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Wrestle Mania

Kyle Snyder is not average.

He isn’t even exceptional.

Rarely does a person transcend these things—rarely do these words fail to describe the magnitude of accomplishments of a single human being, but Kyle Snyder fits the description of, “The Best.” Being “The Best” is a lofty concept, but it can be measured in accolades, especially in the vicious world of wrestling.

In Kyle’s first three years of high school, a time when the rest of the not-best were worrying about acne and whether we had the coolest pants, he notched 179 wins and zero losses. Let that sink in, because it’s taken me a great deal of time—I can’t brush my teeth 179 consecutive days and he wrestled and won against that many people in a row. He is the youngest American in 20 years to win the FILA 2013 Junior World championship, a two-time NCAA champion, and the 2015 Undefeated World Champion. He went 11-0, and he’s only 20 years old.

Despite the overwhelming amount of triumph, Kyle is still yearning for one more victory—Olympic Gold. Kyle leaves for Rio De Janeiro, Brazil early this month where he will be until he competes on August 21, the last day before the closing ceremony.

Chaos swirling around the Rio games? Nah. Kyle is calm.

“[I am] not worried about anything. I try not to get stressed or worried at all,” he told me from across the table in a room adjoining his swelteringly hot gym. “I feel very calm. I think just because I’m in a really comfortable situation here at OSU and with my training partners. I feel good. I think that I’m right where I want to be to make some more adjustments and improvements before I get to Rio.”

In fact, the only thing that seems to stir Kyle is the few times during our interview where we appears anxious in his chair, occasionally looking into the gym to make sure he wasn’t missing any action. Still, this is the Olympics, which adds a little extra weight, even for an NCAA and world champion.

“I was on the World Team last year and it was very intense—the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life, and there was support, but with this I’ve already seen more people reach out, more support within the wrestling community and even in the United States, because it is the Olympics. I’m representing the country. The whole Olympic movement is bringing people together.”

And Kyle’s training is certainly intense; I sat and watched his team for about an hour after our interview. As soon as Kyle got out onto the mats he was brimming with energy, and looked the most comfortable of all the wrestlers in the environment, a second home almost. The training started with a hot jog, running concentrically around the gym, occasionally rolling, stretching, or lunging. Someone complains and Kyle jokingly responds, “No questions, just do what you’re told.”

This proceeded into what is known as “sprinting,” which are short 30-second skirmishes between two wrestlers. Kyle hooked up with someone nearly 30 pounds heavier as they practiced different scenarios. Kyle is a point behind, so he changes to a more aggressive style. Then, when Kyle is a point ahead, he wrestles more defensively. They flow through these scenarios incredibly fast, to the point where it is an orchestrated chaos of falling bodies and flailing limbs. All you can hear is the slam of bodies onto the mats and the labored breathing of 30 men, practicing for the real deal. What is the real deal? Freestyle wrestling, the most practiced form of wrestling in the world, and the form Kyle will be executing during the Olympics.

“Collegiate wrestling in the U.S. is folkstyle. Everywhere else it is freestyle. The biggest difference is how you wrestle top-bottom. I wrestle on my feet. So it’s pretty similar in folkstyle and freestyle how I manage,” Kyle said. “Folkstyle top-bottom you have to escape from the bottom and you can’t lock your hands while you’re on top. While in freestyle you don’t have to escape. You only have about 15-20 seconds on top to turn your opponent, and if you don’t, you just stand back up on your feet. I love wrestling on my feet, so it’s great for me.”

Despite being a young man, Kyle has his eyes set on the future of the sport, especially on his longevity in this demanding sport.

“I want to keep wrestling after the Olympic Games. I’m only 20, so I want to attend as many as I can. Usually Americans only compete until they’re in their early 30s, but wrestlers from other countries tend to go into their late ’30s. So, I feel I’ve got a lot of time left.”

Kyle does have experience competing against opponents with far more experience. At just 18, he lost a tightly contested exhibition match against the top-ranked wrestler in the world, Khadzhimurat Gatsalov, who at 31 years old has won five World Championships and an Olympic gold medal. They went 6-3.

Again, Kyle isn’t intimidated. He’s wrestled the best from Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan, too.

“It just depends on who they are, you could be an older wrestler and still stink. There are some older people that are really good and those guys are real tough. Young or old, once you shake hands it doesn’t really matter, it’s just wrestling after that.”

Watch Kyle Snyder represent America and The Ohio State University as he faces off with his first Olympic opponent on August 21.

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Matthew Erman has been writing fiction for the better part of his 26 years. His work has been featured in; Vanderbilt University's The Nashville Review, Filigree Literary Journal, University of Miami's Mangrove Literary Journal, Pelorus Press, Cracked, 614 Magazine.Matthew has a high school diploma, no college debt and attended the 2012 Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop. He lives in sunny Columbus, Ohio.