Interviews

When There Is Laughter: Joe Rau’s Tale of Pain, Perseverance, & Inspiration

Joe Rau interview
Joe Rau -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

A well-worn man knows the worth of his scars.

To adequately envision Josef Rau, take him off the mat. Transport him somewhere different. You’re hoofing it in the Arctic Circle, stranded alone and in the distance, you happen to spy a man less than a click away. He is walking with a slight hunch as he drags what’s left of his belongings towards a warmth you both know doesn’t really exist. No matter, with one foot in front of the other you trudge just a little quicker to catch up with this man. He is happy to see you, smiling wide despite the fact his skin is cracked and sore and incapable of painless movement. Even his laugh lines nearly come to a full rest before retreating back into the confines of such tattered flesh. The man greets you, he wants you to know the snow isn’t as deep as it seems to be, it is simply that the gear you’re wearing is weighing you down.

That is the secret the man knows. He has more of them should you listen. You should. Your pleasure in the moment keeps him upright during the hellacious trek through the unforgiving.

Rau is many things. This is common knowledge. He is his own Renaissance, hopelessly in love with a career in international Greco-Roman wrestling while also slumming it up with forays into stand up comedy. Correct. You read that right. The 26-year old goes between practices at one of the country’s top Greco-Roman programs, the Minnesota Storm, to sometimes implausibly seedy clubs and the (naturally) hipster’ish coffee shops his other vocation calls for. You don’t call this a balancing act, no. That would mean there is adherence to a plan of some sort. Rau makes plans and breaks plans. He does what he wants, a point he repeatedly comes back to. It’s not that Rau is adverse to organizing his life-set. He wants to be more in-tune with the time management skills his loves necessitate. Improvement is gradually arriving.

However, this is an athlete who is the furthest thing from a mess. One thing Rau understands is the concept of prioritization. That’s how you make a US Senior World Team, which Rau did in 2014. It’s also how you move up, down, up again, and whatever and wherever else, to take out the baddest dude on the block to win the Olympic Trials. The road diverges from there. In order to  wrestle in the Olympic Games, competitors must qualify each weight for their country. It doesn’t have to be the guy who won the Trials, but the responsibility was Rau’s last year and the only reason he made it to Rio was to play the role of workout partner to someone else.

Discomfort is not the same thing as pain. People tend not to put themselves out there just because something is slightly amiss. There has to be a wound. There has to be a searing, burning, not-dying-down-anytime-soon level of torment either somewhere deep inside or right beneath the surface for a guy with a name to feel okay enough to show you what he’s been dealing with. That’s what Rau does. He does it even now as he busily prepares to make another World Team. Comedians have routines and this is one of them. So this is a different kind of joke teller. Joe Rau is not trying to make you laugh to mask the pain we keep talking about.  Quite the opposite. He’s holding it up like a freshly painted canvas and inviting you to study it for yourself. Your understanding is part of the show.

It’s why he is that man in the distance you must connect with. The bitter cold is bitter to everyone. Drop what isn’t required, any of life’s cumbersome items which force the walk to appear more treacherous than it needs to be. And let the man speak. Remember, he is pleased by your company. Tis not he alone who needs it. As soon as you meet his stride, the situation becomes apparent — your journey together is a mutually-beneficial proposition.

5PM Interview with Joe Rau

5PM: Balance is a big topic for today’s athletes, even Coach Lindland has talked about it. You seek balance off the mat in a different way than most. Do you realize its importance as it pertains to your life and career?

Joe Rau: Yeah, I definitely realize its importance now and I’ve been talking about this a lot with people. The whole comedy thing is enjoyable to me and I have been really diving into it now, where I only occasionally did it in the past. I’ve been doing it every night now and I haven’t seen how it’s going to affect my results as far as performing yet. But I definitely see its importance as far as enriching my life and my value as a person. For a lot of athletes and definitely myself, a lot of my value is wrapped up in how I perform, and that’s not really healthy. I haven’t exactly seen its effect, I can’t say, It’s going to make me wrestle so much better! But I can definitely see it enriching my life and my ability to tell myself honestly that, I’m more than just a wrestler. Which, it’s kind of ridiculous to say you think that, but you do sometimes. I really get caught up in my performances and sometimes, that’s how you value yourself.

