Interviews

PAGING DR. GRECO: Eric Twohey Explains His Road to the Olympic Trials

Days are there to be filled. How that happens is based on percentages. Fractions is what they are. Everyone has an agenda upon waking in the morning and then the math begins in earnest. How long does it take to drive to work or school? How long to get home? Eat? Exercise? Shower? How long to check every other priority off the list before those eyelids have just about had enough?

A race is a game, and the race against time in which every human is compelled to participate is won or lost relative to their ability and desire to somehow create meaning within the decimals. There’s no way you would get Eric Twohey (97 kg, Minnesota Storm, 5PM #4) to admit that he’s winning this race, though you would also have to be pretty thick to believe that he isn’t.

Some of the college crowd, they knew who Twohey was when he made his Senior Greco-Roman debut at the 2018 US Open. He had been an excellent competitor for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, finishing third in the Division III National Championships two years prior. But even if there were a degree of familiarity among the lot, few inside of the Greco program expected much from a wrestler who was as green as canned spinach when it came to the classical style. Twohey didn’t deserve anyone’s attention going into that tournament. Knowing him, he probably didn’t want any, either. And likely still doesn’t.

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He made everyone look, anyway. In his first-ever Senior match, Twohey knocked off ’17 U23 World Teamer Blake Smith. One bout later, he gave eventual-two-time National champ Daniel Miller (Marines, 5PM #3) a tough go of it before falling via decision; and when the event ended, neophyte Twohey had come away with fifth place.

It was a nice start. Nicer still was Twohey earning silver at the Haavisto Cup in Finland the proceeding December. Context is always key: in what was his second Greco competition, Twohey advanced to an overseas final. He went 2-1 on that day in Ilmajokie, his lone blemish courtesy of Arvi Savolainen (FIN), one of the best young upper-weights Europe has to offer. Next was another silver, this time at the ’19 Dave Schultz Memorial. Then fourth at the Nationals, and third at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. In his most recent showing, Twohey qualified for the US Olympic Trials by locking down bronze at yet one more National tournament, the December ’19 gathering in Fort Worth, TX —  an event that has represented the “most recent showing” for a whole lot of others, as well.

The takeaway is simple: Twohey has been a contender in every tournament he has entered thus far. And that will not change when he returns to Fort Worth in a couple of days.

But again, this is a time thing, a commodity of which Twohey does not have at his disposal. When he is not wrestling — which is to say, the other 162 or so hours available on a weekly basis — he’s at the hospital. Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, to be precise. Off the mat, he is “Dr. Twohey”, a med school grad who is reaching his second year of residency, and a wrestler for whom just patching together training opportunities requires the goodwill of coaches and teammates.

If there is a reason why Twohey discusses his Senior endeavors with a sheepish attitude, there it is. From Minnesota Storm head coach Dan Chandler and Jim Richardson —  to teammates Rich Carlson (87 kg, 5PM #11), Patrick Smith (77 kg, 5PM #1), and Donny Longendyke (130 kg, 5PM #8) — the entire Storm biosphere has rallied around Twohey by being as flexible as possible in an effort to accommodate his chaotic schedule. When he was enrolled at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, it was a little easier. Now back in La Crosse, approximately two-and-a-half hours west of Minneapolis, it is a little…different. There has also been a pandemic, too, lest anyone forget.

Dr. Twohey’s practice schedule revolves around his rotation at the hospital. The hours don’t always, or even often, jive seamlessly with coaches and workout partners. Somehow, he manages. Somehow, the Stormers by his side find ways to make it work. There are only so many minutes in a day, even less when you factor in all of the myriad ways they are wasted on irrelevant peripherals. Twohey doesn’t have that luxury. He arises. Then he goes from one place to another to another. In between, he is merely trying to become a better wrestler.

No one is fooling themselves. Twohey isn’t the first wrestler-doctor in history. He is not even the first one in history on his own team. But former National Team member/’13 Open champ John Wechter was not as newbie-ish when he began launching heads all over the Senior circuit. Just four years ago, Twohey barely had any idea how this sport functioned on the top level. Three years ago, he hadn’t yet competed in his first Open. On Friday, his name will be called on-deck at the Olympic Trials.

Twohey, better than most, understands how to maximize time-efficiency.

He knows that days are here to be filled.

5PM Interview with Eric Twohey

5PM: When I think of doctors, especially young ones, I figure a really hectic shift schedule. A low on the totem pole sort of thing. Maybe there is a rule where if you work a certain number of days in a row, you get a day off or something?

