COLUMBIA — On the mat, sophomore Max Askren is a “grinder,” according to MU wrestling coach Brian Smith. Away from the mat, Askren’s coach describes him as a deep thinker who enjoys learning about other cultures and their languages.
It is a lesser known side of the 197-pounder, who is perhaps best known as the younger brother of Ben Askren, who elevated Tigers wrestling by winning the NCAA championship his final two years at MU in the 174-pound weight class.
Max Askren, like his brother, has had an impressive start to his collegiate career, becoming the first redshirt freshman to win a Big 12 Conference title in his initial season of competition since his older brother. Still, Smith says there are differences between the brothers.
“Ben was more of a pinner,” he said. “He had 90 something pins in four years, which is unheard of. Max has more of a grinding style where he will get on top and ride you for a while. Max is more of a control wrestler. A methodical wrestler.”
Off the mat, Smith says Max Askren always wants to know the “why” of everything.
“He is a very interesting kid to coach,” he said. “He is very intelligent and very bright when it comes to academics. We have been in some deep conversations on road trips.”
Max Askren has also noticed a connection between his sport and his intellectual pursuits.
“I think wrestling opens up a lot of doors for travel,” he said. “Wrestling is bigger in many other countries. You develop close bonds with the other wrestlers. You’re both involved in the same sport, so why not be friends afterwards.”
Wrestling has enabled Askren to travel to different cultures. Two summers ago, he competed at the World’s Tournament in Guatemala. The tournament included wrestlers from Switzerland, Canada, France, and Cameroon.He enjoyed meeting the different wrestlers but had some trouble getting there.
“Me and the guy that I had been rooming with took off and took a taxi. We got lost for about 30 minutes trying to get to the event,” he said, laughing.
Max Askren realized that to get in touch with other cultures, you have to know their language.
“It’s fun to find out about other people’s cultures,” he said. “The biggest thing that I realized from going to different countries is that you can talk to them in English and kind of get a gist for their culture, but it is not until you start speaking their language do you find out what it is about.”
Learning different languages is something Max Askren has been pursuing since he was a sophomore at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, Wis. He became actively involved in linguistics after he took a Japanese class during his sophomore year.
“I wanted to do something different than Spanish. Everyone speaks it. I think it is just something people do because they don’t really know what they want to do,” he said.
In this class, he was not taught by an faculty member. Instead, he was taught by a member of the community who wanted to do something different. It was a small class, which helped Max Askren create a bond with his teacher and enhance his learning.
“She ended up teaching a class of six or seven. Four or five of the kids did not care, so she would spend time with one or two ofus,” he said. “I was able to get a sense of the culture and create a bond, something that is difficult to do in a big lecture hall.”
Although he admits that he cannot speak any language fluently, Max Askren has taken strides in learning French, Spanish, Japanese and Russian through an interdisciplinary program at MU. Along with visiting Guatemala, he has also been to Japan, France and Monaco and plans to try and travel abroad this summer.
Ranked No. 3 nationally in the 197-pound weight class by wrestlingreport.com, Max Askren is also focusing on having another successful year with the Tigers. Last season, he finished 28-3 and started this season off well by winning his weight class at the Missouri Open for the second straight year. His says his sights are set on the NCAA Championships.