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Olympic wrestling club lets non-varsity athletes keep grappling

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | NOVEMBER 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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The state of Iowa is traditionally a wrestler's haven, but the Hawkeye wrestling program isn't quite as welcoming for the hundreds of prep athletes who aren't quite NCAA caliber.

But with the Olympic wrestling club, Iowa senior Devin Wagner wants to provide a middle ground for wrestling fanatics who can't stay off the mat.

"If you're not actually on the team, it's really hard to get out and actually participate in wrestling," he said. "We give those people the ability to go into a wrestling room and practice wrestling with other people who have wrestled before, as well as the ability to compete at a college level."

The club meets on Monday and Wednesday nights during the winter wrestling season, and it consists of grapplers with varying levels of experience.

Member Mike Hayes, for example, competed at the Division-III level as an undergraduate at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Now a graduate student at Iowa, Hayes has used up his eligibility but said he isn't ready to end his love affair with the sport he's practiced most of his life.

"I started wrestling in middle school, I wrestled through high school … [and] I wrestled in college — and I can't compete anymore, so this is a way for me to continue in the sport," he said. "I have a passion for wrestling. I've done it for close to two decades; it's something that I love doing, and this gives me a way to do it."

But the club doesn't cater exclusively to high-level grapplers such as Hayes. Wagner said he has tried to make the club a welcoming environment for students less interested in the technical and competitive aspects of the sport. As such, he said, the group operates on a relaxed, revolving-door policy.

"There are a lot of people who don't want to work hard, but if you had a real coach or you had mandatory practices, you'd see a lot less turnout than we have here, where it's mainly voluntary," he said. "We have college students as coaches, which it makes it a lot easier for us to understand if you have a test to study for or something like that."

The atmosphere at the weekly practices allows students looking for a simple way to stay in shape to work out alongside experienced grapplers.

"No one wants to run on a treadmill for an hour, but everybody wants to get in there and wrestle," Wagner said. "You'll definitely feel it, but it's a lot of fun."

Club member A.J. Johnson shares Wagner's passion for wrestling but said he views the club as a way to keep in shape as much has he does as an opportunity to stay active in the sport he's practiced most of his life.

"It's a fun way to work out; wrestling is the best way to get fit," Johnson said.

The club is relatively young — it held its first practice just two years ago — but Wagner said he's confident there will always be demand for such a technical, challenging, and physically rewarding sport.

"We're only a two-year program now, but if we have the attendance we've been getting, I think we'll keep it going for a long time," he said.


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