I’m just having a whole lot of fun doing comedy and getting to work on it. I’ve been having a lot of these talks recently, I was one of those people who had to give up everything to be good at wrestling. I had to give up other sports, I had to give up guitar, and all of these things I wanted to do, but I felt that was what needed to be done. It kind of was. I made big jumps and I became a good wrestler. But I was scared to pick up something to this degree. Today was the first time I didn’t do stand up and it was because I just had to let myself relax because here we go again, I want to be really good at this, I really have to work a lot on this, I have to do open mics every night, this and that. It’s been good to have something new I want to work hard on, but I want to keep it as a fun thing, though it’s difficult. I can’t just let myself enjoy it, I have to be good at it. If I’m doing it, I have to be good at it. So, it’s been it has been fun and it is new waters, so it is exciting, but is it going to help me perform better on the mat? I’m not sure yet.

5PM: Isn’t it possible that doing stand up, or whatever anybody’s outside interests are, actually makes you a better wrestler?

JR: Yes, that’s possible. That’s the problem I struggle with, if I do something, I tend to want to do it really well. That takes a lot of time, I’ll really dive into that thing. The days I’m doing open mics, in between practices I’m going to coffee shops, writing, re-working, and rehearsing the things I’m going to say. It becomes a day-long thing in between practices and then I go and do the open mic, it’s a lot of work, even though it’s comedy. It’s a lot of work, too. Some days I have to go in and lift really late. The other night I did an open mic, I went in to have a lift and I didn’t get done until like, midnight or 1:00am because I did an open mic that night. I had to just fit it in. I think it’s making me prioritize my time and it’s a positive. I definitely think it’s a positive.

5PM: That’s kind of what I’m driving at maybe. I would almost assume that kind of personality serves both of those areas well. Wouldn’t you think that if your drive and your desire to improve in one area or the other, is coming from the same source?

JR: I would say so. Absolutely. I guess my only opposition to that thought, I definitely think it’s helping me, but if it comes to, Am I going to lift or am I going to this open mic?, if I choose the open mic, I’m not lifting. Then it’s the day-to-day. You think, Maybe I’m starting to do this thing too much and it’s taking away from wrestling time-wise, but really, it shouldn’t. And that is what I am getting better at and sometimes that means hanging out with people less and doing other things less. So yeah, I think it’s definitely a positive, the only thing I get worried about is, like in high school, I tried to do everything. I was in tons of clubs, I was really on top of my schoolwork, and I was playing three sports, I had a lot of friends, I was trying to be a good wrestler, and it was too much. It was overwhelming. I felt like I was pretty good at multiple things, but I wasn’t really good at any one thing. When I got to college, I had to be real with myself — What do I want to be good at? I want to be good at wrestling. So I have to focus all of my time, it takes priority over everything. And that is kind of how I made big jumps.

That is the only thing I guess I get worried about, is that I was one of those wrestlers who never really had balance once I started getting good and I realized what it was going to take for me to get good, which is pretty much everything (laughs). Wrestling is a priority over everything. Now that I am getting older, it’s like, You don’t have to give up everything. If there is something you want to do, do it, you just have to get better at time management. That’s the only thing that concerns me, I’ve felt like I have had tried to do too many things at once, but this is different. It’s my only concern, getting too much into it and it taking away from wrestling time-wise (laughs). But it shouldn’t.

5PM: Do Coach Chandler and Coach Paulson object to this lifestyle at all?

