It was very nice of Eric to do one of these, for Eric is a humble guy and doesn’t want to bask in the glory of his past accomplishments. People wrestle and are motivated to succeed in the sport by a spectrum of reasons and honestly, a lot of times, attention is one of them, whether someone wants to admit it or not. This is absolutely not the case with Eric. He could likely do without the worship component that is more or less the baggage that would come from being a 4X undefeated state champ and 2X D1 National champ. He does not want to be treated like a demigod, for he doesn’t consider himself one. I’m guessing the main thing that persuaded him to do this article is the thought that this is a platform where maybe someone will read his insight and it will help them in their lives, whether it be in wrestling, life, or heck, maybe to help me with the site. He’s all about helping people. He is a very selfless person. Even when he was in high school, he didn’t seem to understand the infatuation he received from fans at times and was always putting his brother, Marc Juergens ahead of himself in terms of what he wanted to discuss. Being the oldest of 4 brothers myself, I understand and respect the hell out of him for that.
There are several motivational phrases that I grew up hearing from my grandpa and dad while competing in the sports I played. In baseball, when I was on the mound pitching and had a blip where I was struggling to throw strikes, my dad would always try to calm me down by telling me to be “as loose as a goose as a goose can be loose.” For whatever reason, that phrase worked for me. Got out of a lot of bases loaded jams while repeating that quote in my head. We had a ton of these little quotes on wrestling. Half were my dad’s, half were my grandpa’s. One that we used to hear from my grandpa when we were riding on top was, “ride him so tight that you become a second skin to him!!” That eventually just became, “SECOND SKIN!” First time we heard that was during a David Kjeldgaard (Lewis Central) match. “Kledgaard rides so hard that he’s like a second skin,” he’d say. Another one I heard quite a few times was also from my grandpa. It was, “always be not one, by two steps ahead.” The first time I heard this was when I was watching the 1996 state finals with who I believe was my grandpa’s favorite wrestler at that time, Eric Juergens. He said it when he noticed Juergens making eye contact with his opponent as he moved forward and simultaneously defended any half-shot that came at him. My grandpa noticed this and swore that Eric was so gifted at wrestling that instead of watching his opponents’ feet, hips and legs to detect a shot before it comes, that he’d watch their eyes, which would indicate what they were doing before their feet/legs/hips gave it away. I don’t think he was actually doing this, for I think Juergens just went out and let it fly to where things just came natural to him, but it sure impressed my grandpa. Juergens was often used in my grandpa’s speeches to us as being the ultimate example of the perfection that we should attempt to achieve. Some of my all-time favorite moments in life have been, still are and will always be the time we spent with my grandpa Bob Swafford watching wrestling on IPTV in his living room.
Being from Mepo, I saw Juergens quite a bit. Maquoketa was in our district a lot and were also at a couple of the same tournaments as us. We saw his younger brother, Marc as well. In fact, I remember more of watching Marc in person than I do Eric. He was amazing as well..
And get this… the man helped me get over my fear of heights. I wrestled at Loras College in Dubuque for 3 years and Eric helped out there on a part-time basis when I was an upperclassmen. I was around him a lot for a year or two there. Couldn’t get over how down to Earth he was. He wasn’t arrogant, didn’t treat anyone like he thought he was better than them, had time to talk to anyone who had something to say to him, etc. If someone were to ramble on to him about how awesome he was (I observed this a lot with some of my Loras teammates when they’d talk to him), he was polite, but seemed disinterested. He’d rather talk about you.
One day I was out on the river with some of my friends in Dubuque and Juergens was with us. We all had a great time and ended up at this tree that had this rope swinging from a branch. You had to climb up these little steps that were nailed to the tree in order to get to it. I don’t know how high it was in the air, but it was high enough to make me feel queasy when I got up there and faced the reality of the 2nd step to the process: grabbing the rope and swinging from it and jumping into the river. When I got to the top and grabbed the rope, I looked down at the river and felt uneasy. I smiled and looked at my friends and said, “guys, there is no way I can do this.” Two of my friends, Nick Breuer and Tim Andrews got the biggest smile on their faces and started laughing hysterically while yelling, “Swaff, you pansy!!! You climbed all the way up there just to climb down?!” I laughed and said, “yeah, there’s no way I am doing this.” Then Juergens barked, “YES! Yes, you are jumping! We aren’t leaving this tree until you do. Climb back up that tree again! Have some respect for yourself, man!” I wasn’t going to argue with him. I just nodded and said, “ok…” and proceeded to make my way back up to the rope. I got to the top, grabbed the rope, looked down at the water, felt uneasy again and looked at Eric and mouthed something like, “man… I can’t do it.” And I WISH I could remember exactly what he said to me, but it was something along the lines of how I needed to have more faith and told me to compare it to approaching a wrestling opponent and that I’d feel awesome after jumping because that would mean that I won and conquered this irrational fear of mine. Whatever it was that he said, it worked, for I jumped into the water right after he said it to me… and it was no big deal. I remember swimming back and thinking, “wow, if that was a reflection of his own self-thought to motivate himself, then no wonder he has accomplished so much.” I haven’t been afraid of heights since and have jumped off that rope probably 100 times since.
Oh and this article would be incomplete if I didn’t mention this. When my youngest brothers Shea and Brennan (classes of ‘16 and ‘18) had to wrestle a Young Gunz kid growing up, we knew we had to get them ready… they were Juergens-trained and 90% of them were GOOD!
