Tyler Kacmarynski dims the lights. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Other Side” bellows from a beaten down stereo system hanging from a western wall. A glimmer of light reflects off the sweat stained wrestling mat at Spencer High School in the small Midwest town of Spencer, Iowa. That very familiar shadow races across the floor from wall-to-wall, slapping the wall with the completion each lap.
Thanksgiving is a time of rest and relaxation for most college students. A time to go home, lie on the couch, and soak in a few football games while munching on some homemade family favorites. For Kac, as he’s commonly known, however, it’s a chance to get an advantage on the competition. That’s exactly why he’s back where his competitive roots began. He signed his letter of intent to wrestle at Morningside College in 2009, and has been chasing one goal ever since.
“I want to win a national title. One goal; one dream.”
Injury has not stood in the way of his life-long passion. He’s endured two ACL surgeries, a repaired meniscus, and a Tommy John operation on his right elbow. The recovery process from each surgery was frustrating in its own way.
Kacmarynski explained the hardest part about the ACL surgery was staying patient.
“I wasn’t used to being limited. The things I could always do were out of the question. I always wanted to push myself too far. I always wanted to try a little harder. It was really hard waiting for the doctor to let me push it farther.”
The recovery process was long; months of holding back, and slowly but steadily finding solid ground for shaky legs, and waiting for the day he could step foot back on the mat.
Teammate Eric Draper explained Kac’s drive to return. “A week after he had surgery, he was lifting again. If you know Kac, that’s just how he is. He’s driven. He always wants more.”
Kac has an insane passion for the sport. “I love wrestling. I love to compete. In wrestling, it’s all on you. If you win or you lose, there is no one you can blame but yourself. Plus, I get to beat the hell out people. I love it.”
Quitting never entered into his mind through the entire process. Spencer High School head coach, David Schaefer described Kacmarynski’s growth as a wrestler. “Kac never backs down. He was always one of the first one in the room, and one of the last to leave. I’ve coached a lot of kids, but he’s a special one.”
“I just love wrestling. I have my entire life. If I would have quit, I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. Being back on the mat is worth every minute of rehab.”
Injuries are common in wrestling due to the physical demands, but those same physical needs are exactly why Kacmarynski says he loves the sport so much.
“Things happen. Injuries happen. I just try to control what I can control.”
The dawn is rising on a new season for Kacmarynski and the Morningside Mustangs. In his final season, Kacmarynski is looking to make some noise and go out with a bang.
After this season, and this academic year, Kacmarynski looks forward to continuing his career on the mat as a coach.
“I want to coach. I don’t know where, and I don’t know at what level. I just know I want to be around wrestling for the rest of my life,” he stated.
The future can wait. For now, Kacmarynski is living in the present, and looking forward to every single match.