ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Classic Teske-Thomsen tussles schooled us on the mentality of two true winners

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge’s Brody Teske (right) and Alex Thomsen of Underwood shake hands during the Council Bluffs Classic last month.

Pop quiz: name the six wrestlers who finished their Iowa high school careers without a loss.

I’m sure some of the sport’s die-hard fans know the answer. Brody Teske could probably rattle them off. Alex Thomsen, too.

It’s a rare, historic achievement, without question. But that accomplishment alone didn’t make Jeff Kerber, Jeff McGinness, John Meeks, Eric Juergens, Dan Knight and Dan Gable household names. In reality, it still takes a little time and research for the vast majority of us to remember them all.

Teske and Thomsen had realistic dreams of becoming the seventh and eighth grapplers added to this exclusive list. For three years they were both on track, compiling win after win without interruption and piecing together consecutive victory streaks that rank among the 10 longest in state history: Teske, Fort Dodge’s three-time Class 3A state champion, at 162 matches; Thomsen, Underwood’s 1A three-timer, at 152.

As fate and scheduling would have it, though, the Dodgers and Eagles were going to be in attendance at the Council Bluffs Classic and the Cedar Rapids Jefferson Invitational in 2017-18. So Teske and Thomsen, both 126-pounders, had a decision to make: put their undefeated personal records on the line and face each other, or protect their legacies and continue the quest for perfection.

While outsiders were weighing the options and debating both the risks and rewards, Teske had made up his mind long ago, and so had Thomsen. This was going to happen — not just once, but twice.

Teske rallied to defeat Thomsen in Council Bluffs last month. The first installment was thrilling, impassioned and memorable. At that point, I remember asking myself, what more does Brody have to prove? Why wrestle Thomsen again in January?

After a text conversation with Teske about it — he didn’t even hesitate earlier this week when I asked if a rematch was in the works — I realized that Teske’s commitment to growing and improving had nothing to do with numbers, records or even titles. If the push to be the best wasn’t sincere and lined with challenges that would make him better regardless of the outcome, Teske would ask, what’s the point?

That’s where the disconnect often exists between fans or journalists and athletes: we tend to focus on the path of least resistance, which helps keep images and reputations intact. Elite competitors crave the challenge, even if it breaks down barriers and exposes them to temporary bouts of criticism or perceived vulnerability.

People like Teske and Thomsen don’t intend to look back someday and consider an unbeaten record the high point of their careers. Regardless of the outcome, they wanted to walk off the mat feeling like they’d pushed each other to the point of development. Even though both felt the sting of defeat for the first time in the process, they turned inner questions into answers.

Hours after Saturday’s match — won by Thomsen in overtime, 10-8 — Teske posted this message on social media: ”Blessed to be able to glorify God through the sport of wrestling and continually put everything I’ve earned on the line. I will never back down from the fight. I will never protect anything. Appreciate the implemented motivation, Alex. Let’s go get #4.”

Thomsen immediately responded, ”I agree 100%, we both went out and gave it everything we had. I will always have an unmeasurable amount of respect towards you. Let’s light up Wells Fargo Arena one more time in February.”

In other words, they get it.

Teske and Thomsen could have easily avoided the attention and each other during either of these run-of-the-mill regular-season tournaments. Wrestlers and coaches maneuver their way around head-to-head challenges all the time without much scrutiny. After Teske defeated Thomsen last month, the Dodger senior had a clear path to a flawless season and perceived immortality.

Teske likes to do things the hard way, though. Proverbs, 27:17 says, ”as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” By pushing their comfort zones and each other, Teske and Thomsen found a way to transcend high school wrestling in Iowa and cement their status as true role models both on and off the mat.

In sports and in life, ”winning” is relative. It has to be the long-term vision, not the short-term goal. Teske and Thomsen see the big picture. They gave us another glimpse of it on Saturday.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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