PHOENIX -- On first impressions, the story seems like pure fantasy -- a Hollywood script.
A former Green Beret walks on to the Arizona State University wrestling team at the age of 34, after enduring years of events that may have defeated lesser men.
From teenage drug addiction, enduring multiple explosions in combat and being electrocuted, Roman Rozell rose above it, to achieve something he never thought possible.
But he did -- and lived to tell the story.
Rozell, a retired sergeant first class, was born in Apache Junction, Ariz., in 1984 and said his early upbringing was less than ideal and negatively affected him.
"I came from nothing ... my parents divorced early on. My mother moved us all over the place," Rozell said. "Sometimes I'd attend three schools a year."
"When you come from a broken home you copy what you see. Growing up I was always bullied too. I was overweight, had acne before high school ... I stood out," he continued. "It went away during high school, but when you're a kid who moves from school to school, doesn't have the latest clothes and has a single mother, it makes life difficult."
Looking for an outlet, Rozell discovered wrestling at high school and excelled at it, finding the passion he needed.
"I got into wrestling in middle school, mainly because it was free. I got to play sports occasionally, but because it cost money it wasn't really an option," Rozell explained. "My parents were divorced, so I didn't have anyone to take me. But that's when I was first exposed to wrestling."
Things however soon began to unravel for Rozell, finding himself on an undesirable path.
"When I was in high school I became a father. Prior to that I'd dabbled with drugs," he said. "I was starting to fall into the same path as my family. My life got messed up ... there was a lot of things going on."
Rozell continued to find salvation in wrestling however, resulting in being offered a scholarship with Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.
"I got a call from Northwestern College, who had been trying to contact me for the longest time. I'd always refused their phone calls. I hadn't wrestled for a whole year due to injury," Rozell said. "One day I took the phone call though and told the coach everything that had been happening. He told me I needed to get out of there and make a change for my family."
Rozell moved to Iowa, but unfortunately was injured once again, curtailing his wrestling career. With his girlfriend Alicia expecting their first child, things were once again getting desperate.
"I wondered what I was going to do. I was still doing well in school and I believed in myself being meant for greater things," Rozell continued. "I wasn't like the rest of my family or what people thought of me. But I didn't know how I was going to convince my girlfriend how I was going to take care of us and our family."
This is when Rozell started considering the Army as an option, seeing it as a good way to support his family financially, despite initial reservations.
"At first it was the last thing I wanted to do, but the benefits, the structure, and college tuition ... they could help get me where I needed to be. There were too many good things that could help me," he said.
Rozell said he developed a rapid love for the Army, moving up the ranks quickly. Just a year after enlisting in 2004, he deployed to Iraq for the first time as a tanker with the 1st Cavalry Division.
"I volunteered to go early so I could earn more money. I did port detail in Kuwait and did an extra month," Rozell said. "I did 15 months over there, came home and almost immediately we started prepping to go again in 12 months. I wasn't spending a lot of time at home. In November 2008 we deployed again."
Rozell reflected on these deployments and some of the toll it took on him, due to being involved in over a dozen Improvised Explosive Device explosions and a suicide bombing.
"I lost a lot of people ... I was in multiple explosions. But I was able to survive by the grace of God. In Iraq we were never in tanks, it was always Humvees. I was part of an IED explosion, a suicide bombing ... my buddy lost a leg and my lieutenant lost his life. I was fortunate to just be concussed by comparison. I always continued with the mission to the next objective."
"At this point I felt indestructible for the most part. You would think I was a bullet magnet, but I was coming out okay. I didn't have any fear because I was doing America well by being there. Better me than someone else," he added. "At the time I had three kids as well. How else was I going to support them? I was doing well and prepared to make it a long-term career. I took it seriously -- to me it was more than a paycheck."
It was at this stage of his career that Rozell decided to challenge himself and opted to try out for Special Forces, wanting to be part of an elite group of warriors.
"I was a staff sergeant with about six years in when I decided to try out for Special Forces. I was a tank commander, but I didn't have anything else to offer the civilian world if I got out. At the same time I still enjoyed what I was doing," he explained. "I never thought I was good enough to be Special Forces, but I went out on a limb and tried. I improved my GT score, went to selection the following month and got selected."
After intense training, Rozell began the qualification course and started the journey to earning his Special Forces tab. Things were still unsettled at home however, putting his training status in jeopardy.
"There was a lot happening while I was going through qualification. My wife had a miscarriage at one stage ... she also had thyroid cancer and had to get surgery. All this was happening while I had to go to the field. I wondered 'do I stay with my wife, lose the momentum, sit by her side, or continue the training so I can get this done?' I had all these ultimatums about what I was going to do. We talked about it and figured I'd just be sitting around all day. Then you get out of shape and behind the curve. So I went back out to finish the course and be successful."
While contemplating his future, Rozell then suffered the misfortune of being electrocuted while out in the field training.