Eric Twohey: There are certain rules. Once in a while I will have to do a 24-hour shift, but that’s pretty rare. It used to be a lot worse than that, but the rules have come along. It used to be that there wasn’t a limit on work-week hours, and now hospitals cannot make a resident like me work more than 80 hours. I don’t know if it is the same for older physicians. For residents like me, we do have rules regarding a limit on the hours we can work in a week. Every four weeks they have to give us four days off, or four periods of 24 hours off. They don’t have to be in a row, they don’t have to be on the weekends. Generally, I’ll have one weekend day off. It works out to where it might be next weekend I will have two days off and then I will go for about two weeks straight. There are some limitations on the hours I can work.

5PM: On TV or in movies, every time they show a hospital room there is a clipboard at the foot of the bed that doctors and nurses pick up and read, or add to it, or whatever they do. So then I wonder why that is necessary. Because, we have apps and software all over the place. With the tech that is available, why are things done that way?

Twohey: Oh, I would say that I’ve only seen that on TV. Maybe there are some places that still use charts you can get to if you need, but everything that I do is off of the computer and I have apps on my phone. I do have a piece of paper that has my patient list and I’ll write things down on there if I can’t get to the computer. But for the most part, it’s online.

5PM: How many patients do you typically have?

Twohey: For example, I have six patients today and discharged a few. I think I can go up to anywhere around 12 or 13 patients as my max. In my program here, they have done a good job of slowly getting me there instead of overwhelming me right away.

5PM: I’m not presuming that the rules should be different for you, but do people know who you are and what you’re endeavoring towards when you’re not at the hospital?

Twohey: I would say that most aren’t but it was something that was in my application for the residency. The program director might know it if she remembers me from all of that. But I’d say that generally most of them don’t really know.

5PM: There is a gap between when you finished school and when you began Senior Greco. What did you do during that interim, if anything, wrestling-wise?

Twohey: Wrestling-wise, in 2015-16, I was still in the process of working in the hospital and helping coach at UWL (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse). After that year, I moved up to the city to start school and Chandler reached out to me soon after I arrived. I was going to start training with them then but I had some back issues. I wound up doing a year, year-and-a-half of physical therapy until I was back to normal and felt like I could compete again. That’s mostly what I was doing. I did a year of coaching and then a year-and-a-half of PT and my school stuff.

5PM: If you required 18 months of physical therapy it would seem that your back issue wasn’t trivial. What exactly was the problem?

Eric Twohey: I mean, it was very spread out. Disc herniations were causing a lot of pain to where I couldn’t really move. There were some days when I could barely walk and had a hard time bending over, or doing any sort of thing that required even a little athleticism. It just took a long time for that to get back to normal. I did a couple of spinal injections but they didn’t help too much. I was seeing a doc at the hospital and we discussed possible back surgery. I decided against that, so we just tried physical therapy and it slowly got back to normal. It wasn’t a back injury where I couldn’t do my day-to-day stuff. I could still work around it. I just couldn’t do physical or athletic activities. I couldn’t work out the way I wanted to work out. I couldn’t run. It hurt to cough. It was just kind of a weird deal.

eric twohey 2019 nationals

Eric Twohey’s first Senior Greco-Roman appearance came at the 2018 US Open, where he placed fifth. Since that tournament, he has added two silver medals (including one overseas) as well as third-place honors at both the ’19 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament and the US Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifier, respectively. (Photo: Richard Immel)

5PM: Did you have what we usually call “relevant age-group experience” prior to Senior Greco?

Twohey: No, not at Fargo or anything. Before the US Open in 2018, I had wrestled one Greco tournament, the Junior state tournament in Minnesota. At that time, I hadn’t really trained Greco. I was just there a day early for the freestyle side of it. I didn’t really have any sort of Greco background coming into the Open. It was a completely new skill-set to learn and it was fun trying to learn it. And it’s definitely humbling.

5PM: Yeah, but in that ’18 Open, your first Senior tournament, you right away looked like you had a natural feel for position. That’s like, 60% of the game. Plus, you also gave Dan Miller a tough time immediately out of the gate and you eventually placed in the tournament. Did you feel the same natural fit that at least myself and some others happened to notice?

Twohey: Yeah, and I only had about a month of training before that Open. I came over there in March and it was April when we went. I don’t know if it’s so much that it felt “natural”. In college, I was blessed with great coaches and I feel like I learned how to hand-fight so well there. Then coming to the Storm for only a month before the Open, Chandler and Mike Houck were really good at keeping things simple for me. They really broke things down without going too in-depth or making it overwhelming. I didn’t feel that natural. If it looked that way, it was because of the coaching and keeping things simple for me going into that tournament. The main goals going into that tournament were keeping my position and hand-fighting hard in all of the matches. That was the goal for me.

