“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision.”
— Muhammad Ali
With the 125lbs championship match tied at 1 and with six seconds into the 2nd overtime period, Troy Nickerson lay face down on the mat in pain. It was the third time in the tournament that his injured shoulder dislocated.
After a very short injury timeout, Troy walked back to the center of the mat and continued to wrestle as if he only suffered a jammed finger instead of nursing a nagging, critical injury. You could see it as he approached the center of the mat and began to position himself in referees position: no injury was going to get between him and a national championship.
As he put his hands and knees down to the mat to take referees position, you sensed that there was something deep inside propelling him to ignore the pain and the doubt and instead to focus on his goal, his vision, of a National Championship at the exclusion of all other thoughts. For Troy, being a national champion embodied all the things champions have deep inside: desire, dream, and vision.
The goal of a national championship is one he shares with his father who watched nervously and proudly from the stands no matter the outcome. Troy credits his success to his father, who he admires as his lifelong mentor and best friend, as he emotionally declared in the post match interview, “If it wasn’t for him (Troy’s father) I wouldn’t be here. It’s because of him that I have that national title.”
On Saturday evening March 21st before a record breaking audience, Troy Nickerson fulfilled he and his father’s dream to win the 125lbs NCAA DI Championship in St Louis, Missouri. He is a three time All American in as many years with one second place, one third place, and now one first place finish. Expectations for his college wrestling career were high as he is the first and only five times New York State Champion.
In recognition of Troy’s NCAA Championship, Lighthouse Wrestling names Troy Nickerson the Wrestler of the Week for March 30, 2009. We asked Troy if he would underscore this recognition by answering some questions.
LHW: First, congratulations on your outstanding performance at the NCAA championships. What was it like winning the title? You were quite emotional after the win. What did it mean to you?
Troy: Winning the NCAA tournament is the pinnacle of wrestling in the USA. It is something I have strived for my entire life. Over the past 3 years I have come very close but have struggled getting over that last hump to victory. To finally be able to stand on the top of that podium this year was nothing short of amazing. Although it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet, I am very grateful for all of the accomplishments that I have achieved throughout my career. This win, by far, surpasses the rest.
LHW: In your interview after the championship, you said it was because of your father that you have the national title, and if it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t be there. What kind of influence has your father had on you and your wrestling career?
Troy: My father has always been a very big part of my life as well as my wrestling career. He is my lifelong mentor and best friend. When I was 5 years old, my father introduced me to the sport. Through all of the ups and downs, he has been there for me, pushing me to strive for excellence, and has never let me down.
LHW: We sadly learned in Coach Koll’s weekly message that your father is battling cancer. We all wish your father well. How is he doing?
Troy: My father is one of the strongest human beings I have ever known. This is his second time battling cancer. As with any cancer patient, the pain and struggles one endures are tremendous. I was very grateful through the help of many Cornell alumnus and supporters that my dad was able to make the trip to St. Louis. To be able to win the championship in front of him, which has been both of our goals for so long, was nothing less than thrilling.
LHW: Obviously you aren’t fully recovered from your injury as your shoulder dislocated a number of times during the tournament and once during the finals. How did you prepare throughout the season with this injury? What’s the nature of the injury, and is this an injury that you can completely recover from?
Troy: Yes, my shoulder is something that has brought me pain the entire season. Through the help of my trainer, coaches, and training partners, I have learned to deal with pain and compensate myself when on the wrestling mat. I have taught myself to wrestle differently, being able to both protect myself as well as be offensive enough to win in tough matches when my shoulder is giving me problems. The injury is the same as last year, one that I had never fully recovered from. In the next few weeks, we will reevaluate my options and rehab/surgery to the best of our abilities in hope of another exciting season next year.
LHW: It must be painful when it dislocates. Is that something you worry about while you are wrestling? How do you keep your focus with this concern in the back of your mind?