JR: No. As long as I’m still doing the right things. That is the only thing I’ve struggled with as to why I can’t do both sometimes, which is, the comedy world can mean late nights. A lot of times you’re in bars, have a couple of beers, and so it’s kind of anti-wrestling. With wrestling, it’s a get-your-sleep-in-eat-healthy lifestyle that comes in conflict. There are plenty of comics who have been sober and hard-working and the complete opposite persona of most comics. And then you read up and do your research, and a lot of these comics who embrace the party persona aren’t actually partying as much as they give off or there are comics who sound like stoners but are straight-edge. But the stoner community relates to them because they are from California and they talk funny, that’s their sense of humor. And you can hit the earlier open mics, you know?

It’s been different. And it’s a scary thing to do, too. Of course, a lot of people want to like, loosen up and lower their inhibitions with a little bit of alcohol, but I’ve been on top of it. I’m just going there with my water and doing comedy. It makes you stronger in a way, but it’s harder because you have to be used to getting loose on the stage.

A post shared by Joe Rau (@raustler) on

5PM: Despite the fact that comedy isn’t some brand-new part of your life that has all of the sudden popped up, you said yourself that your activity level increased. Was you injuring your knee a big catalyst for that?

Joe Rau: Absolutely. The conclusion of 2016 as a whole, everything, the heartbreak, the ups and downs, the end result being a huge problem for me, it’s been hard to deal with and handle. I’m still wrestling, so it’s not the end of the world, but it sure feels like it sometimes, coming that close. But it has definitely gotten me to go more, and recently, just making a lot of life changes. Just diet-wise and I’m a night owl, so I’ve been trying to sleep differently. I’ve been trying to balance my time out differently and I think a part of that is maybe due to, I don’t know, like a “quarter-life crisis” even though I’m only 26 (laughs). But I get very existential and think about things, like, What do I actually want to do? Yeah, it sucks, I’m not going to be able to hang out with my buddies as much as I normally do if I’m doing open mics and working on comedy, but that’s what I want to do, so I have to just manage my time to be able to do what I to do. My need is definitely kind of the same thrills as competing, it’s performance. You have to get up there, so it has forced me to get up there more than I was in the past.

5PM: How does your knee feel currently?

JR: It’s not where I want it to be, but it’s good enough. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% but you just have to deal with it. It isn’t something that is going to make me perform any less than I normally would. You know, it feels fine, it just takes some extra time to warm it up. It doesn’t feel how it did before the injury or the surgery, but it might be as good as it’s going to get and once the adrenaline gets pumping, it’s fine.

5PM: The fact that you’re coming off this layoff during the heat season, Trials approaching and all that, is this all happening during a relaxed time in your career or a pressurized time in your career?

JR: I mean, I feel like the pressure was real for Rio and qualifying for that. There’s still pressure for me to come back and perform, but that’s the pressure I put on myself, really. I don’t feel much outside pressure. I feel pressure from myself mostly. If I’m back and I want to do well… I think that was one of my problems in Hungary, I want to come back with a bang, I want to do really well in this tournament, and I should have just focused on competing again, my positions, my scoring, and instead it’s like, I want to go in there and hit a home run. So if there is any pressure, it’s only the pressure I put on myself. But qualifying for the Olympics and all that, it was almost an insurmountable amount of pressure. And it still haunts me a little bit, that I didn’t come out on top, that I didn’t conquer that pressure, in a way. But I did the best I could given the situation. Right now, I’m putting some pressure on myself, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most pressurized time in my career.

5PM: Despite not qualifying, wasn’t it still a valuable experience? Are you a better wrestler for having gone through that experience, or is that line of thinking presumptuous?

JR: To be quite frank, it’s just a lot of pain. Maybe if I go to Tokyo and win a gold medal I could look at it that way, but right now, it’s just a lot of pain. It is still a long time ago already, it was months ago, but I look back at other things that were similar and it’s, Yeah, it made me stronger, blah, blah, blah, but right now, it’s just very painful for me.

5PM: What have been the best and worst parts of the last six months?

