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In 10 years of wrestling, Ryan Elswick had never missed more than a week or two of wrestling.
Then came a nightmarish junior season that saw Elswick struck with a serious of maladies, keeping him off the mat for nearly three months before the 16-year-old worked himself back into shape and back into the UIL Wrestling State Championships for a third consecutive season.
Elswick was hit with mono in November and suffered jaundice and an enlarged spleen, meaning he couldn’t exercise for risk of rupturing his spleen. Even if he wanted to go against doctor’s orders, he didn’t have the energy to do so anyhow.
As the days and weeks went by, Elswick studied techniques and watched film – and some movies – as he mentally tried to be ready to make a quick turnaround and make the state meet once again.
“It’s been mostly stressful to say the least,” Elswick said. “That’s the longest I’ve been out. [Not having enough time] was a big worry of mine. We had the meets on the calendar, and I looked at the ones I would miss for sure. It was awful to see those ones go by.”
When Elswick was able to get back involved in practices, he quickly realized the time off meant he had to compensate in other ways, such as reminding his muscle memory of when to trigger.
“Practices were more difficult than I thought they’d be when I came back,” he said. “I’ve wrestled too long, so it’s almost all muscle memory. It helped in certain circumstances to remember moves because my muscles weren’t there at that time.”
Coming in as a four-seed to the state meet, Elswick is an underdog to make the medal stand and place among the top three this year. Still, he already he says it’s been quite satisfying being able to even get back into shape in just a few weeks and continue his streak of making the state meet every year in high school. Elswick is only the second Chaparral to make the state meet his freshman year, joining Chase Betzer, who made it all four years. Betzer graduated in 2010, a season before Elswick got to the high school.
Of course, once Elswick was just getting healthy enough to contend again, an opponent at the regional meet twisted his arm in an illegal move and nearly broke it, putting him in pain for the rest of the tournament.
“It was more if not just as exciting as freshman year,” Elswick said. “I’ve known him a long time. I really wanted to be like him, place third at state and get up on the podium. I haven’t been able to do it quite yet. I shouldn’t be where I am now; I should be in a better position, but it is what it is. I’ll make the best out of it that I can.”
Elswick’s father, Michael, wrestled in high school in Kansas and started coaching at the youth level at Westlake Youth Wrestling Club when Ryan was in first grade.
Ryan went to a practice, enjoyed it, and has stuck with it ever since, despite struggles in middle school.
“In sixth grade, I started to doubt myself because I lost some matches I shouldn’t have,” he said. “I was tiny and underweight for my age, and everyone was beating up on me … In seventh and eighth, I realized I can do something with this. I have a chance of making a name for myself with this. My dad, gave me the ultimatum of stick with it or don’t do it; it’s my choice. I figured out it wasn’t really much for him anymore. I have the individuality to choose for myself.
“It became I can do this; I want to do this.”
The entire family is athletic, as his mom, Kathy, swam in high school and did dance, while his sisters, Heather, 18, and Amanda, 12, are both gymnasts.
Westlake coach Pat O’Harra said Ryan’s ability to keep competing comes from the mental side of things as much as the physical.
“He’s always so focused,” O’Harra said. “In the room, he’s rarely screwing around. He’s always thinking. His technique is so good because he’s so experienced. He’s always doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”
Elswick’s first-round foe, Dylan Akers, is a new foe to Elswick, and it’s the first year that the Chap is competing at the 126-pound weight level after going in at 106 his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“I’ve got a really tough kid first round – it’s gonna be fun,” Elswick said.
Roberts, Pankhurst ready to go
Westlake was just at the site of the state wrestling meet – held Thursday through Saturday at the Delco Center in Austin – helping the first-time Chaps’ chances of adjusting to the big stage in a hurry.
“We wrestled there really well just two weeks ago at district,” O’Harra said. “In the first round, it’s just remember everybody is a state qualifier. Remember that, but also that we belong there. Everybody there belongs there. Wrestle smart, keep position, and you might knock off someone you’re not supposed to beat.”
As a regional champion, Pankhurst will start off against a No. 4 seed in the 145-pound bracket and should he advance, a strong No. 2 seed from Region 2 in Dallas will stand in the way of him medaling.
Roberts, meanwhile, draws a regional champion out of Houston in the 113-pound bracket Brian Quiroz, but he defeated him by four points earlier in the season.
The aim is to win the first round because losing puts a wrestler in a very difficult spot to win his way back toward the top.
“If you can win one on the first day, you can wrestle again the next day,” O’Harra said. “You battle your tail off and try to get on the podium.”
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