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My brother Marc and I brought home a flyer from school in the 3rd grade. It was for a four Mondays in a row, get to know wrestling program. We tried it, and then our parents got together with some other parents and got all of us kids together to create our own practices around 6th grade, so we could get a lot more quality practices in.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My brother Marc wrestled, 3x place winner in HS, 2x finalist, and wrestled at the University of Iowa as well.
What was your record in HS?
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
College was a tough foreign environment when you are not used to the structure, the size of campus, being away from home, missing your friends and family, and not fully understanding the scope of what you were taking on. I spent the first two Sundays picking up the phone, then setting it down, forcing myself not to just stop, because I felt uncomfortable. Then things seems to simply become familiar and easier to balance, and eventually I was used to what I was facing.
I very quickly found out that being athletic and strong for my size wasn’t a big deal all the sudden. In college, everyone I wrestled was athletic and strong. Some even more than me. So this led me to find out that controlling the ties, knowing the positioning, knowing the set-ups to the set-ups dictated the entire outcome of the match. I learned that at the college level, you can’t rely on your for physical gifts, but you actually have to learn how to wrestle. That was something that I thought I had a grasp of, but I found out quickly that I didn’t. I had to learn right away to either change and adapt to what wrestling is, or you would not survive.
The weight cutting was something I was completely unfamiliar with. It was too much, and I was in a bad situation. They wanted me at a certain weight, I had grown too big for the weight, and I felt there was no way out. I was living on hardly anything, working out 3x a day, trying to balance classes, and over a few months started to enter a very dark period in my life. I finally snapped one day realizing where I truly was in my mind, went and called my parents to tell them I was done, and headed to the door. I was stopped by pure chance at the elevator by Tom Brands. He sat me down, we discussed what was going on, and I ended up not leaving Carver that afternoon for quite a while. Like all things in life, I had to deal with the situation and not run from it, using family and friends to get through tougher times till the worst parts of life our past.
I look back at the Y in the roads during my career, and I do think it’s fascinating how many times my life almost took a very hard left instead of right. Lot of luck involved, and good family and friends supporting me through, no doubt.
Who was your most influential coach?
All of my coaches were outstanding, and I do feel I took a little bit of each of them through my career.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Losing in the semi-finals of the national tournament in the final 17 seconds was devastating to me at the time. It’s hard to describe the feeling of effort and commitment of your lifetime and feeling inside like you threw it away in only a brief amount of time. As life goes on, you recover, and move on to the next goals.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Our program was quite competitive in HS. Coach Tampir and Coach Batey had really brought Maquoketa to new heights in the later years of their coaching career.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I was never into sports heroes.. I come from a very blue collar, hard work/laborers/farming community. We lived in the country and some of my neighbors (I say that loosely, in Iowa terms, neighbors can be 10 miles away) were these hard working men, that never complained about conditions, or what had to be done, they simply did the job. I remember seeing that first hand all the time, and wanting to be capable like they were as I got older. To me they were the epitome of “tough”. I still hope I do that work ethic proud.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I feel pretty content about my career. I had some great let downs, and some great highs. I truly believe to appreciate either of them, you have to take both the bad with the good, and keep the perspective of both. And then remember it is just wrestling, which is only a reflection of life, not actually the real thing.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment? How hard did you work?
It is pretty hard for me to top winning a national title the first time. The elation, the relief, the joy, all almost indescribable.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
We didn’t do a lot of off season wrestling, it was usually more about weight lifting during the summer, trying to get stronger all the time.
What other sports did you play?
Football and track
What are your hobbies?
I am very much into being outdoors. Fishing, hunting, boating, if it’s outside I tend to enjoy being there.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
You can’t turn off and on how you carry yourself, and work ethic. The old cliché is so true-
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I feel that is why wrestling prepares people so well for life. If they learn about goal setting, preparation, getting knocked down and getting back up, teamwork, etc, it carries over into their life, and helps them to navigate successfully. My boys will wrestle, whether they ever compete or not, I truly don’t care. They will wrestle because it will make them better human beings.
What was the closest you ever came to taking a loss in HS?
I had an overtime match my first night of competition in HS. I was winning the whole match, but then got fairly tired from the nerves of being a freshman and getting to wrestle varsity. I gave up several points toward the end of the match to tie it up. Coach T brought me over to the corner, as they prepared the clock, (this was when no one was screaming to get back and get started in OT!) and told me to take a deep breath. Go back out and get one more takedown, and move on from this match. I calmed down a little, went out and took down my opponent, and then moved on.
While being a successful club coach, was it easy for you to understand and relate to some of the guys who maybe the sport didn’t come naturally to? Did you ever find yourself getting frustrated or were you always pretty patient?
Coaching is a different beast. Everyone is different, and that was something I had no comprehension of. I was used to encountering a problem, and then working hard to solve, or eliminate that issue. Not everyone goes out for wrestling to try and be the best at it. Some do it because their parents force them, some do it for comradery, some want to stay in shape, some don’t want to feel left out when their friends go out so they do too. At the end of the day, it is teaching that wrestler how to become the best version of themselves, how to train for that version of them, how to navigate when they fall short, and try to become better the next time. The rules apply to both on, and off the mat.
How cool is it seeing the kids you coach make strides on and off the mat?
There is nothing in this world that compares to watching someone conquer something that had previously stopped them, through your direct or indirect help. It is quite rewarding.
What do you do now?
I work for a firearm import company out of Reno Nevada. We sell hunting rifles and shotguns to stores, chains, and distribution, which in turn sells to the consumer.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I still coach youth, help out here or there at the local college to wrestle an athlete when needed, and I just currently started watching my two boys begin their own journey in wrestling.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Learn to listen and understand. It is a skill to truly listen and hear details. Few people “get it,” but all of the successful people you will meet did.