The greatest athletes perform their sport so fluidly that it could be considered artwork.
Washington senior wrestler Tristin Westphal-Edwards has been advancing to that point with constant practice, participating in out-of-state tournaments every chance he gets.
He got started wrestling at a very young age when he brought home a paper to his mother, Stacy Westphal, in kindergarten. “I had anger issues when I was little but I could go in the room and work them off. I didn’t have the right techniques yet, but I was beating the crap out of kids. Then I learned strategy and it became an art.”
About fifth grade Mom said he had to be committed or she wasn’t going to spend the money for him to go to tournaments.
“I said, ‘All right I am going to be good,’ and I started working harder,” Westphal-Edwards said. “Mom has always been behind me. She has always been in my corner, been my backbone, been there for me.”
The artist has big goals for the wrestling season. He has received recognition, getting ranked second at 182 pounds by The Predicament magazine.
“You always want to be at the top, so I’m looking to get there,” Westphal-Edwards said. “I want to show everyone that I deserve to be on top.”
He was seventh at the state tournament at 160 pounds as a sophomore and returned to state as a junior at 170, but didn’t place. “I lost two of my matches at state by a point to some ranked guys, but I’ve learned from it,” Westphal-Edwards said.
“Tristin is a leader on the team,” Washington coach Brent Van Weelden said. “The sky is really the limit for him with a great attitude and a great work ethic, he can do great things this year.”
While he is ranked second at 182 pounds, he said he may cut weight to get to 170. “I really don’t know right now which one I’ll be best at.”
Being ranked also means wrestlers avoid him. In three duals Tuesday, Westphal-Edwards only wrestled once and received two forfeits.
“It has become a game that teams play with jumping the kids around to different weights,” Westphal-Edwards said. “I don’t think that will happen (tonight) with Mediapolis and Assumption.”
Sometimes the ranking brings out an opponent’s best match.
“Ranked or not, I’m going on the mat to win,” Westphal-Edwards said. “I might have a target on my back and that will make kids come for me, coaches will be jumping around when their guys wrestle me, but I’m going to wrestle the same. I’m going to win.”
When an athlete enjoys his sport, everything is a learning experience.
“I love kicking butt. I love getting my butt kicked,” Westphal-Edwards said. “I love when its so hot in the room you can hardly breathe. I love everything about the sport. I love the reward you get from working your butt off.”
Discipline is a big part of wrestling with maintaining the right weight, working out, practicing moves and nutrition.
“My skill level is high, so I have been trying to focus on the mental part,” he said.
The discipline he has learned from the sport has helped him in school with assignments and taught him to be prepared. “When I have a job, I will know how to perform at the highest level.”
Westphal-Edwards is on a national team so he gets a lot of practice on the mat. “I learn from other coaches and get to see other styles and it is at higher levels.” He is considering a trip to Turkey to wrestle in the upcoming summer months. “Maybe I’ll get to wrestle someone from Russia.”
Westphal-Edwards likes to wrestle on his feet. “Seeing other wrestlers helps me learn new moves that I can use. His favorite move is a blast double. “It’s a good move because I start on my feet and usually end it on my feet. With speed and force, the kid will end up on his back.”
The mental and physical part balance each other out, he said. “You can have all the physical part, but if you are not there mentally, you can be broken,” Westphal-Edwards said.
“It can be easy to get derailed by little things that bother you,” Van Weelden said. “It is all up to him to keep a positive attitude and do what he needs to do. Tristin has a good mentality. If he keeps that mentality up, great things can happen.”
The mental part can be the hardest part of an extremely physical sport. “Being broken and how are you going to react to that, I feel like I have gotten to the level where I can’t get broken by anything anymore,” Westphal-Edwards said. “I can fight through it if I want to be a champion.”
The higher level of skill one wrestles against, the more important the mental is.
“The guys I wrestle in national tournaments, the guys that bust their butt every day, they have got to be so strong mentally,” Westphal-Edwards said.
Strategy, strength, technique are all important attributes, but Westphal-Edwards feels speed is his strongest asset. Jordan Burroughs, a two-time undefeated NCAA champion at the University of Nebraska, who won Olympic gold, is Westphal-Edwards’ idol. “He is not a wrestler, he is an athlete. He is so efficient and speedy.”
Famed Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable said, “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
“I love that quote,” Westphal-Edwards said. “It’s true. Being able to have the discipline to make the right decisions, being mentally strong in a weak situation, it’s all in there.”