The road to recovery has reached its destination.
Sidelined since October with the recurrence of a spinal fracture originally suffered in April, RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) has been fully cleared to participate in practices at the Olympic Training Center. The news is timely for the 24-year old Nebraska native. January is a busy month, especially in Colorado Springs. Winter camp opens on Monday and right on its heels is the Dave Schultz Memorial International, a marquee event on the US calendar. Predictably, Perkins is excited about being able to resume training and the Schultz will be his first foray back into competition.
“I feel pretty good,” says Perkins. “I have to get my body stronger but I’ve got my motions and stuff back, so it’s all going to come back together soon.” If you remember, Perkins had been preparing for the Non-Olympic Weight World Team Trials and in the process of doing so, packed on some additional muscle mass. But during training he re-injured the small fracture in his back, effectively dashing his hopes of winning his third Trials event (Perkins won both the 2014 World Team Trials and this past year’s Olympic Trials, as well).
Now that he is fully recovered, there are two items at play for Perkins’ near future. The first is a new weight class. Perkins had established himself at 66 kilograms throughout his Senior career and found success in that division. But with the added size he accumulated during the summer along with the injury, it is going to be 71 kilos from here on out. Part of the decision is desire, the other part, a medical necessity.
“The doctor was glad when I told him I was going up because he said if I continue to cut weight, it is going to deplete the muscles around my spine that have helped it heal, ” notes Perkins.
He’ll be entering a weight class that itself has become increasingly deep. Chris Gonzalez (Army/WCAP) took the Trials by surviving a gripping best-of-three showdown with Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) before going 1-1 at the World Championships a month later. Of course, there is also Perkins’ Olympic Trials final opponent Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm), who has logged the most experience at 71 out of practically everyone in the country and just claimed his first National title in December following an impressive showing at the World Wrestling Clubs Cup where he went 3-2. Nationals runner-up Anthonie Linares (NYAC-OTS) has emerged as another serious contender and could be someone who disrupts the top-heavy nature of this weight.
But before all of that is to be dealt with, there is the little matter of getting some matches in. Competing at the Schultz may have seemed like a given for Perkins, considering it is a hallmark event and syncs up well with both his residence and return from injury, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, it took a recent conversation with his mother to push him in that direction.
“I wanted to wrestle in it (the Schultz) but I wasn’t sure if I was ready or not,” Perkins confides. “I was telling my mom this and she said, ‘You need to be wrestling.’ She was excited, you know? She had been calling me everyday asking, ‘You losing that weight yet?’ (Laughs) I’m good, mom, I’m not worried about my weight yet, that’s easy. But I believe I am ready and even if I’m not, I can’t just go over to Denmark without having some matches first.”
That lines up with the next order of business. Perkins is poised to hit the ground running. The lineup goes like this — winter camp, which goes from January 16th to the 27th; Schultz a few days after camp closes; the month of February to continue training; and then it is off to Denmark in early March for Thor Masters, one of the more challenging overseas events on the schedule. If you are thinking it might be a daunting stretch, you’re probably not far off. But it pays to remember, this is an athlete who nearly qualified his weight for the Olympics with a spinal fracture. And he is all-too-eager to see what he is capable of now that he is pain-free.
“I have to get stronger, I have to get my body right so I can wrestle like that every single time,” Perkins asserts, referring to that 1st OG Qualifier performance. “If you really look at it, that wasn’t even me wrestling my best, I was wrestling with a spinal fracture. Now I am doing things I wasn’t even able to do then. Now I’m doing high-dives and I’m able to do arm spins and front headlocks if I need to. But in Mongolia, I was basic. All I could do was two-on-ones and pummel. I wasn’t flashy but it got the job done. But now that I can do that kind of stuff, it is going to be even better.”
And with that, one of the deepest weights in the US has just been put on notice. 71 kilograms is going to be a lot of fun in 2017, isn’t it?