JR: I’ve really enjoyed going to tournaments even though I wasn’t an “official” coach. I went to the NYAC tournament and I went to the Open, and doing little things like the Bisek article, watching and coaching some of my buddies, it’s something that I enjoy a lot. It has been a low point as far as being a competitor, but it has been a high point to be able to look at it from a different lens and enjoy the sport a little bit, whereas I normally wouldn’t. I’m the type of guy who needs to focus on myself in order to get optimal results. I feel that way. I could barely watch anybody if I’m not done wrestling and it’s not because I don’t want to, I just feel like I don’t wrestle well if I’m sitting around watching a tournament. I got to contribute a little bit and do some things I normally wouldn’t. And the comedy, being able to do some things off the mat, there have been a lot of high points, seeing performances. After the Open, I went to LA. I went to The Comedy Store, which is a legendary comedy club and then when I was in New York, I went to The Comedy Cellar and I saw Dave Chappelle there, I got to see these big names. Those have been high points for me when I was off the mat — contributing to the team in ways that I normally wouldn’t be able to do.

Right now as far as wrestling, I’m still getting back in there. But I guess a high point was getting to go to Hungary and feeling that again. It was nice to be overseas, it was nice to be in an intense training camp with quality partners. I didn’t get the results I wanted, though. Of course that’s not what I wanted. But I don’t have much else to go off for wrestling so far as high points, during the last six months at least.

5PM: What has it been like seeing your weight class essentially commandeered by a talented young athlete like G’Angelo Hancock and a teammate of yours, Hayden Zillmer?

Joe Rau: It has been it’s own challenge. I’m not going to lie and ignore it, these guys have talent, they’re really good, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. But if it’s going to do anything, it is going to raise my level. They are two guys completely different from me I feel like. As far as Hancock goes, where I was at that age? Not even close. But having said that, I feel like I’ve built certain strengths that are invaluable to my style of wrestling because I wasn’t that “young talent.” Zillmer is a damn animal. The guy just goes, goes, goes. He almost overworks himself. I’ve got my work cut out for me, I’m not going to lie. That’s something I need to really prove to myself. At the Trials, I need to prove that this dog can still fight. I can still fight, it’s up for grabs and I can do it. There is a lot stacked against me, I’ve got two very talented guys and I don’t have the schedule that works for me with the Trials being in April. But I’ve got to go, try to make this team, try to make the best of it, and try to get a medal.

You know, it’s good. In a way, it sucks because it’s like, These guys are really good. In a way, if I’m being honest, I think, I’d like to make the team easily, just beat whomever it is, the guy is not that good. But in making them better, it raises my level. It shouldn’t matter how good the guys are in my weight class because the ultimate goal is to be an Olympic champion and medalist, so whoever is there, I have to beat them. I have to raise my level and find a way to beat them.

5PM: What I think is interesting and this is not a slight to the 2016 class, but 98 kilos in 2017, it’s like you turn around and it’s a shark tank. Because it’s not just you, it’s not just Hancock, and it’s not just Zillmer. There are undercover people here. You have Daniel Miller, who for some reason or another, performs differently when he’s across the Atlantic Ocean. There are some other guys, too.

JR: Yeah, it’s deeper than it has been in the past, definitely.

5PM: I don’t know how you see it from your vantage point being an athlete, you’re inside of the fishbowl, but I would think a part of you likes that about 98 right now.

JR: I do and I don’t. To be honest, I’d like to just know I’m on the fucking team and going to Worlds. So in a way, it’s been like, I’ve got to go and turn it around. That has been a stressful thing for me after the injury, I’ve got a quick turnaround, I’ve got to beat quality opponents, and I have a lot of things stacked against me as far as coming off this injury, not having an optimal amount of time to train. It’s not ideal. So in a way, it’s kind of a stressful thing. But it’s kind of awesome, too. If it is one of the weight classes to watch or it’s anticipated and people want to watch and you have to overcome big opponents, you’re going to raise your level. It’s good and bad, you know?

5PM: Well, it’s just looking at it this way, coming into 2015 it was Caylor Williams and I’m not sure he had lost to another American in a few years. Did your challenging of Caylor Williams and taking his spot represent a sort of “coming of age” for you, given his dominance in this country leading up?

