Posted: July 24, 2008
Mike Caruso may be the finest wrestler ever to attend Lehigh University. Caruso won three consecutive NCAA wrestling titles, winning his final 50 matches and finishing his career with a collegiate record of 57-1. He was voted into the National Collegiate Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1991, is a member of the U.S. Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame, and is a charter member of the Lehigh University Hall of Fame.
Caruso’s accomplishments after graduation have been equally impressive. Caruso graduated from Lehigh in 1967 with a B.A. in international relations, and founded his own company in 1971. He is currently president and CEO of Caruso Benefits Group, Inc., which provides employee benefits, such as healthcare, to other companies.
“I have had many, many interesting life experiences,” Caruso said. “I think starting a company from scratch as an entrepreneur and then selling it to a public company has been a major one.”
Caruso looks back fondly on his experience at Lehigh and believes it prepared him well for life afterwards.
“A lot of people attend Lehigh for an education, but I came for a broader experience,” Caruso said. “I came for learning. I believe that an education is an important part of learning, but you can learn an awful lot out of the classroom that will prepare you for challenges later on in your life.”
One place where Caruso was able to learn while at Lehigh was on the wrestling mats.
“To be a good athlete, you must have excellent mental and physical discipline,” Caruso said. “Through wrestling, I learned about accountability, which helped in the real world where you must be accountable for what you do on a daily basis. There are certain stresses that occur in the arena of athletics; things on the mat, or on the courts that you will not learn in the classroom.”
In addition, Caruso learned a great deal about giving back to the community and now understands the impact that a Lehigh education can make. He has contributed a great deal to the wrestling program at Lehigh, has established several university scholarships, and served on the Board of Trustees at his former school, St. Benedict’s Prep, in Newark, New Jersey.
“One of the more interesting things I have done in my life is the community work,” Caruso said. “I have enjoyed being involved in dozens of charitable, non-profit boards including the board of trustees at Lehigh University for about ten years.”
While the accolades and community work have been satisfying, some of Caruso’s finest memories come from his time in the Brown and White.
“One of the most memorable moments was when we upset Iowa State during my senior season,” Caruso said. “We beat Iowa State in Grace Hall, who was ranked either one or two in the country depending on the poll. For that week, at least, we felt we were the number one team in the country.”
Caruso says he still maintains a friendship with fellow “terrific trio” member, Joe Peritore and Billy Stuart (both have also been inducted with Mike into the Lehigh Hall of Fame) and that a small group of his former teammates travel together to the national wrestling championships almost every year.
“When we get together, we do not talk about the wins and the losses,” Caruso said. “We talk about the experiences we had together...the process.”
Caruso believes that it is important that current student-athletes at Lehigh build lasting friendships and take advantage of the opportunities given to them as a Lehigh undergraduate.
“I would advise current student-athletes to get the most out of the experience that they can,” Caruso said. “Do not leave the university with regret that you did not perform better in the classroom or in your sport. Maximize your learning opportunity.”
While Caruso does not plan to run his company forever, he has no plans to retire either.
“I think an important thing in life is to always keep busy, always keep active, and always keep learning,” Caruso said. “I do not need to retire. I think ‘retirement’ should be blended with other interests. I have a couple other business interests, others in the non-profit arena, and I hope to keep working with Lehigh in some manner for the rest of my life.”
Story written by Kylan McQuaig ‘08