Sometimes, it takes a minute to get those sea legs underneath you.
Ryan Hope (85 kg, Cliff Keen WC) had just come off of earning a bronze at Finland’s Vantaa Cup last November, a solid showing, and one that arrived with ramifications. Because it was an international medal, Hope had already qualified himself for the 2017 World Team Trials, which in turn, made an impending appearance at the US Nationals in mid-December a touch unnecessary. But with matches, mat time, and the opportunity to pull singlet straps up and battle it out against other motivated domestic competitors all at a premium in this country, Hope booked himself a flight to Vegas anyway, at the very least just to have something fresh to train for.
And then he hit a snag.
A week before he was to take off for Vegas and the tournament he didn’t really need, Hope shredded the meniscus in his right knee. Wrestlers, they tear up their knees all the time, so it should come as no surprise that initially, Hope wasn’t all that troubled about the circumstances. Don’t misunderstand — he knew there was a problem; he just didn’t know how large the problem actually was. He rested, went a little lighter on the mat, and sure enough, some six days later there he was, at the Westgate Hotel & Casino trying to assert himself in the first National event of the then-brand new quad.
Hope went 3-2 in the tournament, good for seventh place. All things considering, it wasn’t the worst possible scenario. For a wrestler of his caliber, seventh place certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but you know, he got out there and that was the point.
Instead of spending the proceeding three months gearing up for the World Team Trials in the spring, Hope was forced to take time off to deal with that knee. Originally, it was thought he might be able to rehab it in time for April’s swoon, but that went out the window eventually. There was no stability in the joint, only pain, frustration, and the sorrowful feeling of a season lost on the shelf. Come to think of it, his twin brother Corey knows something about that, too.
Nearly eleven full months passed before Hope finally returned to competition, and that came just recently at last month’s Dave Schultz Memorial International. Though an 0-2 performance is not what he was gunning for, still, Hope was able to compete at full capacity and is now looking forward to building upon his comeback by tacking on more competition after the calendar flips to 2018. If there is one thing US fans get with Ryan Hope, it is honesty. Perhaps no other athlete performs self-evaluations quite the way this one does, and that is exactly why we wanted to see where his head is at now that for all intents and purposes, he is once again a healthy man. He did not disappoint.
Ryan Hope — 85 kg, Cliff Keen WC
5PM: All told, it was an 11-month break between when you first got injured to your coming back at the Schultz. How did you knee feel, how did you lower half feel overall, and how did everything hold up during your main training phase for the event?
Ryan Hope: I felt great physically. I would go on runs and I would feel like, Holy shit, I feel faster than I’ve ever felt before. When I was wrestling, I felt like my feet were moving and underneath me, and lifting people was very easy. Strength-wise, I was putting up very fast numbers in terms of how quickly I moved the bar from the floor to my shoulders on a power clean. So, everything physically was lined up to be great. I didn’t see that side as hindrance at all. Physically, I felt more than capable.
5PM: You say you felt great and that you had data to kind of back that up with, but you were still returning from a pretty significant injury. So what were, if any, some of the mental hurdles you had to overcome either prior to competition or after?
RH: Coming into competition again, you don’t want things to ever feel like you’ve been gone. You want to flow back into the competitive realm again as if you never left. But the first tournament of November, which in this case was the Dave Schultz, is always a rust-buster, and I guess more significantly for myself this year it was rust-buster, just because normally, I would have something in the spring to compete in and then reevaluate on come the fall. But this time, it was almost a year since I competed and there was a little more rust on the Chevy than in previous years, I guess you could say. It was just deeper-wound, so there was more rust to get off.
That was something I knew was going to happen and that I was going to have to face, so that’s really all I could look at the Schultz being, something to reevaluate because I didn’t have the Trials to do that. I didn’t have anything else in the summer to do that for me, so that was kind of what the Schultz was for me, a mechanism to reevaluate. And more so than normal, I had some big things to think about after the tournament. Normally, I just look at things and say, Hey, I was too slow here, I wasn’t in good position here, I went for a throw-by instead of slide-by — whatever, just after I compete, that’s how I can reevaluate. But I had that and I had to do reevaluate how the hell I was training and my lifestyle. Something’s not there, something isn’t right, so now it’s reevaluating as a whole who you are, how you’re training, and how you carry yourself. The reevaluation became deeper.
So heading into the Schultz, really the mentality was, unfortunately, I put so much on myself for that tournament. Set the tone here, take some chances, surprise some guys, things like that. But I didn’t fucking do my job there, and that is something you have to change, you have to improve upon because really, in going about competing wrong, you do it for so long — and the influences and impressions you have or are given to you as a youngster by your parents, or high school coaches, or whomever — it’s like competition days are a totally different animal than training days, but they are really not. Wrestling is wrestling, you fucking wrestle everyday.