Troy: Pain is something that I have learned to deal with. As the saying goes, “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever.” In practice throughout the season, if I hurt my shoulder, my coaches would push me to stay in the fight of things and tough it out. This is where I developed a lot of my mental toughness that was shown throughout the tournament when I had a few shoulder separations. Prior to matches, if my shoulder was bothering me, I would try and tell myself that it was only 7 minutes and that I could go hard long enough to get my hand raised.
LHW: From the moment you slipped on the Cornell singlet and entered the NCAA tournament as a freshman, I believe I’m on safe ground in saying that the New York wrestling community has been in your corner and takes tremendous joy and pride in your accomplishment. Is there anything you would like to say to your New York fans?
Troy: Honestly, I cannot thank all of my fans, especially those local and statewide fans, enough. They have always been in my corner supporting me 100%. By staying in-state to go to college, I have developed an even closer fan base that is really close to home which I can really relate to. They are especially important to me and I appreciate the fact that almost every match I wrestle I feel as though it is a “home” match for me.
LHW: You are an inspiration to so many young wrestlers in the New York wrestling community not only for your accomplishments but also with the great poise in which you carry yourself. What pearls of wisdom can you give these young wrestlers who are working to earn their own great wrestling achievements?
Troy: To be the best, I feel as though you have to push yourself beyond what you believe it will take in order for you to be the best. With this, comes how a person carries themselves. They must be confident, strong willed, and carry themselves with a bit of humility. Everyday, I remind myself that there is something, that I can better myself at and that is the type of drive I believe makes us better people. When a person believes they are the best, that is when they stop growing.
LHW: That’s it for the serious stuff. We’d like to ask you a bunch of fun questions, and we hope you find them to be fun as well. What’s your favorite song/Band?
Troy: I listen to a wide variety of music depending on my moods. My favorite types of music are 80’s and country. If I had to pick a favorite band of all time I would say it would probably be STYX closely followed by Journey.
LHW: What’s your favorite movie?
Troy: I don’t know if I have one favorite movie. Anything that is a comedy I am pretty much always into. I also like movies that are based on true stories.
LHW: Speaking of movies, if Hollywood was to make a movie of your life, who do you want playing you? Who do you want playing the leading lady (ies)?
Troy: If I could pick someone to play me I would want it to be Mark Wahlberg. I think he is pretty much just one BAD dude. There are many females that I would love to have by my side; however, lately Mila Kunis has been creeping up the list.
LHW: When not cutting weight, what are some of your favorite foods? Do you prefer mom’s home cooking or going to restaurants?
Troy: Mom’s cooking always wins hands down! I usually not too picky either. As long as she’s in the kitchen, I’m ready to eat. I will have to admit, my sweet tooth is huge. It tends to hurt me bad in season.
LHW: When not wrestling, what are some of your interests and/or hobbies?
Troy: Outside of wrestling, I really enjoy just relaxing with friends and family. Things are usually so intense that much of my free time I just enjoy sitting around, having a few good laughs and catching up. I also enjoy the outdoors, going to movies, and playing xbox.
LHW: What are three things most people don’t know about you that you think they would be surprised to learn?
Troy: A lot of people don’t know that I have a twin sister. She’s my better half who often doesn’t get all the credit she deserves (like having to put up with me). I also have an older brother and 3 older sisters. Our family is big and very close. I am very thankful to be so close to home where I can see them more than many of my teammates see their families. I also am left-handed.
LHW: Are there any final words you’d like to leave your adoring family, friends, and fans with?
Troy: I just want to thank everyone for all of the support over the years and hopefully the continued support throughout my career.
Troy thanks for taking the time to answer these questions with LHW. It has been tremendous following your career, and we look forward to another exciting season next year. Above all, our prayers are with your father, you, and your family for your father’s recovery.
Troy Nickerson (Cornell) interviews after winning 2009 NCAA title at 125 pounds
Interview with Troy Nickerson of Cornell, 2009 EIWA
Troy Nickerson Winning His Fifth NYS Title
Troy Nickerson vs Joe Dubuque NCAA Finals 2006