The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Reece Humphrey, Newly Wedded to the Worlds
By Mike Finn
Istanbul, Turkey, may never be compared in favorable terms to the Hard Rock Café and Casino in the resort town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, especially when it comes to serving as a honeymoon spot for newlyweds.
But there is no place Reece Humphrey and his wife Meredith would rather spend their time together this September just two months after the young couple were married on July 2.
“We did have to postpone our honeymoon, which was a little bit of a bummer … but for a good reason,” said Reece, who was forced to change his international destination from Central America to Eastern Europe this past June when he earned the 132-pound spot on this year’s U.S. freestyle team that will compete at the World Championships next week in the Turkish capitol.
“It was a small sacrifice, but some great things have been happening,” said Reece, whose competition takes place on Saturday, Sept. 17.
The past two years have been special — on and off the mat — for the native of Indianapolis, Ind., since wrapping up a heralded college career at Ohio State in 2010 with a third-place finish at 141 pounds; one year after Reece finished second at 133 pounds in 2009.
“When you put in so much work, you don’t get surprised when everything goes your way,” Reece said. “It’s definitely a great feeling right now.”
Before Reece graduated, he and Meredith were engaged … and eight months ago Meredith brought into this world their son, Parker.
“He is unbelievable,” Reece said of their son. “He is off the charts in almost every category. I feel like a lucky guy, but when you put in so much work, including in your relationship, good things happen.”
In terms of being a father, Reece would like to follow the footsteps of his father, Jim.
“My dad let a lot of the small things go. That’s how I’ve lived my life too. If you get hung up and worried and anxious about little details that don’t matter that much, you will be a more stressful person,” said the 25-year-old Reece, who also grew up in Indianapolis with his parents, including his mother, Adrienne, and his older brother, Jordan.
“The things that matter are family and other things that you really care about. I really care about wrestling and my family; the things that have always been there for me my entire life. It’s family first for us.”
And don’t expect to see Reece forcing Parker to wrestle. His own father never did … even though Jim was a four-time (1974-78) World Team member who earned a silver medal at 136.5 pounds in 1977, before also coaching two American freestyle teams in consecutive Worlds in 1986 and 1987.
“My dad didn’t even tell me he was a wrestler or coached,” said Reece, who started wrestling when he was in sixth grade. “The only reason I got into wrestling is because my brother did. We fell into wrestling and my dad said he had a few things he could share with us.
“I’m sure he was coaching us while we were rolling around in our living room but I had not clue he was a wrestler and no clue how good he was. I’m not sure if he wanted us to wrestle. I’m sure in the back of his head he wanted us to, but he wanted it to be our decision.
“To me wrestling is so tough that it has to be your decision. If you are forced into it, it can be that much harder. If you try to do it for someone else, you will never make it in this sport.”
Ironically, Jim Humphrey’s first Worlds also took place in Istanbul and they are the first father-son combination in the United States to compete in separate World Championships.
“I’ve been doing this for a very long time and seen a lot of folks push their kids into wrestling,” Jim said. “The boys actually played hockey for 10 years. We always let them choose what they wanted to do. My only rule was: once you start something, you cannot quit.
“I tried not to pressure the guys. They put enough pressure on themselves and other people put pressure on them because they are my sons. I’m all about details when it comes to technique but you don’t need your coach or dad putting more pressure on them.”
Reece, who said he learned his favorite duck-under and high-crotch moves from his father, said there were countless times that past World and Olympic champions visited their home in the Indiana capitol.
“I had Olympic champions come in and hang out with my dad and show me stuff in the living room since I was young and before I even took up wrestling. I was learning to keep my head up and my back straight. And when some of your dad’s best friends are some of the best coaches in the country, there is really no place to go but up.
“Now that I’m at the elite level, I still have great connections in the sport and my dad has really paved the way for me with great positioning and technique from the first time I stepped on a mat.”
Once Reece got into the sport, he found success, especially in freestyle, where he said he won national championships on every level, including at the Junior Nationals before also taking his three Indiana state folkstyle championships to Ohio State.
“College wrestling is something I felt I needed to do; to get an education,” said Reece, who recorded 117 win in his Buckeye career. “It taught me a lot even though I never won the NCAAs when I felt I had the talent to do so. It taught me how to get through getting beat up every week, making weight all the time and focusing on matches. It made me a lot tougher in many ways.
“If I didn’t make weight as many times as I did in college, I probably wouldn’t be on top right now.”
Reece put his focus on freestyle almost immediately in 2010 when he finished fourth at the U.S. Open, which earned him a higher seed.
He continued that one year later when he stunned 2009 World Team member Shawn Bunch at both the U.S. Open in Cleveland in April and a month later at the World Team Trials in Oklahoma City.
Jim Humphrey, who was also the head coach at Indiana (1985-89), believes the turning point for his son came last year in a tournament in Minsk, Belarus, where Bunch won and Reece went 0-1.
“Reece was going toe-to-toe with Shawn in practice, he felt there was something he was doing wrong and had to make some changes,” recalled Jim. “He went back and re-evaluated what he was doing with his diet, he realized he had to get on a strict diet and he realized he had to work harder.
Humphrey trains with Bunch at the Regional Olympic Training Center in Columbus, Ohio. The former Buckeye said his recent success against his friend has not strained his relationship with the former Edinboro collegian.
“It’s almost never awkward,” said Humphrey. “We both have a lot of respect for the sport and ourselves. We both want the spot and there are higher stakes like next year for the Olympics. We both put 100 percent out there and then after we are still friends.”
This has been a great year for Humphrey and is carrying that confidence with him to Turkey, where his entire family will join him.
“It’s a World championship or bust,” he said. “I expect to win the whole thing.
I’ve wrestled enough and beaten some good guys. I know I have the ability to win the entire tournament. I have the ability to put up points and have the defense to shut them down for 20 seconds or whatever I need to do.”
“I’m excited that Reece is getting to travel and see more of this Worlds stuff,” Jim said. “If you’ve got your eyes open, it will open your eyes. If you are paying attention, you will see there is so much more. It gives you a different perspective on life.”
For Reece, while his honeymoon with Meredith will have to wait until after the Worlds, has found great balance between his actual family and the sport he and his family love so much.