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National wrestling champ plans to serve mission

LUGOFS, S.C. — Ben Connell gets up every day at 4 a.m. so he can exercise before attending early-morning seminary.

The high school senior — who recently won the national high school heavyweight championship and has claimed four consecutive state championships in his weight class — said he learned this dedication and discipline through his activity in the Church, attending weekly Church meetings, reading the scriptures and saving money for the mission he plans to serve next year.

"Seminary helps you start your day off right," said Ben, a priest in the Camden Ward, Columbia South Carolina Stake. "Sometimes it is hard to stay awake, but it is still good to be there, to be around people who believe the same way you do."

Ben, the son of Kerry E. and Joseph N. Connell, said the discipline that has helped him attend seminary is also what has helped him succeed in school and sports. In addition to taking advanced-placement calculus, Ben is a member of his school's football and wrestling teams.

He has turned down several football scholarships, wanting instead to focus all his energy on wresting — hoping sometime to compete on the Olympics level.

He said while interviewing for wrestling scholarships, he talked to many coaches who were impressed with the Church's missionary program and who expressed an interest in holding a scholarship while he serves. Ben said he is grateful for the LDS athletes who have gone before him, who have paved the way for him to compete in sports and serve a mission.

Ben thinks of a mission as a chance to do something for others all the time, and he is excited for the opportunity. He spends four days a week working with special needs children at a local school. Through a mentor tutoring program, he plays with the children and helps stimulate their brain activity.

He also enjoys spending time with his sister and four younger brothers, attending their wrestling competitions and even giving workshops.

Ben said he tries hard to be a good example to his brothers — to help them understand the responsibility of holding the priesthood in the Church. "I feel lucky to have the power to act in the name of God," he said. "It is a big responsibility. It reminds you all the time of what is expected of you. I hope I can magnify my priesthood calling."

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