Mountain View High senior Tai Nguyen’s athletic background should serve him well in college, whether he joins a team or not. That’s because the three-sport athlete (wrestling, cross-country and swimming) is headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Before he attends his first class, Nguyen must go through six weeks of basic training that includes miles and miles of running, survival swimming and combat skills.
Endurance shouldn’t be a problem for a young man who swam countless laps and tackled more than a few tough trails on foot throughout high school. And perhaps no sport has prepared Nguyen more for West Point than wrestling.
“It’s taught me so much about being resilient and not giving up,” the Los Altos resident said. “Not giving up is ingrained in me.”
Nguyen’s experience on the mat – he’s been wrestling since seventh grade – should come in especially handy for combat training. He qualified for the Central Coast Section championships as a sophomore (126-pound division) and junior (132).
“Wrestling is close to a combat situation when fighting, but there are a few more boundaries in wrestling,” he said. “The general mechanics are the same; the dexterity and movement.”
While Nguyen isn’t exactly sure what to expect during this summer’s basic training – “Some people say it’s a scary six weeks and others say it’s fun,” he said – at least he knows one person who’s already been through it. His dad is a 1994 graduate of West Point.
“My son is following my footsteps,” Nhiem Nguyen said, “but most certainly on his own terms.”
Tai, who grew up hearing all about his dad’s time at the academy, didn’t consider applying until just more than a year ago.
“It was interesting, but it didn’t click with me when I was younger,” he said. “As junior year rolled around and I was thinking of college and life after that, (my dad) put that option out there for me, and I found more value in the stories he told. I did my own research, and it met everything I wanted.”
There is no legacy preference at West Point, however, so Tai had to get in on his own merit. Ranked among the top public colleges in the nation, the acceptance rate is just 12%.
“It was a hefty application process that started almost a year ago,” Tai said. “I needed a bunch of recommendations, a physical fitness test and a medical exam. I also had to send my transcripts, write three essays and fill out a few questionnaires.”
West Point’s admissions officers apparently liked what they saw; Tai received his acceptance letter in mid-January.
“I was really shocked for the first few days,” he said. “After that, it registered: ‘I’m going to West Point.’ It’s so amazing to get something you worked so hard to make happen.”
Tai acknowledged that there’s more hard work ahead.
“Going to West Point will be mentally, physically, emotionally and academically challenging,” he said. “But I’m going in knowing I can do it – I have that mentality.”
Acceptance comes with free tuition, room and board. However, students – or cadets, as West Point calls them – are obligated to serve in the U.S. Army for eight years (including five years active duty) after graduation.
Tai isn’t sure if he will serve beyond that – “I’m leaving my options open,” he said – but expects the experience to serve him well in whatever career he chooses.
“The leadership role (you take on) in the military can be applied to other jobs,” he said. “It teaches you how to work with people and lead people.”
Tai hasn’t chosen a major yet or decided if he will play a sport at West Point. His dad wrestled in intramurals there, and Tai said he may do the same or perhaps even try out for the academy’s NCAA Division I team.
“I’ll explore all my options,” said Tai, scheduled to leave for basic training June 28. “There’s a lot to do at college. I’m looking forward to it.”