5PM: You had schooling still in front of you and just a lot going on personally and professionally as a 25-year-old. What was your motivation in starting Greco in ’18?

Twohey: There were a couple of reasons, but the big one is that I love wrestling. And when it’s gone, you miss it. I had that whole year of rehabbing and that just makes you want it more. Even though I hadn’t wrestled Greco, to me, any form of wrestling is better than doing something else as far as trying to stay active. I missed wrestling, I love wrestling, and told myself that if I can get back and my body is okay, then I will wrestle until I don’t feel like my body can’t take it anymore. Since I’ve come back, my body has been fine and I’m still having fun doing it.

The second reason was to have something that took my mind off of school. You can drive yourself crazy going through any type of graduate school or medical school. It was nice having something to look forward to outside of that day-to-day stuff. An hour or two of practicing with the guys was my sanity check every day I went in with them.

5PM: Your weight class in particular has really come up the past couple of years. You are part of why that has happened. Depth has improved kind of big time at 97 this quad as a whole. Do you pay attention to something like that on a concentrated level?

Eric Twohey: I would say that I tend not to follow too many results as far as any wrestling. I don’t like to get into following the results of people, I just like to focus in on my wrestling and all that. But with the influx of guys, for me it was just that I showed up and there were a decent amount of tough guys there. Now knowing the history of it, it’s cool to think about. When going to these tournaments, there are definitely not any easy matches to go through. When you have a lot of top guys, it’s going to be difficult. All of the guys within that top four, top five, are very good. It has been fun, to be sure.

5PM: You also placed second at your very first overseas tournament ever, the Haavisto Cup. That was really impressive, it’s just not something we see often. That got me and some others very hyped about your potential. It’s why we think you’re a natural, if anything. 

Twohey: I’d say that I really appreciate your words. I guess I don’t really see it that way. When I look back at any success I’ve had, I just become very thankful for the people around me who made it happen. Obviously, I put in the effort; but it’s also easy for someone to put in the effort towards something they like to do. But there is no reason why any of those Greco coaches have to give me the time of day. They are flexible with my schedule. They schedule practices around me sometimes. I’ve had Rich Carlson coming to me at 3:30 in the morning, or Jake Kettler and Donny Longendyke meeting up with me late at night, depending on the schedule.

So I appreciate everything you said, but when I start looking at those who have helped me I am just very thankful for the people by whom I’m surrounded.

5PM: You have, of course, drawn comparisons to John Wechter. He was another tremendous Storm wrestler, National Team kind of competitor, and someone who went through a lot of the same things when it comes to studying to become a doctor while also managing a Senior wrestling career. Have you ever crossed paths with him and discussed what this all like?

Twohey: A little bit, especially when I first got started. We exchanged some texts. I’ve never actually met him in person. But yeah, I’ve definitely reached out to him about trying to do both. He was encouraging and gave me tips, stuff like that. I have a lot of respect for him, but I haven’t actually met him yet.

5PM: We have several athletes who don’t like to elevate what a competition means in their own minds. Are you like this, the type who prefers to keep an “it’s just another tournament” frame of mind?

Twohey: Yeah, I mean, it’s something that is easier when you’re away from it. Obviously, it’s different when you’re on the mat because there’s no doubt the energy is going to be different. But as best as I can, I try not to look at it as anything other than an opportunity to compete and just try to have fun with it. I’m just happy that my body has held up and that I can do it. I’m happy to be able to do it and compete well by putting my best foot forward. But I think everyone is lying if they tell you that it’s just another tournament. You try to put that in your head but it’s easier said than done.

5PM: We’ve gone through all of this dialogue. On one hand, it’s like throwing Don Mattingly batting practice in 1987 with how easy you answer the questions. On the other, you’re always deferential when you answer. But this is all a lot of stuff and impressive to people. Does this ride say anything to you about yourself? That you’ve gone through med school and in between picked up a new style of wrestling and are now in the Olympic Trials?

Eric Twohey: Oh man. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from it is that my love for the sport continues to grow. The biggest thing I learned is how much I enjoy the sport in all forms. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t. The drive to do all of this… I mean, when I finished college I didn’t think I’d ever compete again. Instead, I had an itch that I wanted to come back and do something. A lot of people get that, but there were definitely times where it would have been easier if I hadn’t been wrestling throughout school or residency.

I just think the amount of love I have for wrestling has been revealed to me the past couple of years. Hopefully, you take that passion you have for the sport and apply it to other areas of your life moving forward. That’s a big thing that I’ve learned during this, too.

Follow Eric Twohey on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with his career and competitive schedule. 

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