Lake Stevens senior Ahmad Banishamsa tries to work for a pin during a dual meet against Tahoma on Jan. 26 in Lake Stevens. (John Gardner / Pro Action Image)

Lake Stevens senior Ahmad Banishamsa tries to work for a pin during a dual meet against Tahoma on Jan. 26 in Lake Stevens. (John Gardner / Pro Action Image)

After leaving Palestine, Lake Stevens senior finds place with wrestling team

Ahmad Banishamsa moved to the U.S. in sixth grade. He’s now a top wrestler in the state despite picking up the sport just two years ago.

Ahmad Banishamsa was always interested in sports but never had the opportunities growing up in Palestine.

Banishamsa was born in Beita, a small town in the northern part of the West Bank with a population of around 14,000, similar to that of Snoqualmie.

It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Lake Stevens High School — nearly 7,000 miles away from where he was born — that the opportunity for sports presented itself to Banishamsa.

One day in history class, he spoke with classmates Jacob Christianson and Troy Valentine about joining them on the Vikings wrestling team.

“I never knew what wrestling was until Jacob and Troy told me, ‘You should wrestle,’” Banishamsa said. “Even the first time they came up to me and said, ‘You should wrestle,’ I was like, ‘What is wrestling?’”

He joined the team that winter and hasn’t looked back.

“I saw something about wrestling,” he said. “It’s like every single wrestler on a team are like brothers. Our team is all connected in some way or another, so if somebody mentally break(s), we know the team is there for us. I liked that, and … I realized this is something I want to be a part of just because everybody cares about each other.”

Leaving his homeland

Before arriving to Washington, Banishamsa’s life was filled with tragedy.

He was one of seven children in his family to grow up surrounded by turmoil from the Israeli-Palestinian war. Five of Banishamsa’s siblings — four sisters and one brother — died before reaching 5 years of age, two before Banishamsa was born. This left the family with just him, his older sister and parents.

Banishamsa said he doesn’t remember much of his childhood, but Jan. 5, 2015 was a horrific day that eventually led to his family vacating their homeland.

One of Banishamsa’s sisters became ill. The family took her to a nearby clinic where she was placed in an ambulance and transported to a hospital, but she didn’t make it in time.

Banishamsa rode in a car behind the ambulance for a drive he said was comparable to a trip from Lake Stevens to Lynnwood. However, the drive was often delayed due to armed stoppage points manned by Israeli “settlers,” Banishamsa said. The stops were frequent and halted Palestinians for times that could vary from 15-20 minutes to several hours.

Banishamsa said the ride ended up taking about 90 minutes. His sister died before reaching the hospital.

After that tragic event, Banishamsa’s dad left Palestine to visit New Jersey for six months to clear his mind and see a different way of life. He came back to his family near the end of 2015, and realizing Beita was no longer a safe area to live, the family moved to the U.S. in 2017 when Banishamsa was in sixth grade. They resided in Kent for a few years before moving to Lake Stevens in 2020.

Turning negative energy into positive results

Lake Stevens assistant boys wrestling coach Andy Knutson recalled the first time he saw Banishamsa’s passion to be a wrestler.

“He was so new that he didn’t seem like he was going to make much of a splash,” Knutson said. “I quickly was proven wrong about my first impressions. I remember his first year, he came into the coaches office and asked the coaching staff, ‘How do I get very good at wrestling?’ … It was a cool moment.”

Head coach Derek Lopez said Banishamsa “didn’t have the presence” of someone who’d been wrestling for just three months because he already had his sights set on being a state champion and was “one of these kids who knew what he wanted and would go after it.”

Lake Stevens senior Ahmad Banishamsa (right) wrestles during a dual meet against Tahoma on Jan. 26 in Lake Stevens. (John Gardner / Pro Action Image)

Lake Stevens senior Ahmad Banishamsa (right) wrestles during a dual meet against Tahoma on Jan. 26 in Lake Stevens. (John Gardner / Pro Action Image)

For never wrestling in his childhood to learning the sport as a sophomore while at a Class 4A powerhouse like Lake Stevens, Banishamsa has made tremendous progress.

The Vikings hold three league titles, two runner-up finishes at regionals and two consecutive sixth-place slots at state since 2021. Banishamsa’s performances have been a factor. He placed third at 113 pounds at the Wesco 4A championships and fifth at regionals as a sophomore, which made him a state alternate in his first season.

“It happens because of gratitude,” Knutson said of Banishamsa’s success. “He doesn’t take for granted the opportunities he has. … He utilizes his time to the best of his ability to really improve every day. … He is so appreciative of what he’s been given to live in this country (and) area.”

Between the end of his sophomore and beginning of his junior seasons, Banishamsa trained with volunteer coach Ryan Rodorigo daily over the summer.

His offseason work produced desired results his junior year. He won league and regional titles and placed fourth at state at 106 pounds. He entered this season as Washington Wrestling Report’s top-ranked 4A wrestler at 113 pounds and currently ranked third heading into regionals. This season he’s tallied four top-seven finishes at various tournaments, including fifth place at the barn-burner Tri-State event. He repeated as league champion last weekend and seeks to be a two-time regional champion at Saturday’s 4A Region 1 tournament at Tahoma High School.

Banishamsa said he’s fueled by what his coaches once said: “If you want to have success, you have to put in the time and the hard work.”

Even with an ongoing war in his home country, Banishamsa is still able to focus and produce results on the mat.

“With Palestine right now, it’s even harder,” he said. “When I’m wrestling, I try not to think about it, but it always comes up. … And when it does … I just try to turn that negative energy into positive energy. That’s all I (can) do.”

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