Currently, 2014 World Team member and 2016 Olympic Trials winner Joe Rau (85 kg, Minnesota Storm) is busy recuperating from a surgical procedure on his knee following the freestyle World Team Trials, but that doesn’t mean he won’t take time out to try and motivate the youth. Last week, Rau spoke to a group of wrestlers at the University of Minnesota’s wrestling camp and shared his incredible story that saw him go from being a middling high school competitor to an elite National-caliber talent. Rau does not skip around too much in his speech. He lays it all out there for the kids in detail and as he is wont to do, makes sure everyone has a laugh or two at his expense.
Although Rau is an experienced speaker thanks to his outgoing personality and his second-career as a standup comedian, he was not originally scheduled to speak to the Minnesota campers. Zach Sanders, the gifted four-time All-American for the Gophers who graduated in 2012, is a close friend of Rau’s. After hearing the 2016 Olympic Trials champ’s tale, Sanders became immediately impressed. As one of the main clinicians of the camp, he felt the wrestlers would benefit from hearing what Rau had to say, so he simply asked him to show up.
“I was talking with Zach, we’re roommates, and we took a ride out to where he’s from, which is two hours away along the river and we were talking about wrestling the whole way,” says Rau. “We’ve been friends for a long time but I never really told him my story. He never heard it, so he said, ‘Hey, that’s cool, do you want to speak at the camp next week?’, and I said, “Heck, yeah!”
Rau can easily put himself into the shoes of young wrestlers who have yet to come into their own. Before he found success at Elmhurst College as a national champion and later as one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the US, Rau hit a crossroads. His high school career didn’t pan out how he hoped and it took his Army-veteran brother to finally get through to him. Out of seemingly nowhere, Rau took home the national title at Fargo later that summer. He knows what it is like to be the type of kid who looks up to the country’s star athletes and wants them to understand that they can be where he is. After all, he was once where they are. It’s not always an easy ride but the way Rau sees it, maybe he can help by showing them that if they are ever discouraged, the goal shouldn’t change.
“If I can get through to anyone and they can use the lessons I’ve learned, I just really struggled at that age, high school and younger. I learned a lot of lessons that help me now I wish I had known earlier.”
Special thanks to Jordan Kingsley for the recording!
Joe Rau Speech Highlight
On thinking about giving up wrestling after high school and then winning Fargo
“I was thinking about quitting. I wasn’t going to wrestle in college or keep doing it to try and become an Olympian. But my brother, he flew home. He served in the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home, he was done with the Army, and he saw what I was doing. I was laying around feeling sorry for myself. I think I am going to quit wrestling. He’s like, Come on, man, and he’s not even a wrestler. So he doesn’t care about wrestling, he just cares about me. He said, “This is your dream, you have to get back in there.” He slowly got me back into the gym. I was just lifting weights all summer, just lifting weights and being fat (laughs). I showed up to freestyle state and without a lot of training, I did a week of training, and for the first time ever, I won state in freestyle.
“The next week, and this is after not training all summer, the next week I went to Greco state and I took second. I lost in the finals because of a rule change I didn’t know about because I hadn’t been wrestling. And then I’m going to Fargo. I’m a kid who’s never won state, never placed in state, I mean, I never took sixth. I go to Fargo and we’ve got a draft, you know, like the NFL Draft? We’ve got a draft for coaches on Team Illinois and we’ve got hundreds of kids on Team Illinois, and I was the overall last draft pick. The last guy drafted, right? I’m a pudgy kid, I look like a jelly-filled donut (laughs).
“I was the last guy picked and when I went into Fargo, I changed my whole mindset on wrestling. Because I hadn’t been wrestling all summer, I was ready to quit, right? And here is one of the biggest lessons I wanted to pass onto you guys because a lot of this stuff, like rankings, Flowrestling, like Who’s this guy? Who did he beat? How did I do against him? — none of that matters. I spent my whole life in wrestling staring at the rankings obsessed. I know where everybody is ranked, I know where everybody is, I know what they do. I showed up to Fargo after almost quitting and I didn’t care, I didn’t look at anything. I didn’t look at the brackets, I told my coaches, ‘Tell me what color I am, I don’t care.’ No one had me to win anything.
“I went in that tournament and one match at a time, I focused on the things I can control. How am I warming up? What do I tell myself? What are my pre-match rituals? I did everything I could control. I can’t control what this guy’s ranked. I can’t control what college he’s going to next year, he’s some big recruit. I can’t control injury or any of these other factors, but I can control what I do. Do I get good sleep? Do I eat good? How do I get myself mentally prepared? How do I warm up? I focused on those things. I didn’t look at brackets. I showed up and one match at a time, I went 11-0 in Greco and I won a Greco national title. And I was the last overall pick.”