Marmion teen an A student, rifle drill champ, top wrestler
To be a straight-A student who scored a perfect 36 on his ACT, a national rifle exhibition champion and a member of a top wrestling team in the state, Albert "A.J." Rechenmacher spends more than 12 hours a day in school. Happily.
"In the winter I usually don't see the sun," said A.J., an 18-year-old senior at Marmion Academy in Aurora.
He typically gets up at 5:20 a.m. to make early morning military drill team practice and doesn't get home until past 7 p.m., after wrestling practice.
"I get to school before the sun rises and I leave after it sets."
His resume showcases a long list of activities and accomplishments, including serving as battalion commander for Marmion's JROTC program and on the school's student council, and ranking as at least a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
The Batavia teen also enjoys volunteering, especially at nursing homes.
"All you're doing is intimate connection with people," he said. "(You see) how much of a difference your time can make for people."
Having never gotten less than an A, he carries a 4.71 weighted GPA and is especially apt at math, whose order, patterns and structure he naturally gravitates toward.
"I like that there is always a right answer (in math). It applies in life generally," said A.J., who is captain of Marmion's math team. "I think it's good to always seek the truth and find the truth. It's a lot about being honest with others, being honest with yourself, and not being afraid of the truth."
His decision to attend Marmion, for which he received a four-year, half-tuition scholarship, had nothing to do with its military program but rather the quality of its education, he said.
And yet, the military program has taught him values and skills he will carry forever, he said, like not being afraid to give and take criticism.
"How I communicate has become very different. I'm a lot more direct, I'm a lot more honest and I'm a lot more straightforward."
His goal is to walk onto the wrestling team at one of 11 top colleges he applied to -- ideally Harvard University -- and go to medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon. He feels a personal connection to the profession because he's gone through several orthopedic surgeries, starting with a broken arm playing football in the third grade, followed by the removal of extra bones in both feet before high school, and fixing a deviated septum last summer.
He also witnessed orthopedic surgeons take great care of his grandfather.
"In my career choice there are two things -- be able to to help people and always continue learning," he said. "The medical field obviously meets those criteria. Orthopedic surgery is also related to sports and being able to work with athletes. I am drawn to orthopedic surgeons and fascinated by them."
A.J. always has been self-motivated, said his mother, Gretchen Rechenmacher, an academic tutor. His father, Ronald, works at Fermilab, and his older sister, Corinne, 19, is a gymnast at the University of Kentucky.
"He's changed a lot since junior year, but he's always been determined," Gretchen Rechenmacher. "You could say he's an overachiever. He'd always want to get those A's. We always told both our kids, 'You've been gifted by God,' and, 'Use your talents and abilities to the best that you can.' And he's done a very good job in that."
As battalion commander for more than 400 JROTC students, A.J. never fails to be trustworthy and reliable, said Sgt. Maj. John Gissel, Marmion's drill team coach. A.J. was selected as commander based on academics and leadership rankings, which he topped, plus an individual interview.
"He's a very determined young man. When he sets his mind to do something, it's going to get done," Gissel said. "He doesn't do a lot of horsing around. He knows what he wants to get accomplished and uses his leadership to his advantage. He knows how to get people to do what they are supposed to do."
A.J. placed first in the JROTC Army's solo armed rifle exhibition last year, besting competitors from about 40 schools across the country, Gissel said.
"It's quite an accomplishment," he said. "The schools that put those (competitors) forward are serious, more established programs. You're not going up against easygoing people. You're going up against some very tough competition."
A.J. performs a complex drill of his own creation, during which he spins around an 8-pound, 10-ounce rifle and throws it above his head into triple and quadruple aerials. He's performed it at events such as a Veterans Day assembly at West Aurora High School and citizenship ceremonies at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.
"I like it because it's enjoyable," A.J. said. "Being in exhibition, there's no limit to how good I can be."
Among all the things he's done, wrestling has shaped him more than any other, A.J. said.
It's all about the mental toughness required by combat sports, which pit opponents closely, one-one-one, more than any other sport, he explained.
"In a wrestling match or practice, very quickly you can get someone to their point of mentally breaking, to where all they want to do is quit, get a drink of water or be able to breathe," he said. "You go through several cycles of hitting a wall, and you have to find some way to keep going when you don't think you could. And then you hit another wall and you claw your way back -- and you find a way to keep going."
A.J. started as a skinny, 100-pound kid with raw skills and morphed into a competent, confident, 165-pound athlete who enjoys wowing the crowd, Marmion wrestling coach Donald Reynolds said. The team was ranked third in state earlier this week.
"He does a great job paying attention to detail, which is why he's so successful at pretty much in everything he does," Reynolds said. "It's very hard to slip anything past him. He's very smart and he's very quick -- and he's witty."
His commitment to excelling in all he tackles is second to none, Reynolds said. "He gets here at 6 a.m. and stays until 7 p.m., and still has time to get his academics done. His dedication is pretty unparalleled as far as the athletes I have been working with."
He plans to compete in the JROTC nationals again in May, but once he graduates from Marmion, his military days will be over.
"I don't plan to join the military. I just don't think that career is for me," A.J. said. "A lot of it is traveling. I like stability and living in the same place. Being comfortable in a community."
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