Losing 100 pounds illustrated PA HWT’s unlimited desire to wrestle

Updated: January 25, 2023

Photo: Audy Vanderpool (right) had 10 pins in his first 16 victories for Towanda High School in Pennsylvania, but only after he lost 100 pounds over the past year.

By Pat McDonald

A year ago, Audy Vanderpool set his sights on stepping onto the mat for the Towanda varsity wrestling team for his senior season.

The only problem was he was tipping the scales at 380 pounds when he first decided to come back to the sport after being away from the mat for more than four years.

Vanderpool decided to ask longtime Towanda wrestling coach Bill Sexton if he could work out in the school’s wrestling room while the rest of the Black Knights prepared for the 2022 Pennsylvania postseason.

“Honestly, it was a surprise when he came to me,” said Sexton, who has coached the Pennsylvania high school program for over 40 years. “He’s really, really good friends with (his cousin and Towanda standout) Riley Vanderpool. He was coming all season long watching our kids wrestle and I think Riley kind of inspired him to come out. (Audy) came to me and said, ‘I’d like to come out next year, is it alright if I come in and work out?’ I said ‘sure, you’re welcome to come in.’”

Right away, Sexton realized that Vanderpool was going to put in the work and had a chance to drop enough weight to suit up for Towanda in the 2022-23 season.

“We got him in there and he worked,” Sexton said. “That’s the one thing I did notice about him. He was 380 pounds but he’s working. He’s not just 380 pounds, goes for a minute-and-a-half and wants to sit. He was in there working the whole time.”

Sexton, who recently earned his 700th victory as Towanda’s coach, admitted he wasn’t sure if dropping nearly 100 pounds would be possible in about nine months.

“To be honest, for a kid to lose 100 pounds? That’s a big ask,” Sexton recalled. “But when I saw him at the end of the summer, he had already lost most of it. I said to him, ‘Are you serious about coming out for wrestling?’ And he said ‘Yes, I am.’” 

Vanderpool said from the moment he stepped into the Towanda wrestling room last February, he had one goal.

“It was to get back down to 285 by wrestling season, that was my goal,” he said.

To make that happen, the Towanda High School senior not only worked out in the room, he also spent a lot of time at a local gym.

“Every day I went to Average Tim’s Gym and worked out,” Vanderpool said. “I was lifting weights and then I had (Towanda sophomore) Mason Higley, he was in there helping me out, teaching me to get my (wrestling) moves back and helping me get down to weight.”

While he stuck to an intense workout routine, Vanderpool said his diet wasn’t anything “too hard.”

“It wasn’t too hard or extensive or anything. I just kind of ate a little less of what I used to and worked out every day, tried to get a good sweat going,” Vanderpool said.

His journey from 380 pounds to under 285 pounds was just that — a journey.

“The first month it didn’t come off too quick,” Vanderpool remembered. “After that, I lost like 20 pounds and it just kind of melted (off). Then it plateaued there for a bit and then it would come off. It was a steady thing, with plateaus and then it would (start coming off again).”

Vanderpool’s hard work paid off last winter and spring, and by the time he got to football season he was down to between 310 and 320 pounds.

“It melted pretty much right off once football got over,” Vanderpool said. “I kept going to the gym and then wrestling practice started — and that makes it easy to lose weight.” 

It wasn’t always smooth sailing though as Vanderpool admitted that he would have doubts sneak into his head.

“I kind of just tried to keep my head down and kept grinding,” said Vanderpool, whose dad also wrestled for Sexton and the Black Knights.

“I talked to my dad and he thought it was a good idea to keep trying to get down. He thought it would be good for me to get on the mat and keep wrestling.” 

Sexton recalled a moment right before the season started when Vanderpool was thinking about not wrestling this year. But it wasn’t too hard to get him to recommit to the team.

“He said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to do this or not,’ and I said, ‘Look, you lost all this weight. You need to be here for yourself,’” Sexton said. “He came to me the next day and said he’d come out. He’s been there ever since and he has worked really, really hard. “

That hard work has certainly shown on the mats this season. Since he made weight — which happened just days before the season opener — Vanderpool has racked up 16 wins compared to just four losses.

“He got his weight down a week before (our season opener) and he’s just gotten better as the year has gone on,” said Sexton. “He picks things up. He’s a bright kid. He wants to be better. He wants to be as good as he possibly can.”

Vanderpool gained some confidence from some early-season wins, but he also understands he can always get better.

“When I first got in the room, I was OK and then as you keep losing weight you move faster and your moves start coming back. I think I’m in a pretty good spot right now, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Vanderpool, who had pinned 10 of his opponents this year as of early January.

For Vanderpool, this season is about helping his team win while also continuing the family legacy in the Towanda wrestling program.

“It feels pretty good just making everyone proud and trying to do my best to keep (the Vanderpool legacy) going,” said Vanderpool, whose cousin Caleb is the school’s all-time wins leader.

Sexton is thrilled to have another Vanderpool in his program.

“Obviously (they’re) a big family,” Sexton said. “We’ve had a lot of members of that family. Every Vanderpool kid that’s ever wrestled for me has been a great, hard-working kid. When I get one of the Vanderpools in my room, I’m happy to have them. They are great kids.”

And Sexton believes this Vanderpool has a chance to make some noise in his one and only high school season on the mats.

“He’s a good teammate and just a nice kid. He works hard. When he goes on the mat he’s focused and serious — and like I said, he’s in shape. A 285-pound, in-shape heavyweight is a dangerous person, even if they don’t have that much mat experience. It will be interesting to see how far he can go this year,” Sexton said.

(Pat McDonald has covered wrestling for more than 20 years in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. In that time, he has won awards from the Pennsylvania News Media Association, New York News Publishers Association and the Maine Press Association. He is currently the executive sports editor of the Morning Times and Daily Review newspapers in Bradford County, Pa., and serves on the board of directors for the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance.)