JR: In a way. I feel like it wasn’t the person as much as it was the achievement or making the team and it being an Olympic year. It was big because he was the guy who owned the weight class since 2013, but I tried as hard as I could not to get wrapped up in that and who he was. I know a lot of coaches and people wanted me to win that weight class. I tried to not get caught up in Caylor and all that stuff around it. It was more the accomplishment that made me feel that way, not that I beat Caylor. We had great matches, but I try to take their identity away from them when I wrestle. I’m not wrestling what they are…

5PM: You’re not wrestling their accomplishments.

JR: Yeah, I’m not wrestling what they did or who they are. I try to remove everything about them out of the match. It’s just me wrestling.

Joe Rau vs Caylor Williams at the 2016 Olympic Trials

Rau (red) lost the first bout in the best-of-three series versus Caylor Williams at the 2016 Olympic Trials but won the next two to emerge as the 98 kg champion. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

5PM: How do you approach training right now at practice? Do you have a specific mindset you get into?

Joe Rau: I’ve been having good practices and bad practices. Over in Hungary, I was beating good guys. I wasn’t losing many go’s. I was turning everybody and I was scoring on my feet. I didn’t have the tournament I wanted, but it was one of the best camps I’ve ever had. I was really feeling like I was turning it on. Then I came back stateside and maybe it was a little about the tournament, maybe it was a little being depressed about the results. I mean, I get caught up in performance. I want to win. But I need to get back up and turn that back on. At least in recent weeks, I felt kind of crappy the last couple of days. Now I haven’t been doing this, but I notice that I need to be like, This is a competition. Every day is a competition. Because I tend to wrestle better in tournaments than I do in practice, as far as Greco goes. I have to frame my mind that, Every day is a tournament. That’s when I get myself to wrestle well in practice.

Have I been able to do that lately? I’m just talking about the last couple of days, it hasn’t been going that way and I have to get back to that. I have to treat every practice with the same amount of energy. Because I have all these rituals and all of these things to get up to my best performance-state, and I have to try and do that every practice. And it’s hard, because it’s an elevated state. It’s an elevated state to where I almost feel like it diminishes if I’m doing it every day. It’s an occasion. It’s like you’re getting dressed up for something special (laughs). I get myself ready mentally and everything else prepared, I get myself ready for competition to where I normally am not able to do that every day in practice. One thing I notice, is that I have better practices when I treat practice that way, which isn’t always easy for me. I guess that is how I have to approach it if I want to have good practices.

With me being injured and not being able to have live-go days, and not being able to get tournaments in the way I wanted to, we had match days on Saturday when I was training up at Northern Michigan and I would say, “This is a tournament. You get ready like it’s a tournament. Get to bed early. Eat the way you eat, warm up how you would warm up.” So the days we’ve had matches and I have to knock the rust off, every time we’re going on match days, those are tournaments to you. That has helped me. The urgency of like, I’ve got to get ready for Trials and I don’t have that much time, that has also helped me.

5PM: You and Andy Bisek delivered a very memorable conversation on this platform about pressure, regret, and competition. Have you applied any of the lessons from some of those topics to your current attitude? You know what I mean? Did that conversation turn on any light bulbs for you?

JR: Absolutely, absolutely. Me and Pat (Smith) have been talking about it, just because I’ve had a couple of bad days and Pat is back from Sweden. With the result last year, it’s hard not to get a little jaded. I’m not the same wide-eyed guy I was in some ways when I first joined Storm and I have to get back to that. I’m known as an always-positive guy. But internally, I can get self-degrading, I’m up there with the worst of them. I’ve got to stay positive and turn that ball around. If I have a couple bad days, it’s easy for me to get negative, but I am usually really good with being positive, positive, positive. That conversation definitely helped me and I would love to do more of those. I have these conversations with my friends and other great athletes in freestyle and Greco, and when I was a kid, I would have died to hear these, and I want to do more of them. Andy and I have such good conversations between each other and I just want to share them.

