Michael Zusman's introduction to wrestling came in the fourth grade.

"I ended up really liking it," he said.

As a fifth-grader, Zusman decided he enjoyed wrestling so much that he wanted to participate in the offseason, and he started training at 11 years old with former Belarus Olympic wrestling coach Sergei Kitaev through the Columbus Wrestling Club.

Now a New Albany High School senior, Zusman is wrestling for the school and still is learning under Kitaev -- and a little more about himself through his senior-seminar project.

The 18-year-old also has two wrestling training trips to Russia with Kitaev under his belt, with the most recent being last summer.

For his senior-seminar project, Zusman created a one-hour documentary about his summer trip, recording video with his smartphone.

Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work for the project.

"I basically tried to film anything," Zusman said.

He said he wanted to make sure he had enough footage.

"The more, the better was my philosophy," he said.

Zusman said Kitaev makes the voyage once a year with some of his wrestling students, traveling across Europe to participate in wrestling training camps and competitions.

The first time Zusman went on one of these trips, he had just finished eighth grade. He and his father, George, vacationed in Europe before meeting Kitaev and the other students, Zusman said. Together, they went to Belarus and the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Smolensk in Russia.

Zusman said he enjoyed watching how the other students -- who primarily were high school seniors and college students -- trained. Observing them made him see possibilities for his own training, he said.

Although the trip was his first visit to Russia, Zusman had been speaking Russian since he could learn to talk. He didn't learn English, he said, until he went to day care.

Although his parents met in the U.S., they both were born abroad. His father moved from St. Petersburg just before the Soviet Union's collapse; his mother, Svetlana, made the trip to the U.S. from Ukraine in the mid-1990s, Zusman said.

Zusman's grandmother, Valentina, took care of him when he was a child, and she spoke Russian, Zusman said. At home, he watched Russian TV shows but never got a sense of what life was like in Belarus and Russia until he visited there, he said.

During his second trip with Kitaev, Zusman said, he again visited Smolensk in Russia, as well as Minsk in Belarus, during a monthlong trip in June.

He filmed training sessions and competitions for his documentary, as well as people he had met and scenes from nature. For example, in Smolensk, the group traveled into the countryside, where Zusman was able to film fish in a river.

Although he knew how to edit video using Apple's iMovie program, Zusman decided to learn how to use a more advanced editing program, Adobe Premiere Pro, to assemble his documentary, he said.

His decision to obtain lots of footage, he said, paid off during the editing process.

In addition to learning how to use a new program, the project helped him hone his wrestling skills, Zusman said.

Going abroad gave him the opportunity to wrestle with athletes who have styles and techniques that are different from those he uses because countries have slight variations, Zusman said. The experience helped him be a more versatile competitor, he said.

Traveling internationally helps wrestlers a great deal, Kitaev said. Still, he said, differences in grappling are not dictated so much by style but by knowledge.

"It's how much you know, and how much you can use," he said.

Kitaev said he travels abroad every summer, taking high school students, college students and adults with him.

Now 57, Kitaev has been wrestling since age 7, he said. He served as the Olympic freestyle head coach for Belarus at the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and he is the master coach at the Columbus Wrestling Club.

Kitaev said he met Zusman through the wrestling club.

At the time, Zusman was tall and skinny, Kitaev said. When Zusman started practice, other wrestlers defeated him easily, he said.

Kitaev said he figured he would not see Zusman again, but the boy returned, proving himself to be a focused, patient student.

"He was really hardworking," Kitaev said.

For his part, Zusman, who is now 6 feet tall and 145 pounds, describes Kitaev as an "amazing coach."

Zusman's wrestling career won't end after he graduates high school.

Thus far, he has been accepted to Georgetown University and Ohio State University. He said he wants to join a wrestling club in college, where he wants to study business or economics and, eventually, law.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah