Coming off an injury has been one of the most challenging obstacles I have faced to date. Being restricted for six months was one of the most mentally taxing experiences I have been through. As a matter of fact, I remember getting emotional and feeling sorry for myself. However, I did not just take it as time off, in fact
just the opposite. Once I knew the circumstances with my injury and was forced to come to terms with the cards I was dealt, I chose to make myself better.
There were many individuals who inspired me and kept me moving through this time. For example, my father, who showed me that no matter what life throws your way, you take it in stride and move along. Coach Ruff knew what I was going through, as well as what I was going to need so he handed me an important key to success. This key was visualization, which soon became the biggest part of my life after injuring my knee. At first it was a struggle to focus, it took a long time to get to a point where I was comfortable. If you are not familiar with visualization, I recommend you make it a point to do so. It has changed me, not physically but mentally. My mindset is completely different.
Being able to wrestle whoever you want, whenever you want is an asset that is untapped by far too many athletes. When you visualize, you can wrestle the same match over and over and change things until you get them right. I remember one day I told myself that I was going to drill 200 single legs with a vivid imagination. It is what you make it, and it takes practice like anything else. Now that I am healthy and able to wrestle, I notice a huge difference, a good difference. I was a little rusty at first, but not for long. Once I got back into it a little bit, I started noticing I was drilling things I had never done in the past, yet I did visualize these moves in great detail.
Coach Cross was also an integral part in this trying time. His role was one that took me a while to realize, however now that I do, things are clear. Keeping me positive was no easy task, yet it seemed he knew what to say exactly when I needed to hear it. He recommended and let me borrow the book, “In the pursuit of Excellence”, which I read and got a lot out of it. Little things like that are not always noticed, yet it is usually those things that make the difference. Not to mention the fact that he is a great role model in many facets of life. His success at such a young age has inspired many young men in our program.
The other aspect that I worked on during my recovery was my mental edge. I have learned the hard way that you can have something ripped from you before you even get a chance to prove yourself. That alone has made me more humble, yet at the same time very eager. I have built up an abundance of grit and desire inside, not that I didn’t have it before. The difference this time is that I have good coach’s that know how to teach an individual to channel that desire and focus on the right things. So needless to say I am preparing to the best of my ability. You never stop learning, and I look forward to every single lesson that comes my way. All you can do is live for
today and that is how it should be. The past is the past and the future is the only thing that you have some control of.
All in all I am ready to accomplish my goals, on and off the mat. I am prepared to work tirelessly until I get there. Urgency is a word that may best describe me right now, and that my friends is a scary thought. I have always been relentless in pursuit of my goals; however another year has made me stronger, wiser, and even more focused. Along with the urgency, I have found a completely opposite asset which is patience. Being able to slow down and wait for the right moment is a huge part of wrestling. Slowing things down when I am drilling makes for a more efficient workout. Instead of just reacting, I’m now taking time to think about how and why a certain technique or setup is effective. Patience is an attribute that I have been told to acquire in the past, yet I am in a position now where it actually clicks.
It took a tremendous amount of learning and coping to figure all of these things out. I have no doubt they have made me stronger and will continue to do so. In a way my knee surgeries were a blessing in disguise. I never thought I would say that, however it is the truth. Wrestling is the greatest sport in the world. Once you fall in love with it, it has you forever. I would not want it any other way!
Have a great summer everyone! Go Blue Raiders!
Note from Coach Ruff: There is an obvious transformation that has taken place since Derek has returned to the wrestling mat. He sold out to what his coaches were telling him, and that is sometimes the biggest obstacle. The stubborn male ego gets in the way and makes it difficult to have faith in another way of doing things, especially something new. Visualization takes practice and patience but it is a critical component all champions become very familiar with. I also wanted to note that Derek Nickel has a lot more going for him than his recent grasp of mental preparation. He currently holds a full-time job, a part-time job, and gets on the mat 4x per week and is lifting hardcore 3x per week. What are you doing this summer?