Joe Rau (87 kg, Minnesota Storm) apparently likes surprising people.
When Rau came back from knee surgery in 2017, he entered the Hungarian Grand Prix at 98 kilograms, the same weight in which he won the Olympic Trials a year prior. But when the World Team Trials last April rolled around, he was (back) down at 85. Rau didn’t alert anyone to this decision, only his Storm teammates were really in on it. It’s a similar situation leading up to tomorrow’s Bill Farrell Memorial in New York City.
Once again on the mend following another surgery (to repair the same knee), Rau’s date of re-entry this season had been a question mark. But here he is, back, and with little warning ahead of time. There is a lot of synergy at play for Rau when it comes to this event, and that is one reason why he chose the Bill Farrell Memorial to make his 2018 debut.
“I love New York with all my heart,” Rau said Thursday night. “I came here in 2013 and took second, and in 2015 I won. The people, the hustle, the history. It seems like there is something from a movie or a song I know on every street corner. I love comedy, I love punk rock, and I love food. New York is one of my favorite places, maybe that’s why I wrestle well here.”
Rau’s journey over the past two years hasn’t been an easy one, a fact he is constantly mindful of, even though his career began with a flourish. He made his first Senior World Team in 2014 at 80 kilograms shortly after appearing in the University World Championships. Rau missed out on making the 2015 World Team at 85 kilos the following spring, but returned the next season all the way up at 98 — a full 18 kilograms heavier than where he first made his mark. While it may have been quite a jump in weight, the results were hard to argue with. At the 2015 Bill Farrell Memorial, Rau took out reigning three-time World Team member Caylor Williams in the finals, and then repeated the feat a month later in the National finals.
The 2016 Olympic Trials set everything in motion to where we are now. Rau prevailed over Williams in an exciting best-of-three series to clinch his spot on the Team, but it was that same day when he originally ripped apart his meniscus. The proceeding three weeks offered the then-25-year-old a lesson in the sport’s unforgiving nature. Rau faltered in two attempts at qualifying 98 kilograms for the Rio Olympics and the resulting time off from surgery did little to quell his disappointment. When all of the months of rehab were finally completed come March, Rau immediately hopped over to Hungary for a week-long camp and that country’s vaunted Grand Prix.
And then he tore his knee all over again.
Rau held it together for four more weeks and managed to compete very well, advancing to the finals of the World Team Trials opposite two-time Olympic Ben Provisor (NLWC). He even torched the field at the freestyle last chance qualifier in early-June and give it a run at those Trials. But after that it was time to go under the knife again. As it currently stands, Rau hasn’t stepped on a competitive mat in nearly 10 months due to another lengthy rehabilitation process. The road has been a winding one, to say the least. But for now, he’s just happy to have withstood all of the anguish that has led to this latest chapter in his career while still on top of his game.
“After my second knee surgery it has been a long recovery,” acknowledged Rau. “I haven’t wrestled Greco since Trials. I’m just dying to get back on those mats and feel that magic again. It’s hard when it goes away, and there’s no way to quite fill that void. So I am officially back, and hopefully, for good. I need to finish what I started and build momentum towards World and Olympic titles.
“Someone recently asked me if I was scared returning to competition after all this time and injuries, and I said ‘no’. After 21 years of wrestling, there is not much that can happen that hasn’t already happened. What, I lose? What, I get hurt? So what? Those things have already happened and they will probably happen again at some point. I have to put it on the line. That’s why I am any good, I always put it on the line.”