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In the summer of 2008, Jake Deitchler — then an 18-year-old graduate of Anoka (Minn.) High School — surprised the wrestling world in this country when he earned the 145.5-pound Greco-Roman berth to represent the United States at the summer Olympics in Beijing, China, becoming the first high school wrestler to qualify for the Olympics since 1976.
After the Olympics, where he went 0-2 losing to both the eventual silver and bronze medalists, Deitchler chose to forego his scholarship to wrestle at Minnesota and train full-time in Greco at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
But after failing to make the 2009 World Team, after moving up to 163 pounds, Deitchler changed his mind again and returned to the University of Minnesota to compete again in college folkstyle.
Unfortunately, his return has not been an easy one as the current Gopher sophomore was forced to sit out two years because of eligibility questions and problems with past concussions.
Now as the 2011-12 college season is set to start, Deitchler — ranked No. 10 in WIN’s preseason rankings — is happy and healthy enough to officially return to the folkstyle mat.
Recently, the sports management major at Minnesota spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about his journey and future in wrestling.
WIN: How would you describe your wrestling life since returning to Minnesota?
DEITCHLER: It’s been a crazy ordeal. There was time and time again when I thought I’d never wrestle again because I had concussion issues and what not. Luckily, I’ve had a great medical system here at Minnesota where they’ve been able to help me and put me with the best concussion specialists in the country.
Nothing was guaranteed but I was doing everything I could to be healthy and not so much about wrestling. This summer, (the doctors) called me and said it was time. After a year and 11 months of not wrestling, I’m back at it. It’s funny because it’s my second time around and things have really been different. I’m just happy that I’ve had the opportunity to do everything I can here.
WIN: Talk about your problem with concussions. Was there any specific time that greatly affected your return to wrestling?
DEITCHLER: It was a string of a lot of them. I got my first one when I was seven years old. I used to race dirt bikes as a kid. Honestly, I didn’t know how detrimental it could be after having quite a few of them. I didn’t know how to come back from them. I wasn’t doing it the right way and it kind of bit me the last two years. But now I’m back.
WIN: What were the eligibility questions that you had to overcome?
DEITCHLER: When I went to the Olympics, I took in money from sponsors and this and that. But I’m actually paying that money back and have restored my eligibility. (The NCAA) has those laws in place for a reason and schools are told to be compliant and that you are good all across the board.
WIN: So what have you been doing the past two years?
DEITCHLER: It’s been crazy. My perspective on wrestling, my perspective on life in general has changed. It’s funny how much you can mature and grow in two years. When you realize there is something besides wrestling, because you’re not sure you are going to do it again, your perspective changes.
I had the opportunity to coach a lot of kids in Minnesota. I love being here and helping kids. I coached kids all over. I do camps all summer long … everywhere. If anyone wants me to help their kids, I’ll go anywhere. I love the sport and everything about it.
I feel like I’ve fallen in love with the sport; not necessarily all over again, but in seeing kids wrestle at the lower levels, where the raw love for the sport exists. I think that changes a person and helps him make good decisions again.
Personally, I had a chance to rekindle my relationship with my family and friends. I think my lifestyle now is the best it’s ever been. I’m making the best decision that I can make and I’m really excited for the opportunity all around.
WIN: Were you ready for everything that happened to you in 2008 when you made the Olympic Team?
DEITCHLER: No. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I am happy with the experience that it gave me. Honestly, I was so young and it was mind-blowing for an 18-year-old kid. It was kind of surreal and it was so exciting. But it also got to me a little bit.
When the money gets thrown at you, you don’t know what to do with it. I was hanging around people who were not my age. I wasn’t living the way I wanted to. But looking back, I think it made me better. I had to learn how to handle that stuff. Did I do everything right? No, I was 18 years old. But looking how I’ve tried to overcome that to be where I want to be, it’s made the journey that much more fun.
WIN: What individuals helped you the most in your comeback?
DEITCHLER: The people who helped me the most were the coaches here at the U (University of Minnesota) and my family, especially my parents (Jason and Rachel Deitchler), have been huge in helping me. They know me the best. Everyone here at Minnesota, including my teammates and Brandon Paulson, who helped me make the Olympic Team, helped me. He knows my heart in regards to wrestling.
WIN: Looking at the future, we are heading back into an Olympic year. Will you return to Greco-Roman wrestling and will you give the 2012 London Olympics a shot?
DEITCHLER: I still have a love for Greco. I watch videos all the time. I loved watching the World Championships. If everything goes as planned, I’m going to be wrestling every stinking tournament that I can. I plan on going to the Trials (April 21-22 in Iowa City) if I can.
WIN: What weight will you wrestle in Greco? You are competing in folkstyle at 157 pounds, which would put you in between the international weights of 145.5 pounds and 163?
DEITCHLER: This is a hard thing. Back when I made 145.5 (in 2008), it was painful. I had to cut a lot of weight. I didn’t think I’d ever want to do it again, but after all this time off, I weigh the same that I did when I graduated from high school and that’s been four years. I think I’m stronger and matured a little bit. I’m not that much bigger so the thought of going back down to 145.5 is there.
WIN: Talk about your return to folkstyle wrestling and what does 2012 hold in store for the Gophers?
DEITCHLER: It’s cool because we’ve changed many things about the program in how we do things like training regiments. It’s all about wrestling. Honestly, to be the best, you have to innovate and change sometimes and that’s what we’ve tried to do. The coaches have put things in place where we are doing that. There is something about the NCAA tournament that is the coolest thing. I have dreams of winning it and we have guys on our team that want to. I believe we are a team to reckon with.
WIN: What are your strengths as a folkstyle wrestler?
DEITCHLER: It’s a lot like it was before. My conditioning is going to be one of my strengths. I will always go hard. And for me, it’s all about having fun wrestling and scoring points.
WIN: You mentioned that you feel like you’ve been given a second chance, but how much of a concern was there that this chance may not have happened?
DEITCHLER: I was just talking to my dad about this last weekend. I don’t know how many times that I called him and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’m walking away.” I had to think, “Do I still want to do this? Is it worth it? I’m a Christian so my faith in God has helped me a lot. It’s helped me heal.
There were about ten different times when I contemplated about being done. But it’s about not quitting, not giving up. Even if it didn’t work out in the end and I was not able to wrestle, I would have no regrets the rest of my life. I did everything that I could do. I also know my parents and family will love me no matter what.