The Best/Worse Night of My Wrestling Career

The life lessons you can gain from wrestling are countless, but one of the best lessons you will learn from the sport is how to deal with adversity.  Adversity can come in many forms an you will deal with it your entire life.  One of two things happens when it comes at you; you get crushed by it or it makes you stronger in ways that you didn’t imagine before.  I want to share this story about an example of this and how I believe wrestling helped me to develop a positive attitude when dealing with adversity.

It was my sophomore year in college and I was the starting 158 lber for Coach Gable’s Hawkeyes. I was having an up and down season. The team was having an up and down season, in relative terms. Some time in January we traveled to Minneapolis to wrestle the Golden Gophers. We lost that dual and I lost my match. I lost to an Gable 014opponent I had beaten before, but was ridden like a dog that night. I couldn’t get out from the bottom.

The trip home on the bus was not fun. Coach Gable gave a looong talk. The entire time my head was down in shame. I felt I had not only let myself down, but the team as well. When Coach Gable was finished I stood in front of the team and said “I promise you guys will never get ridden like that again”. Well, the damage was already done.

In the wings was a true freshman by the name of Joe Williams. The next day the coaches informed me that Joe and I would be wrestling off and if Joe won he would be taken out of redshirt. In case you haven’t heard of Joe, he ended up being a 3x NCAA Champion and making World and Olympic teams. Joe and I wrestled off and I lost.

This was devastating to me. I was now not even a starter. I let so many people down. They had faith in me and I blew it with my own bad performances. My world was crumbling around me. I had my eyes set on being at minimum an All-American and now I was riding the pine. What was I going to do? Quit? Blame it on the coach? Life is not fair? Wait, maybe I can move up or down and make the team. I was way too small to move up to the next weight, at this level. The weight class below was occupied by Lincoln McIlravy and I couldn’t beat him off the team.

That night I went home and did a lot of thinking. I talked with my parents and my Mom, like a good Mom, was upset with Coach Gable. I told her “Mom I am not the best 158 lber on our team so I don’t deserve the spot”. After a lot of thinking and talking with people I respected, I decided to drop two weights to 142 in an effort to make the team and have a shot at being an All-American.

joe williams
Joe Williams

I talked with the coaches and we developed a weight loss strategy and nutrition plan and I slowly brought my weight down each week. The first time I made 142 was at the Big Ten tournament. I lost in the semi-finals and had to go make weight for the second day. That was a long hard weight cutting session, but I made weight and even if I lost all my matches the next day I was still going to NCAA’s. I got up the second day of the Big Ten tournament and my body felt like a piece of chewed gum. I lost all my matches that day, took sixth place, but I was going to nationals.

Their were two weeks between the Big Ten tournament and NCAA’s, I looked at this as an opportunity to get my body feeling better at this new weight. The brackets came out and I had a pigtail match against the #6 seed. I remember thinking, if I win that match I can go into the bracket in the 6th seeded position, not bad.

Nationals were in Chapel Hill, NC that year, we knew it was going to be a close team race and our fans were there in full force. I can remember walking out to my first round match and looking up to see a sea of Black and Gold in the stands. I am sure my opponent was thinking, their can’t be a better time to wrestle this guy. He dropped two weights and I get to wrestle him off the scale. The match was a high pace match and I tied the score with a few seconds left with a stalling point. We went to overtime and I took him down with a double leg, went straight to the half and got the pin. The crowd erupted!

I went on to place 6th in the tournament. I had become an All-American! This is something I have for the rest of my life. I also, experienced my first Waffle House after the tournament, and you can believe I put a hurting it. That night in Minneapolis made me stronger than I ever thought possible and lead to one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced.

My reason for writing this isn’t to pump myself up and brag about something that I have done. As a coach THE hardest thing for me to deal with is seeing people quit on themselves when times get tough. My hope is that if you ever have someone that wants to give up maybe they can read this and gain some inspiration. Because the couple months of turmoil and extreme sacrifice I went through my sophomore year in college ended up making the difference in many of my life decisions. I developed habits during the time that have stuck with me the rest of my life and I have something that I can always look back on with extreme pride.

That night in Minneapolis made me strong in many ways. I haven’t even talked about how it leads to my biggest accomplishment as a competitor, but that is for another story. By the way, my Mom loves Coach Gable she forgave him pretty quick.


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