But I definitely think about those a lot and it has made me do a lot of things right that I haven’t been with the sleeping and the eating, and prioritizing my time better. Because I don’t know when my time is going to be up, or I don’t know when I am not going to be that same athlete anymore. That could come this year, that can come in ten years, I don’t know. Life doesn’t care about your plans, taking away some of that. I definitely do think about a lot of those things and I talk a lot about those same things day-to-day with a lot of my friends and the guys on the team. I’m just trying not take this stuff for granted, these opportunities, which is hard. I’m still a little stung about the results from last year and jaded in a way I’ve never been. I have to break out of that and get the ball rolling, and I think it starts with a lot of tournaments and everything again. I’ll get better with that. But I think about all of those topics all of the time.

We just had the return of Brian Graham, he’s back. Brian and I are really close. For a long time out here, I had no one. He was all I had in a way. We were close and then he left, he stopped wrestling. We had an honest conversation about wrestling and I’m not the kind who is going to go, Oh no, man, you’ve got to keep going! He knew what I thought, he had just broken through making his first National Team in 2015.  I did say, “You’ve got to keep going”, but then again, you never know. He had all of these other things he wanted to do and he had a girlfriend in Missouri. I told him, “You never know what you’re going to regret. If you keep wrestling or quit wrestling, you’re going to have regrets either way. If you want to get on with a different career and you want to go home and be with your girlfriend, you might regret staying in wrestling. Either way, you don’t know which one you’re going to regret.” He took that time off the mat and now he’s back. We talk about a lot of the same topics, getting into if it’s worth the squeeze (laughs). I definitely still think about all those things and try to apply those.

5PM: What is about Illinois? Aside from current athletes active now to the past, there is also a mighty coaching tree. Your area specifically has brought about several top competitors. What is it, is it the coaching at the youth level or the environment, that has led Illinois to be such a well-stocked Greco state?

JR: Maybe it’s a little bit of both of those. But I think it’s moreso the coaching. Growing up there, it breeds a lot of tough people, but I think there are a lot of tough people all over the map in areas where they aren’t great wrestlers. I think that might play a role, but not as much as people might stress, like, I’m from Chicago! I do think that’s a thing, I think there is a certain toughness that comes from certain areas. But a lot of it is the coaching and that there are a lot of people from these areas who wrestled at this level coming back and helping out. Of course, Bryan Medlin and Mike Powell being huge for Greco and freestyle in Illinois and getting kids wanting to wrestle those styles, where in other states, they all want to keep doing folkstyle. In Illinois, all the best kids are doing Greco and freestyle and they want to. It becomes the cool thing to do. I don’t know if it was on purpose or if it was a conscious thing, I don’t know if I could say that. But it became the cool thing to do in Illinois whereas in other states, it’s harder to get folkstyle kids to do that. In Illinois, we have kids who say, I want to wrestle, I want to wrestle Greco in Fargo. It’s the cool thing now (laughs).

The key thing is those two guys, Coach Powell at the Oak Park program, Bryan Medlin, and countless guys coming back who’ve had international and Senior-level experience. I had guys like that, like Medlin, (Joe) Manzello, and countless others. Even guys who were a little older than me, like the Hope brothers, Tanner Andrews, and I have tried to give back by coaching at Fargo once in awhile. We have so many guys coming up from there, but I definitely think it’s the coaching. They are really good at getting kids excited about Greco. That’s the key — the excitement and willingness to do it.

Joe Rau quote

5PM: Name one thing you try to do every day no matter what.

JR: It’s funny, I read this from a Seinfeld thing, they try to write a joke every day. That’s one thing that is tough to do, try to write a joke every day (laughs). From a wrestling standpoint, it’s a no-brainer, you’re going to practice and working out every day. I used to meditate every day and I felt like that really helped. Now it’s become that I meditate before every competition, but I want to work towards doing more meditation like I used to. I try and enjoy myself every day. To try and do the things I want to do. If I am doing something I don’t want to do, I know it’s because going to get me to something I want to do. If I don’t want to work out, I am going to do it because I want to be an Olympic Champion. But I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do (laughs). I guess I am always trying to enjoy myself.

