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Remember The Wrestler: James Nicholson; DM Roosevelt/Old Dominion

REMEMBER THE WRESTLER: James Nicholson; Des Moines Roosevelt HS/Rider Wrestling Club/Old Dominion University/Al Garrison Trained

James Nicholson is without a doubt one of my favorite people I’ve met in my Pin Doctors adventures. It is a rare occasion to encounter someone better on the mat than James and it is also a rare to encounter someone who has such a broad understanding of the mental approach to not only wrestling, but life. And he is 100% forthcoming and selfless in “spreading the wealth” of wrestling and life lessons, for if others are succeeding and attaining happiness from it, then he is genuinely happy for them. It’s the way he is. I think that old 70’s band, Boston made a valid point in one of the lyrics to their song, “peace of mind,” when they wailed, “people living in competition.” It’s true. For so many of us, the competition doesn’t end once a person steps off the mat… it continues…and as a result, sometimes it feels as if we are living in a “dog eat dog” world where you can’t trust anyone, for them being better than you in all areas of life is a priority to them.  James Nicholson totally contradicts that notion, and goes out of his way to ensure that a person’s life-path be as clutter-free as possible if he can and if these people do indeed want/need the help.  I know this for a fact. He has helped or has offered to help me in various aspects of my own life in the limited amount of time that I’ve known him. Genuinely wants me to succeed and has offered to help me, free of charge… I don’t encounter that often.

James had great mentors in his life and he bought in 100% to everything they had to say and it affected him in a positive manner to this day, for some of the philosophies that he uses in approaching life are a spectrum of various skillsets and insights that he learned from his mentors. And he comes from one of the most unique wrestling squads that our state has produced… The Des Moines Roosevelt squad of the mid-to-late 2000’s. Those guys were not only very, very well-coached, but they were coached in a different manner than any other squad…a manner that is truly unique to them.  And some of the results that they put up speak for themselves. If there was a team or wrestler back in those days that had a reputation of being unstoppable world-beaters, Roosevelt would be the team that would produce guys who wanted to conquer not only the wrestling “world,” but the entire universe … and they would do it. They walked that walk.

Another thing that needs to be mentioned about James is that he is an example of a person who had his heart broken by wrestling when the D1 College he competed for, Old Dominion, decided to put a stop to their wrestling program. If you’ve ever put your heart and soul into something while representing a certain team, school, squad, etc. that became just as much of a part of your identity as the sport itself, it probably feels like a slap in the face when it’s not only taken away from you, but canceled altogether, as if all the hard work and determination you put into it for years to not only improve yourself, but to maintain the heartbeat of the program meant nothing. Some may understand his pain with this and it’s a shame that anyone needs to endure this situation. Thank goodness he is James Nicholson, for that in itself should indicate that he will be tough enough to get through it… at the same time, though, a weaker-willed person may not be as adversely affected by something like this because they didn’t work as hard at it as James likely did. One of those double-edged swords that is handcuffed to our sport and with that said, please read James’s thoughts regarding this situation very closely, for it may inspire you to aid to a great cause, which would be SAVING OLD DOMINION WRESTLING!!! 

2005 3A 112

1. Russell Weakley, Jr., Fort Madison

2. Kody Pudil, Jr., Iowa City West

3. James Nicholson, Jr., Des Moines Roosevelt

4. Barak Davis, Sr., Council Bluffs Lewis Central

5. Mike Mille, So., Waverly-Shell Rock

6. Brent McDonough, Jr., Des Moines Lincoln

7. Lars Ellingson, So., Decorah-North Winneshiek

8. Jon Simmonds, Jr., Clinton

2006 3A 119

1. James Nicholson, Sr., Des Moines Roosevelt

2. Nate Moore, So., Iowa City West

3. Russell Weakley, Sr., Fort Madison

4. Mike Miille, Jr., Waverly-Shell Rock

5. Josh South, So., Johnston

6. Brent McDonough, Sr., Des Moines Lincoln

7. Aaron Sturtz, Sr., Prairie Cedar Rapids

8. Chris Gansen, So., Epworth Western Dubuque

PINDOX: What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

-HS: Des Moines Roosevelt

Kids Club: Rider Wrestling Club

HS Club: Rider Wrestling Club, Al Garrison Trained

College: Old Dominion University

RTC: Virginia Beach Regional Training Center

PINDOX: What year did you graduate?

-HS: 2006

College: 2011

PINDOX: Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

-We had family friends tell our mom, “You need to get your son’s into wrestling.” The rest is history. We loved to compete, hated to lose, and were rough-housers. Wrestling was a perfect sport for several members of my family.


PINDOX: Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

-Jason Nicholson – (older brother), John Nicholson (2x Iowa State Champ, 2009 3A State OW award, 2nd at Senior nationals, D1 NQ), Joseph Nicholson (IA state place winner)

Jason, John, and I all started at the same time—9th, 6th, and 3rd respectively are the grades we started wrestling.

PINDOX: What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

-I started wrestling in 6th grade and I don’t remember much. Those first few years were rough. I was there for the games and the fun. I got more serious in HS.

PINDOX: What was your record in HS?


PINDOX: How did you place at state every year?

