sick. Once I had it I was good after that. I just let it touch my lips like I was drinking it."

To qualify for the Oregon team, Baumer, wrestling at 189, and Shipley (171) had to win their respective weight classes outright at a Cultural Exchange freestyle tournament in Thurston earlier this year. The tournament, which featured some of the top wrestlers in the state, had around five competitors in each weight class.

The team gathered in Forest Grove for two days before departing on June 22.

Upon arrival in Yakutsk, the culture and food — "A lot of the meat was cooked but served cold for some reason," Baumer says — were just some of the differences Baumer and Shipley saw on their wrestling journey.

Team Oregon team stayed at a dormitory in the province of Yakutia and toured different nearby villages to compete and soak up the culture.

"One of the villages, I think we were the first Americans to ever go there," says Shipley. "We stayed in this cabin and there were these kids in a summer camp and they'd just wait outside for us to come out. Every time I came out of the cabin they took like 15 pictures."

The vast Siberian landscape where Yakutsk is situated is similar in climate to Oregon during the summer months.

Temperatures hovered in the 70s most days — a stark contrast to the brutal winter months where temperatures can reach as low as minus 50.

The days lasted longer, as well, making sleep difficult at times.

"I wouldn't check my clock sometimes for a while some nights," says Shipley, "and I'd get up to look at the time on my phone and it's 3 in the morning. But it's still bright outside. That can mess with you a little."

One of the highlights for the Oregon team was VIP seating at the Russian National Championships in Yakutsk.

"That was cool to see how much talent they have over there," says Baumer. "They're so dominant in freestyle."

"Everybody over here wrestles," adds Shipley. "One of the guys over here, he told me in pretty good English that not every Yakutian knows freestyle, but every Yakutian knows how to wrestle. That is very true."

Baumer, who was state runner-up at 171 at the Class 5A state tournament last season, will head off to compete at Southwestern Oregon Community College in Coos Bay this fall.

Shipley just returned from a trip to North Dakota as part of the Oregon Cadet National Team. He is contemplating playing football for the Black Tornado.

Both agree the trip to Russia is something they'll not soon forget.

"I was pretty psyched about the whole thing," says Shipley. "It's a trip I definitely would want to do again some day."

"I think every kid in America should travel to a different country," Baumer adds. "I saw quite a bit of poverty, but I also saw a lot of great things. It makes you really appreciate what we have in America. It was a sight to see."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email kgoff@mailtribune.com

Different Perspective