Wrestling is a sport that has an exclusive fan base, and this fan base is extremely strong in Iowa. Few people understand the things wrestlers do, such as cutting nine pounds in an hour in order to compete at the highest level. To outsiders, cutting weight is viewed as an extreme measure, but to wrestlers it is just another day on the mat.
When wrestlers cut weight in order to compete in the best possible weight class to win matches for their team, they can experience backlash physically, socially and in some cases academically.
Cutting weight can be physically harmful if not carefully monitored.
Sophomore Nelson Brands wrestles year-round to make sure he isn’t as affected by the process.
“I really have no offseason,” Brands said. “I wrestle both freestyle and greco, and I don’t do another sport, so I am in shape year-round.”
Being in shape year-round helps Brands, who is no novice to the sport. His father, Terry Brands, is an Associate Wrestling Coach at the University of Iowa, and his uncle, Tom Brands, is the Head Coach for the Iowa team; both of whom are Olympians. However, according to Brands, these influences weren’t the reason he began wrestling.
“I started wrestling in the fourth grade, which is a lot later than most people start,” Brands said. “But I always wanted to wrestle. My family didn’t tell me to wrestle, it was my decision.”
Senior Donovan Doyle, who recently committed to Harvard University to wrestle, is unlike his teammate Brands in the sense that wrestling is not his only sport. Doyle plays football in the fall, which makes it even harder for him to get to his desired weight of 195 pounds.
“Football makes it difficult because football is more just about being big so you can withstand collisions,” Doyle said. “It doesn’t put you in the best type of shape like wrestling does.”
Although this seems like an obvious setback for Doyle, there are positives to doing both wrestling and football.
“It gives me something to focus on something other than wrestling and get as strong as I can so when it is time to get back down to weight, which is hard, I have more strength than if I would’ve stayed around 205 pounds.” Doyle said.
Senior Aaron Stumpf can also speak to the physical difficulties of cutting weight, as Stumpf cut the most weight of any varsity wrestler last year.
“[When cutting weight] I have a lot of weakness in the legs,” Stumpf said. “I feel fatigued and find it hard to find the energy to do things whether they take a lot of energy or not.”
Although cutting weight is not ideal for one’s health, it can be all right if done correctly. Pudil and others note how far wrestling has come in making sure the athletes are cutting weight in a healthy manner.
“There were a lot less guidelines [when I wrestled],” Pudil said. “I would be losing 15 to 18 pounds [in three days].”
Pudil also cites that initial body exams consisting of body composition and hydration tests are taken more seriously than they used to be, which is a good sign for the sport’s future. Although there were still punishments for cheating or lying about the test, now the test examiners make sure there is no opportunity for cheating to take place.
“In high school, my buddy [Nate Moore] and I would always come in way over weight [for initial weigh-ins],” Pudil said. “We lied about our weight to say we were closer than we were. Let’s just say we did a lot of running for that.”
Teenagers have a reputation of being reclusive. Parents complain about not having the connections they used to have with their children, and wrestling is no aid to their worry.
“If people know me well enough they know that I don’t want a full on conversation,” Brands said. “I will just tell my parents ‘My day was good,’ and then nothing else.”
Stumpf also thinks that it affects more people than just his family, in particular his friends.
“I usually don’t hang out with my friends much [during the season] and I just hang out with my teammates,” Stumpf said. “This is because they’re doing the same thing as me, and they’re trying to achieve the same goal as I am.”
This ramification cited by Stumpf is a common theme among wrestlers. Most people outside of wrestling sympathize with the wrestlers, but few are able to express empathy. This is why Stumpf and others hang out with “their own kind,” as put by Stumpf. They feel more comfortable dealing with the situation together than dealing with it in isolation.
“We know we are going through the same thing together,” Stumpf said. “So we do things together, and try not to think about the unhealthy food and practice, and just focus on having fun together.”
While wrestling affects people physically and socially, those two factors can come together to affect a student academically as well.
More and more athletes have come to realize that, although they are called student-athletes, most of the time the sport comes first.
Brands believes that if a wrestler cuts weight properly then there should be minimal effects, but even Brands, who prides himself on his ability to cut weight, has been affected.
“Last year my coach wanted me to certify at 113 pounds, and I was at 140 [pounds]. I got down to 116 [pounds], three pounds within certification, but I was unable to wrestle at the 113 class so I had to wrestle at 126,” Brands said. “That was the only time I wasn’t able to focus on school at all [due to the massive amount of weight cut].”
This certification of weight is not something new to the state, but still affects wrestlers.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association declared that a wrestler cannot go under 7 percent body fat of his or her “natural weight.” If a wrestler is under this level than he or she will have to either wrestle at “their minimum weight class” or seek consultation from a physician.
“This rule forces coaches and athletes to cut weight properly,” Athletic Director Scott Kibby said.
There is a standardized hydration test that occurs before the body composition exam for wrestlers, but is not nearly as much of a concern for the athletes like the body composition test.
“None of us really take it seriously,” Brands said. “Most of the time people don’t cheat because they don’t have to, but they will talk about it if they’re worried about the test.”
According to Stumpf, teachers are just like parents in that they are protective of their students and are usually able to notice if something is different.
“A lot of my teachers know when I am cutting weight, or if it’s a meet day, because of how I am acting in class,” Stumpf said. “[Cutting weight] dropped my GPA for sure.”
Outside of the classroom wrestlers are still getting educated in the form of dieting. Coaches, including Pudil, worry more about athletes cutting weight properly than they do about the action itself.
“Wrestlers don’t have to change their diets as much as I had to back when I wrestled, but it is still an important part,” Pudil said. “Wrestlers need to cut weight the right way, and they do that by not skipping meals. In the past we have put kids on meal plans to make sure they are doing everything properly, but most of the time it is just verbal guidance.”
Doyle says it all comes down to being able to balance playing sport with school, and he says it is not much different from football.
“I don’t have as much energy, but [school] is still doable,” Doyle said. “I just have to stay on top of things and manage my time effectively and talk to my teachers if I need help.”
Photo by Leah Dusterhoft