It’s never a pressure situation, in the same way it’s always a pressure situation if you want it to be. But at this point in his career, RaVaughn Perkins (77 kg, NYAC) doesn’t even have the time to acknowledge pressure. As a two-time US Trials champ, two-time US Open champ, and 2018 World Team member, Perkins has accomplished enough over the past six years to know that whatever mental perceptions exist before a big event cease to matter as soon as the whistle blows.
Along with his successes have come disappointment, particularly pertaining to injuries. It is a topic that has followed Perkins’ pursuits of World glory since the beginning of this quad. Who can forget the spinal fracture that he wrestled with following his victory at the Olympic Trials? Next, it was one shoulder; then, the other. The back, rehabbed and healed, began barking again on occasion later on just to further remind the 27-year-old of his mortality.
The body of an elite athlete, though hardened and prepared for battle at all times, tends to also betray vulnerabilities due to the arduous nature of the workload. So there is often a domino effect — one injury, major or minor, leads to more of them. A tail-chasing endeavor towards healing that unapologetically gobbles up time as well as opportunities to reach important objectives. And despite Perkins’ activity level a season ago, he was constantly gritting his teeth through the kind of pain that would force any normal man to rethink his primary occupation.
After Perkins faltered at the hands of eventual Final X runner-up Alex Mossing (Air Force) at the ’19 Trials, he made it his personal mission to get healthy. Truly healthy, something he hasn’t experienced very often in a few years. That required, of course, rehab — something to which Perkins is well accustomed — and as much as rest as he could tolerate. The result leading into this early part of the Olympic season and Friday’s US Nationals is a supremely confident athlete who for sure will not take his next steps for granted. Not that he ever has, anyway.
When he takes the mat on Friday morning inside the Fort Worth Convention Center, Perkins will do so as a major threat to win the tournament. He is already qualified for the Olympic Trials in April, but getting out there again and reasserting his presence are understandable priorities. Perkins can wrestle freely, finally. There is no pressure, other than to remain healthy ahead of what he hopes is a flight to Tokyo in the summer. A bunch of business has to be taken care of before that happens. But considering all he has gone through yet again just to get himself ready, Perkins’ steely determination to see it all through can never be questioned.
RaVaughn Perkins — 77 kg, NYAC
5PM: When did you start feeling healthy enough to begin practicing at full capacity again?
RaVaughn Perkins: I would say about a little bit after Worlds. Something just clicked inside of me when we didn’t get our weights qualified. I just thought like, Man, the USA has got to do something, and I know I can be the one who can do it. We didn’t compete like I know we could have. We had a couple of guys who wrestled great. But that’s when it just clicked inside of me that I have to get back and do something, even if it’s me pushing the next guy to make this Team and get on the medal stand.
5PM: When the weights weren’t qualified, for some at least, it felt like there was a little wind taken out of everyone’s sails. But it sounds like you took it as more of a rallying cry or source of motivation.
RP: Yeah, it definitely motivated me. It motivated me because I know we are good enough to get medals and it’s just not happening. I feel like I have to do something, we all need to do something on our part to get there. That’s when I felt like I need to get back on it, help myself out, and help anyone else out. Like Pat Smith, he has to go and qualify the weight. I’m there for him if he needs it. We have a camp coming up in January.
My main focus was to get ready for the Nationals. Even though I am already qualified for the Trials, I wanted to get ready for Nationals, and at the same time, help get Pat ready in January so he can qualify the weight. And then whatever happens after that, happens.
5PM: Since you are already qualified, is your main motivation to compete at the Nationals to get some matches in and for seeding? Or is it to get a feel, potentially, for some of the guys at this weight you haven’t competed against yet?
RP: I don’t care about any of that. At Nationals, everything is for me, not anyone else. After the Nationals, I can focus on helping other guys out. But right now, it’s about getting those matches in to see where I’m at before the Trials. That’s about it. I don’t really have to feel anyone out to beat them. I don’t really look at like that. All I have to do is wrestle how I wrestle. There’s no need to feel anyone out.
5PM: Well then speaking of ‘feel’, how do you feel entering this season compared to the start of last season?
RP: I feel good. Just moving up in weight my body feels good after taking that long break, which I probably needed a long time ago. I’m glad I got it in after the last Trials that I had, and I feel good.
5PM: Is there going to be anything for you competitive between this tournament and the Trials in April?
RaVaughn Perkins: The plan is to of course win the Nationals. When I win that, the next thing is going to Rome for the ranking tournament, and I believe they want me to do the Denmark (Thor Masters) camp. I’m looking forward to that, I love the camp up in Denmark. It’s a lot of different athletes from different countries. A lot of great coaches up there. That’s my plan. After that, just sit back, stay healthy, and get ready for the Trials.