COLUMBIA — Wrestling practice: The words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of many athletes.
Lifting massive weights, running for miles, smashing teammates into the mats and going to extreme measures to make weight are all part of the grueling practices that the Missouri wrestling team sometimes has twice a day. Nick Marable, a senior and two-time all-American on the team, has become accustomed to the routine and learned the importance of having a positive attitude. By approaching practice each day with acceptance rather than fear, Marable has improved as a wrestler and grown into a team leader.
“With wrestling, the biggest thing is your mentality,” Marable said. “If you don’t come into practice every day with a good mentality and expect to get better that day, think that it’s a good day and that it’s going to be fun, then practices are terrible.”
Marable, who placed in the top three in the state tournament all four years of high school at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tenn., acknowledges that he was not prepared for NCAA wrestling when he moved to Columbia in 2005.
“In high school … if you’re good, you’re good, and you don’t have to work as hard as some of the other people,” he said. “But in college, everyone’s on the same level, so it’s like whoever puts in the most work and effort is going to get the most out of it.”
Missouri coach Brian Smith agreed that Marable did not make the best impression at the start of his career. After contracting mononucleosis in the summer before his freshman year, Marable began the season out of shape.
“When he first came in, I still joke about it, I didn’t even think he was going to make it,” Smith said. “My coaches and I thought, man this kid is never going to make it.”
Despite his coaches’ doubts, Marable survived and excelled. Taking his freshman redshirt year as an opportunity to acclimate to college, Marable met two upperclassmen on the team, Ben Askren and Matt Pell, who taught him about the physical and mental aspects of the sport.
“My freshman year, I relaxed and enjoyed college a little bit,” Marable said. “But then my sophomore year, I decided to step it up. And once you start putting the time in, it all gets so much easier.”
With a new outlook, Marable began to approach practices much as he does today, as an opportunity to improve and learn from his teammates and coaches. Lifting weights and refining technique make up only a part of the hours the team spends on the fourth floor of the Hearnes Center. Marable said one of the most valuable parts of practice is learning from wrestling against coaches and teammates.
As Askren and Pell did when Marable first met them, Marable knows that, as one of only three seniors on the team, it is time for him to step up as a leader.
“He’s really focused on bringing the team together, which is the most important thing,” Smith said.
Not only does Marable host parties and barbeques at his house for the team, he also tells his teammates about his struggles over the past four years.
“I tell them my story my freshman year, how I kind of got in trouble from not doing things the right way,” Marable said. “Once I started doing things the right way, managing my time and looking forward to practices, things got a lot easier and a lot better. I try to guide them that way.”
Although this undoubtedly helps the younger wrestlers understand the mental aspects of the sport, the freshmen and sophomores can also look to Marable’s discipline for an example of how to work out. Smith says that Marable improved his technique and strength over the summer by logging long hours in the weight room and on the mats, and that Marable wants to succeed more than anything this season.
“There’s a sense of urgency for him,” Smith said. “He’s got to do everything right and train right … He’ll be right in the thick of things. We know he’ll win it.”
Although Smith is confident Marable can advance in the NCAA Tournament this year, the senior is most concerned that the Tigers live up to their potential. After spending years learning from older teammates and passing those lessons along, Marable says that he now knows that, though wrestling is a somewhat individual sport, team success is crucial.
“Everyone always wants a team national title … but I just want our team to wrestle to their full potential,” Marable said. "I felt like in past years we’ve been a good team, but we haven’t wrestled to our potential. This year, I … want us to wrestle the best we can.”