Love comes first. You need love. For anything and everything. It is the force, the fuel, the pulsating catalyst that leads to passion. Once you discover passion, the world opens up. It then becomes easy to believe in yourself and your goals. Whatever those desires may be, the chase will not be in vain. You’ll be willing to do what is necessary to conquer your objectives, but not because of the reward. Not because doing so will result in some flimsy, particleboard fantasy springing to life. Simply the opportunity to participate becomes fulfilling enough, and it is that which allows the availability for true growth to commence. The inclination to take risks and test yourself knows no fear when love is your motivation.
So you talk to young Mr. Tommy Brackett, the 17-year old mop-haired wrestler who is a student at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tennessee and when he’s speaking, all you get from him is love. Brackett loves Greco Roman wrestling. Like, really, really loves it. In fact, he loves it so much that he was willing to take a break from his high school folkstyle season to see how he’d fare at the 2016 US Senior Greco Roman Nationals, a tournament featuring the country’s top talent all vying for spots in the coveted US World Team Trials in April. They were all older. They were all bigger. Stronger, too. Wrestling may be governed by weight classes but Brackett, who competed at 80 kilograms, was a boy tangling with men.
Until he showed them he was man enough for the challenge.
In his first match of the day, Brackett drew Courtney “CJ” Myers, a wrestler from the Army’s World Class Athletes Program who had previously been both a US Open and World Team Trials runner-up (2015). Despite the age difference (Myers is 29) and the gap in experience, Brackett hung in there with Myers in the early stages of the bout down 1-0 before capitalizing on a Myers throw attempt with a timely counter to take a 2-1 lead as the first period expired. In the second, Myers would earn two points to jump out in front but a late passivity call turned the tables, giving Brackett a 3-3 criteria win over an opponent originally expected to contend for All-American status (Myers would subsequently lose to Barrett Stanghill in the consolation bracket and failed to qualify).
“When I saw I had (Courtney) Myers first-round I said, ‘Okay, that’s a pretty hard draw to have,'” admits Brackett. “When I beat him, I don’t know if I was surprised as much as it was, Wow, that was a big win. It showed me where I was. I would say I’m really happy with my performance and probably somewhat surprised.”
There wasn’t time to revel in the victory. Brackett, who won the 2016 Junior Greco Roman Nationals this past July in Fargo, North Dakota along with being named to the All Tournament Team at the National Duals, had to get it together for the next match a mere 20-plus minutes later. His next opponent was Trey Hardy, an athlete from Northern Michigan University’s Olympic Training Site program who is attempting to gain experience in the sport himself. Unlike the Myers bout, Brackett was in control of this one right away and cruised to a 9-0 technical superiority victory. He was now 2-0 and in the semifinals of a major US Senior tournament. However, his task coming up was a mighty one – 2011 World Team member Cheney Haight, an accomplished Greco wrestler widely regarded as one of the very best in the country.
Perhaps predictably, Haight prevailed over Brackett with little trouble, securing a technical fall by the end of the first period. Brackett moved to the consolation semifinals. A win there would have put him in contention for third. Unfortunately for the teen, Stanghill, a surging athlete who graduated from Northern Michigan last year, simply proved too much to handle, sending Brackett to the fifth/sixth place match. The youngster lost there, too, though he still secured himself a place at the World Team Trials, an impressive feat in and of itself.
To a degree, it’s all besides the point. Brackett is not the first high school-aged athlete to enter into Senior competition, and he won’t be the last. But very few have thrown their hats into the ring just as their scholastic seasons were heating up. Specifically, it is a rarity for Greco Roman wrestling, a sport that requires a more specialized skill-set than its freestyle and folkstyle brethren. To pull it off, you have to be willing to take the lumps. And making it a lifestyle choice doesn’t hurt, either. Having received a taste of international competition earlier this fall, Brackett understands that better than most.
“I got back from Sweden at the end of October and the next week was the Bill Farrell, and it got me really excited to to compete again in Greco,” says Brackett. “I’m in the middle of my folkstyle season but I really wanted to compete, so I talked to my dad and told him I really wanted to go in the Open. I sent a waiver into my state so I wouldn’t lose eligibility for folkstyle. I sent it in, they accepted it, and so I did it.”
High school wrestling with its daily two-hour workouts and weekly meets makes it difficult for teenagers to deviate from the schedule, especially when it comes to fitting in training for a different style. Therefore, Brackett was forced to make adjustments prior to the US Nationals. By the time he made the decision to jump back into Greco Roman competition, cramming became necessary. Lucky for him, he had some help.
“Honestly, I only trained a week for this, one week before I came here,” Brackett declares matter-of-factly. “I trained with Kerry Regner from Williams Baptist, he came down earlier in the week on Sunday and I trained with him a little bit. After that, i just worked with my club coaches back home, getting workouts in with whoever would wrestle with me.”
Aside from sporadic sessions at the wrestling club and meetups with Regner, who is approximately 90 minutes away from Brackett’s home in Eads, the best the athlete can do to satisfy his appetite for Greco is toss it in with his folkstyle training. You’ve heard of this before from Greco Roman wrestlers, how they make sure throws remain part of their arsenals even during the winter months. That is what Brackett does — incorporate elements of the international style into his high school season so he can stay sharp. It seems to have worked for him so far.
“My true love is Greco so I wrestle a lot of my folkstyle like Greco,” Brackett says. “In the practice room, there are a lot of throws I’m working on, even if I’m not solely working on Greco. This last week I switched the gear on and plus, it hasn’t been too long since Sweden, just a month and change. I switched the gear on and said, Let’s go. It’s time to get back to doing what I love doing.”
Now that the weekend has passed and Tommy Brackett has gotten his first Senior tournament out of the way, the future becomes the question. There is no doubt what he wants to do (“I love Greco Roman and the first day I’m out of high school I plan on training Greco full-time.”), but rather, where is he going to do it? With success on the age-group level and an impressive debut as a Senior combined with a heap of talent and the desire to see it through, Brackett is going to have choices at his disposal, a luxury for any wrestler. He knows this. He’s thankful for it. That does not mean it is going to be easy for him.
“There are a couple of options,” informs Brackett, heightening with optimism. “Northern Michigan, obviously. I’ve been talking to Matt Lindland, so maybe coming up to Colorado. Maybe if Williams Baptist gets rolling here, that’s a lot closer to home. I just know that I want to do it full-time, so I’ll have to make that decision when it comes.”
Whichever direction Brackett decides to go in, it’s a safe bet he will make the right choice for himself at that moment in time. Us “normal” humans, we complicate decisions. We weigh pro’s and con’s, contrast them with imaginary outcomes and apply (hopefully) useful information to arrive at some wishy-washy mental consensus. Brackett does not have that problem. For now, it is simple for him, but not just because of his age or station in life.
Brackett is in love, the biggest yet least convoluted advantage of them all. And he will be back again soon enough to remind us all of that.