For the longest time, I’ve always looked at competition day as, That’s the red-letter day, that’s the day you have to have your shit together, that’s the day all of this has to add up to. That’s what people remember, they remember your competitions. But as an athlete, you have to remember that competing in relationship to what you do everyday is like when you compare Earth’s existence to how long people have inhabited it, you know? That whole analogy people use, like if you put Earth’s whole existence into a 24-hour time period, human beings would have only inhabited the Earth for the last 45 seconds, or whatever they say. But that’s what competing is. Competing only makes up so much of what we do, and if training is what you do most often, that’s what should feel comfortable to you.
But competing should feel natural, anyway. If you’re competing in the room, competing in training sessions and everything like that, then you should be able to turn around and say, Well, competition is no different. It’s still wrestling, at the end of the day. Like football, they spend most of their week out of pads. They’re not hitting each other, they’re not in pads, and then gameday comes, they are back in pads and hitting each other full-force. Wrestling’s not really like that. We don’t come in and say, Okay, we’re not really going to touch each other. We’re going to shadow-wrestle… Wrestling isn’t like that, you’re competing every time. So that is where we’re different as a sport. You shouldn’t look at competing differently than training because you’re competing in practice still. You’re wrestling in practice. Some practices more so than others just because of what your coach wants or what training plan you’re on. Maybe some days are just technique days.
But at the core of training for wrestling, you’re still competing. It’s one-on-one and it’s very personal because you always want to kick the other guy’s ass. And that is why I think we have to delve into the ideas that competing is the same fucking thing, in essence, because it shouldn’t be any different than training. It can’t be, Oh, on this day, you have to have your shit together. No, you’ve had your shit together for the last three months, for the last six months, the last year. You had your shit together this whole time to train, why shouldn’t it be together today?
5PM: Your second match was starkly different than your first, especially considering how much of a prospect Rich Carlson is. Is that indicative of what you’re referring to, getting rust off?
RH: There were things that I did better. Attacking angles and running to positions, I wasn’t doing so much still. Naturally, I like to run the angle, attack the angle, and keep attacking the angle until I get a square-up, which I did do that slide-by to his left side, and it felt great. That was an inclination of like, the feeling is kind of coming back, and sticking in the double under’s to finish that. But again, to finish that, it was very rushed when I got to the actual scoring position. When I got around behind him, instead of cinching and throwing, I popped my hips, and that’s where I didn’t finish like I should have on that scoring attempt.
So there were things I was getting back into the flow of, but it was nowhere near what I should have been by any means. That’s just something that has to be changed, has to be different, has to get better. I can’t let the situation overstimulate and get caught up in things. Because as I say the Dave Schultz was a rust-buster, that is a really shitty way to say things, because if you appreciate, as a person, what I said earlier about how competing and training are one and the same, then this being a rust-buster? Sure, getting down to weight for the first time in awhile, in a very long time, with the two-hour weigh-in — that you could say is the rust-buster. But competing should go hand-in-hand with training and just letting yourself open up like you do in practice. That should all be the same.
The Dave Schultz was very much a mental battle that I needed to conquer, and didn’t like I wanted to. And that is a very telling realization to come to, because as I’ve said, it makes you reevaluate and it makes you come to terms with what has to change as this cycle progresses. We’re at a very good time now to take care of that because I am very far out from Tokyo in terms of where it lies in the quad. So with a change in mentality coming into the new year, that also gives me a change in mentality for the rest of the quad. Very far in advance, it’s not like Rio, where I moved from Colorado to Ann Arbor and six months later it was the Olympic Trials. That was a very short turnaround to make a very drastic move in my career. Whereas, this is another move in my career, but it’s for the better, as was that, but with so much more time in advance. I’ve reevaluated, I know where to make improvements, and I have 70% of a quad to do it. Time is my friend, because I have time. That time will fly by, but I have it.
5PM: Were you surprised it felt so new again?
Ryan Hope: Yes. It hit me like an open field tackle by John Lynch or something because I didn’t even expect it to feel like that, and shame on me. But yes, I was very surprised to feel as disconnected or as foreign to competing as I did. That was very surprising to me.
5PM: How did the weigh-in format play into this experience?
RH: It was just different, getting back to weighing in like that and making sure your weight is in order. As I said before, it was something I had a game plan for and changed midway through, and probably hurt myself. It’s something you have to manage right and do it right, because if it doesn’t hurt you physically, it will mentally. It will suffocate your performance if you let it.
But I do appreciate this weigh-in format because I like the two-day competition protocol. I think as far as fanfare it’s great, and I like it, because I think as any wrestler will tell you, the soreness and fatigue you feel the next day, it will be interesting to see which guys will recover best for medal rounds. Competing is very, very important, but so is recovery, and it just shows who has their shit together more when you have to compete two days in a row. It will show who has managed their weight properly and who has recovered properly to compete on Day 2. I don’t want to say the sport is about weight, but it is an aspect of the sport and you do it because you love the sport and you have to. Weight will always be a part of it. But I think it will be interesting to see the weight management combined with the competition and the recovery phase tied in together. If you could manage those three things correctly, then you’re setting yourself up for better outcomes on medal day.