"We were done with the end of the day and set up a bivouac site. It was raining, so I had to set up my poncho between two trees. I was lying in a puddle. I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself and wondering if I should quit and go back to the regular Army," Rozell said. "I dozed off and the lightning started. It hit a tree nearby and electrocuted anybody within a 25 meter radius. I just happened to be at the center of the tree at the bottom where the puddle was. So I'm getting electrocuted and nobody can push me out of the way, because if they're anywhere near, they're getting shocked too."
"When I heard the loud boom I thought I was back in Iraq and it was a big explosion. While I'm trying to decipher that, I'm getting hit with an epipen, because there was swelling in my throat. I was taken to a local medical facility and monitored overnight," he continued. "I thought I was done for, but miraculously all my levels came back to zero the next day and I was able to continue training. To me that was the message from God I was looking for. After that my wife recovered and we ended up having twins."
Rozell eventually attained his Green Beret and was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group located in Florida, where he quickly adapted to life in special operations. There was a nagging problem however, something Rozell said he couldn't identify.
"I started having panic attacks for no reason. I didn't know what it was. I knew I had TBI's (Traumatic Brain Injury), but during my time in Special Forces I was always trying to figure out why I felt like I was going to die. I was getting treated for my TBI, but not PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)," he added. "None of the stuff I had done bothered me. I knew what I was getting into, before I got into it. Your brain doesn't recognize that though. It turns out those explosions really did affect me and I never dealt with it. So every time I smell gasoline, my brain's going to react to it. It makes me think of a time I was fighting for my life."
It was during this period, Rozell made the difficult decision to walk away from his career in Special Forces and the Army.
"It was rough, especially being at an elite level as a Green Beret. I started worrying about having an episode while out doing a mission or training,' he continued. "I decided it was time to walk away. I had already been through a lot with the job. Between the job and my family life, I was just unhappy. My health wasn't helping the issue. So I left the Army in 2018."
Finding himself at a crossroads, Rozell decided to go back to school and obtain the degree he had never completed in Iowa, while continuing treatment for his PTSD, which continued to help him mentally and spiritually.
"I started thinking about where I wanted to go to school. I'm originally from Arizona, so I decided to come back there and go to ASU. I wanted to earn my undergraduate degree and potentially my graduate in mental health counseling," Rozell said. "I'd been through so much in my life already, that I had some background in that field. So I applied and got accepted. I needed to make money right away, so I used my G.I. Bill upon retiring."
Rozell started getting back into shape. Prior to leaving active duty, he had been coaching high-school wrestling and rediscovering his love for the sport, something he wanted to continue at ASU.
"As soon as I got out here I started training and getting in better shape. I got to a good point in my life where I was mentally and spiritually healthy. I had also met a former Sun Devil and Arizona Diamondback named Willie Bloomquist at an ASU alumni night," he explained. "I told him my story, that I'm a 33 year old going back to school and I really wish I was coaching, or I could have been an athlete. He told me he might know somebody and he'd see what he could do."
After a chance meeting with Don Bocchi, the senior associate athletic director for ASU, Rozell said he had unwittingly begun the process for a shot at the ASU wrestling team.
"He put me in contact with the coaches. Initially they told me I'd be in a mentor coach role. They already had enough coaches," Rozell said. "The assistant coach told me 'if you have eligibility, why don't you just walk on?' I was given a tryout, which seemed absurd, because at this point I was 34 years old and didn't know what I had to offer. Well I could be the first 34 year old, Green Beret walk on right?"
Rozell said not everybody can be a student athlete under these circumstances, with the exception of military and Latter-day Saints.
"Not just anybody can go back to school and compete at this level. The max age is 25 in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). Our eligibility starts from the time you graduate. But because I was in the military, all those years were frozen," he explained.
With the support of the coaching staff and ASU, Roman began the process of becoming a team member.
"I had a lot of support from the coaches and athletic director. I'm part of the roster, but had to wait on the NCAA to determine my eligibility," he said. "I've been going through physicals to get my clearance and they just came back positive, which means I can start practicing and wrestling next season."
Rozell said his wife wasn't surprised by this accomplishment, given his history of overcoming the odds and battling through adversity.
"My wife Alisha wasn't surprised by any of this. She knows I can't just do anything normally and weird things always happen to me," Rozell said. "I survived some pretty crazy stuff and I think I was meant to come out here and get my degree. But nobody would ever have thought that I'd walk on at 34 years of age."
Rozell said he's proud to be the first male in his family to graduate high school and attributes his resilience and success to God, while still continuing treatment for his PTSD.
"I still struggle with PTSD, but I have a good treatment plan and wrestling has been an outlet which eases the burden," he said.
Being selected to wrestle for ASU and making the official roster, is simply the icing on the cake.
"I'm not a national champion or the best wrestler, but they're giving me a chance. Just making the team is a huge accomplishment," he said. "Every kid in high school's dream is to go to a Division One level school. Not giving up on a dream and achieving it 15 years later is something I'm proud of."