The “Thrill from Israel,” Buster Maccabi, and Terple the Turtle: one, a confident, energetic professional wrestling persona. The other, a lovable, inspirational children’s book character. (You can guess who’s who).
Both are products of the creativity, innovation and versatility emitted from Richie Frieman on a daily basis. Born in Richmond, VA, Frieman grew up in Owings Mills, and has used both characters, almost alter egos, not only to quench his career callings, but to send a message that fulfilling one's dreams is never out of reach.
The premise of never backing down from your goals may sound a bit corny or cliched, but Frieman has truly lived it. Facing doubt and ridicule for entering the professional wrestling circuit at 5'5'' and 165 pounds, Frieman went on to put together a successful career that spanned more than eight years.
He conquered similar obstacles as an author as well. As someone who was behind the reading curve in grade school, the prospect of developing a children’s book series could have seemed far-fetched. Well, Frieman’s already penned and illustrated two stories, his most recent, Terple: Always Dream Bigger, was just awarded the Literary Classics Book Seal of Approval.
With additional roles as an inventor, music journalist and columnist, Frieman’s career résumé reads like the guest list at a United Nations banquet. It’s diverse.
“I remember when I was growing up how kids were always told how they could do anything,” Frieman, who lives in Hunt Valley, said. “And then, somewhere along the line, somebody comes along and tells them that they got to snap out of their dreams and focus on things that can actually be a living, and that always kind of bothered me.”
Frieman recalls that even as a kid, he knew he wanted to be a wrestler and an artist, two unorthodox professions that certainly did not come with a proven road map for success.
However, with wrestling popularity on the rise in the late 90s, he and longtime friend Ken Harmon—both OMHS graduates—saw more and more undersized fighters making it in the wrestling world. When a wrestling training facility popped up in Owings Mills, the duo of 21-year-olds jumped at the opportunity to learn the craft.
Three months later, the diminutive tag team of Xtreme Pandemonium, comprised of Frieman’s Maccabi—derived from his Jewish roots—and Harmon’s Apollo Cruz, was born.
What the tandem lacked in size, they more than made up for in charisma. With provocative entrances, high-flying moves, comedic dialogues, Frieman and Harmon pulled out all the stops to deliver engaging and enjoyable performances at wrestling promotions up and down the east coast for nearly a decade.
“Yes, it is violent and, yes, it is punching and kicking and all that kind of cool stuff, but you really have to be entertaining. Period,” Frieman said. “You can be the toughest guy in the world, but if you’re boring out there, nobody is going to watch you. I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pleasant.”
Frieman says that pro wrestling will always be his true passion, and that if WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) ever came calling, he’d be hard-pressed to not hop on the next plane to go and join the big show.
But, as the sport began to wear on him physically as he neared his 30s and with a baby on the way in 2008, Frieman knew it was time to step out of the ring. He didn’t want to become one of those fathers constantly on the road, apart from his family. He also wanted to prove to his daughter that daddy could do a whole lot besides wrestle.
So, how does one transition from a violent, aggressive sport to a gentle, encouraging author?
“I ask myself that every day. He just has nonstop energy,” said Harmon, who furthered his role as a tag-team partner, offering up his voice as Terple at book readings and puppet shows.
Harmon also knew that if Frieman felt any inkling of skepticism or doubt from family or friends, it would only add to his motivation.
“That would definitely fire him up, if someone said one of his ideas is stupid or they don’t think he can do it,” Harmon said. “For sure, he will go after that goal and he’ll make it happen. He definitely thrives off of that.”
With no experience writing books, much less books for toddlers, Frieman dove head first into the realm of children’s stories, researching what concepts worked successfully in the past. He landed on Terple, a turtle, because the animal itself is hardly the fastest or strongest out there. He also was an art major, at the University of Maryland.
The end product was a catchy, rhyming picture book that encouraged kids to step out of their comfort zone and go out and explore the world—just like its author did.
“The book was positive. It wasn’t about some goofy character who wanted a cookie or something,” Frieman said. “The first book in 2008, I call it somewhat autobiographical because I tried to use situations with metaphors where it’s implied how you step out of the box to fulfill your dreams. That’s what I did with wrestling. That’s what I did with writing.”