5PM: Since your hiatus, the scope of 85 kilograms has changed. It had some depth before, but now it is probably the deepest weight in the country. How do you see it? Do you see how crammed this weight class is and is that a good thing? Or do you see 87 kilos changing with the two-day format and guys going up, or even down?
RH: I think the weight class will change still. I don’t know if guys will go up or down, or wherever. I love seeing competition. I believe having healthy depth within a weight class is great because it is going to force you to increase your level, and I think depth is only going to make this weight class better internationally. But with that being said, it’s still going to be my job to focus on myself. I believe there is not a soul in the weight class who does what I do, and come competition day, in my mind there is no one more capable than myself. For me, it’s going to be translating that more consistently and better than what I’ve done in the past.
It’s always going to be about how I can better myself as well as seeing the next competitor, and not looking through them, but beyond just that. Because there is always someone better that is going to be hunting you down and who you will be hunting down. There are guys in the United States who I say, Those are the guys I need to hunt down, but there are also guys I look at internationally because it’s not really how I do in the United States that matters, it’s how I do in the grand scheme of things.
Obviously, I need to compete well in the United States to put myself on a team. But once you’re on a team, no one gives a shit what you did in the United States, because guess what? People don’t give a shit about the articles they write about you at the Dave Schultz, the Bill Farrell, or the Open. All they care about is, Is he winning a fucking medal at the World Championships or the Olympic Games? I do spend a lot of time thinking about those guys. Maksim Manukyan is going to come up to 87 for the Olympic Year. You’re still going to have (Davit) Chakvetadze, you’re still going to have (Zhan) Belenyuk, (Metehan) Basar… Those are the guys I think about on a daily basis. Obviously, I think about the guys in the United States because I have to, but I have to also think about myself, putting myself on a Team, but more importantly, once I do put myself on a Team, it’s those international guys I’m talking about. Those are the guys who on red-latter day, day numero uno, prime day number one, they are the guys I’m going to have to beat. I’m going to have to beat Basar, I’m going to have to beat Chakvetadze, I’m going to have to beat Manukyan. And not just those guys, other countries bring other great guys who are capable of winning that day, and it just becomes their day. There are guys from other countries who are capable of doing well, and you have to think about them. But what about being one of those guys? I believe I am, there are just improvements that need to be made.
5PM: You just came off of a long break and now there is a big gap in the US between events. With that much time just hanging out there, what is your plan competitively?
RH: I’ll compete again at the beginning of the new year and then do some tours internationally as funds provide themselves. As long as funds are there, I will be there, so to speak. Competing internationally more than once in the spring is definitely in my plans, and then obviously, there is the Open and then the Trials. That is all part of the plan for the 2018 season. And then after the Trials, on the Team or not on the Team, I will still compete in the summer. I’ll have a good training camp before the World Championships, but I am not in favor of shutting down before the World Championships.
I know everybody likes to take two weeks or something like that to recover, whether they are on the Team or not, and I’ve never been in favor of that. If you’ve made the Team, why are you now taking two weeks off to go home and do all these things? I just think that’s very weird because it’s almost like you’re taking a step back. You have to look beyond the Trials. Put yourself on the Team, and then continue to do what you did to make the Team, and make those adjustments so that the World Championships play out the way you want them to.
5PM: How have these past 11 months changed your perspective?
Ryan Hope: Grateful. I’m just very grateful to be able to do what I do. I’m saying that and it sounds like I’m done, I’m not done (laughs). There is a lot more I still want to do. There is a lot I have set out to do. But I am very grateful for what I do have. Being in the latter half of my 20’s now, you have to now realize that, I’m not the 18-year-old kid who walked into Northern who has the next 12 years to make these improvements or make these mistakes. Like I said, I have a lot of time before Tokyo, but I don’t have a lot of time. Now I look at my career, and you have to love every single aspect. You have to love the hard training and the suffering, the dedication, the hardships, all of it. The hardships are another way of showing what you’re capable of doing. But now more than ever, because I don’t know how much longer I have in this sport.
I may have another quad, I may have until 2024. But, you don’t know that, and that is where it is different at this age. At 18, you can look at it and say, Well, I have three or four quads in me. Where at this age, I have one or two quads. So you have to love every single aspect because that is the only way you’re going to continue to improve and develop. Loving the process is loving everything. Now I know more than ever, that it can be over. And when it is over, I am going to be so fucking sad. I’ll never leave the sport…ah, I don’t even like thinking about it because I don’t want wrestling to end. You know, I love it so much.