5PM: What do your parents think of your career goals?

JR: Now they are a little more comfortable with them because I’ve gotten to a certain point of success. But my dad didn’t really see the avenue that I saw. I don’t think anybody did. I don’t think I did. But I knew it was I wanted to do. My mom raised me, she knew she couldn’t tell me not to do anything. If I am going to do something, I’m going to go for it. The more you tell me I can’t do this, I can’t do that, the more I am going to say, F-you, I’m going to do that. My dad was worried, just out of wanting to protect me and have me secure, he wanted me to have a more practical route. To have a good job, if I want to stay in wrestling, coach. If you want to wrestle, join the Army, something like that. He wanted me to have more security.

But they didn’t really see this. Nobody really saw it. And coming from a DIII program, I don’t think anybody saw it. I didn’t start this off like, I know I am going to reach this height. I just knew I wanted to get to this height really badly. I wanted it really bad and I was going to go after it. It was a really big leap of faith. I know my mom and dad are really proud of me, especially my mom. She had us very young, she had four kids and started in her late teens, so she never got to do a lot of the stuff she wanted to do. My dad, he worked so many jobs growing up, he was in the Army, did a lot of tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. When he was home, he was working as a Chicago police officer and doing like a million side jobs. The guy has been working since he could walk. And he’s still working. He retired and picked up two more jobs, it’s crazy (laughs).

I think they are very supportive and I think they were very scared. But my mom loves that I’m chasing my dreams, and it makes me really sad to a point. She didn’t have that luxury, neither of them did. My mom had to take care of us and she was on her own a lot of times. They had to work really hard. She is very supportive and loves that I am chasing my dreams. It’s good to have that. It didn’t matter if they were supportive or not, I was still going to do it and they know that (laughs).

5PM: After your win at the Olympic Trials last year, you said, and I quote, “I’ve had tons of guys on all kinds of teams with me that were way better than I was. Always. But no one had the love for the sport that I had. I can say that with confidence.” Even now, you don’t hear “love of the sport” quotes from guys at your level so much because it is just so goal-oriented. Whether times are good or bad, is that kind of attitude something you can continuously draw motivation from? Is it that love of the sport that allowed you to make such strides? Because it can’t just be having a goal. A sick amount of passion has to be involved with that.

Joe Rau: Yeah, I think it is the most important thing. It is the most important thing. It is the reason why I’ve done anything. I think a million people would have quit if they started from where I was at and put up with what I put with as far as failing, and failing, and failing. That’s exactly what I draw from. Now, times have been rougher and it’s harder to love the sport when things are going wrong. Sometimes, it’s a love-hate thing. The other day in practice, I’ve been having a string of bad practices, and I was like, I fucking hate this. Every day following a bad practice, I’ll get into my highest level of hate but by the end of that day, I’m going to bed and waking up like, I’m going to have a good one, I’m going to get a practice in, I love this and I’m going to work hard, this and that. And then even that practice goes bad again, I’ve just got to get back in there and refresh.

I heard this thing about being successful is sometimes more due to the ability to recover from failure, to bounce back. And I think I have that because of my love for the sport. I’m sure sometimes I hate aspects of it now where I never did in the past, and maybe that is because it is a higher level and I never had to deal with different things. But it’s the only reason why I’ve done anything, my insane obsession with this sport. It’s blowing people’s’ minds from my past how far I’ve come. Every wrestling team I’ve ever been on, except when I got to college, which is when I made my jumps, no one would have thought I’d be the one still doing this and accomplishing anything. It is my love for the sport and it always be. Passion is my biggest weapon, it really is.

Follow Joe Rau on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with his career, competitive schedule, and potential comedy appearances. 

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