Freshman – DNQ

Sophomore – DNQ

Junior – 3rd

Senior – 119 State Champ

PINDOX: What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

-I can think of two vividly. Both happened my RS Junior year:

  1. Cliff Keen Invite in Vegas around Nov/Dec. I’m upset on the championship side by Michael Martinez from Wyoming. I was so distraught and distracted. I wasn’t supposed to lose. I was holding my weight for the next day and I hit a brick wall in the match. I lost it mentally. I was cussing like a sailor. Kicking stuff. I told Coach Martin to pull me because there was no point to compete anymore. I didn’t get a chance to wrestle any of the seeds higher than I was. I missed out on my opportunity to wrestle Robles, who I prepped 4 weeks for. Basically, I was throwing a tantrum like a 2 year old. Martin made me wrestle. I told him I was going to lose and I didn’t care. Well, he made me wrestle. I went out there. Got taken down twice just messing around. Then I got mad and threw my opponent in an uchi mata and pinned him. I had a mental composure breakdown mid tournament. The only thing that pulled me out of the funk was my absolute hatred to lose. I cut the weight, wrestled all the way to 3rd and avenged my loss from the day before.
  2. Jan 31 – ODU vs CMU – I’m ranked 7th in the country and I’m wrestling Matt Steintrager, who is #10. We had a barn burner match. I won in double OT 3-1 with a reversal and a ride out. I go do my cooldown and I have this pain that I didn’t think anything of above my left scapula. The trainer checks me out, gives me ice, and I don’t think anything of it. The next morning I couldn’t lift my arm more than 2 inches from my thigh. I was in excruciating pain. I thought my season was over. I skipped all my classes. I just slept and stayed in my room to myself. I missed practice. Coach Martin came over after practice and talked me out of my mental funk. I didn’t wrestle most of Feb. Dresser thought I was ducking Garnett not knowing I was injured. The year didn’t end the way I wanted, but at least I had the opportunity to complete at nationals.

PINDOX: How would you describe your wrestling style?

-I’m a hammer with a scalpel attachment for fine technique. I have that Iowa style hand fighting with a Granby twist. Tactical execution.

PINDOX: Who was your most influential coach?

-That is tied-Jay Groth and Al Garrison

PINDOX: Was your team competitive in HS/college?

-We placed 6th overall as a school my senior year, mostly because of me and Montell Marion.

PINDOX: Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Cael Sanderson

PINDOX: Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

-John Meeks

PINDOX: What would you say was your best skill that enabled you to win a state title?


PINDOX: One of the most memorable matches in Iowa state wrestling of the past couple decades is when you defeated Nate Moorein the state finals. Several people across the state considered it an upset… DM Roosevelt didn’t see it that way, did they?  Who played roles in motivating you to work hard and helping you to formulate a game plan that worked successfully against Moore?

-Oh, please. Ask anyone who coached me who the hardest worker in the room was… ME. I didn’t see time in the wrestling room. That was my happy place. I’d go to Rider Wrestling Club’s practice organized by Groth followed by private training from Al Garrison. If Al charged me $50 an hour, I would owe him at least $60,000 from lessons steaming from March 2004 until I left for college. No one knew the amount of time I put in besides Roosevelt. Some of them didn’t even know because you have to be in the room.

I had my doubts about the match, but I also wasn’t going to let a sophomore influence my athletic career. I needed a scholarship and this was my chance. I thought about cutting to 112 mid year. Groth looked at me and said, “why? You can win at 119.” That’s all I needed to hear.

Nate Moore had flaws and I exploited them. Our gameplan was executed to a T and most don’t get to appreciate that process. I remember vividly telling Al to stop the film and rewind it. I saw how comfortable Nate was reaching with his right hand when I initiated contact on that side. I set him up perfectly in the first period. I initiated the shot with enough time left to scramble, but not enough time for him to escape my death grip. I scored my 2 points, road him out in the 1st period, and held superior position the majority of the match. In the 3rd, the ref watched Nate hold my singlet for about 5 seconds before I pointed it out to the ref. I seriously don’t think the ref was going to call the penalty until I pointed it out. Regardless of the penalty point or not, I knew I broke him.

People say it’s an upset because Nate Moore wrestled kids club and had a national champ as a coach. They didn’t see the countless hours and days I put in. They didn’t see how often I was in the room.

PINDOX: How confident were you prior to wrestling big matches?

-I never listened to music. I liked to simulate what it was like to compete. I got lost in my own mind at times and I would have to refocus. I had butterflies and ice cold hands, but when I stepped on that line and the whistle blew, nothing else existed.

PINDOX: Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

-None, I don’t follow it after ODU cut the program. I have a love/hate relationship with wrestling.

PINDOX: What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

-Rock, techno playlist, country, anything that the other teammates put on. I didn’t have a preference.

PINDOX: If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

-Say yes to Cael even though they had no money. I was poor. I took the scholarship and the financial security. They spent the money on Sebolt instead. That worked out well for them. I bet Cael wishes he could go back and give me the money instead.

PINDOX: What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

-My favorite memory is earning All-American status as a freshman. I was wrestling in the round of 12 versus Rollie Peterkin. I gave up a takedown with 4 seconds left in the first period to go down 2-0. I chose down second period and I struggled to escape. Peterkin had well over a minute of riding time built up before I escaped. Peterkin chose down in the third and escaped to stop riding time at 1:24. I went after him the entire period. I took him down with an underhook throw-by with :27 seconds left on the clock. At that point I knew I had him. The match went to overtime where I scored off a front head lock go behind. The highlight of that entire tournament was my brother John sprinting past security guards to come give me a hug and congratulating me on the comeback win. I still think about that moment to this day.

PINDOX: Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

-A kid from Lincoln in HS. He was my rival.

I wrestled Garnett from VT a ton. He was my rival in college. I never lost. He always kept it close.

PINDOX: Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

-It was seasonal 6-8th grade. Freshman going into sophomore year is when I switched gears to year round.

PINDOX: How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

-Oh goodness. The sport is so different. Which rule set are we using, the newer ones or the old ones? That 4 pt near fall sure would have been nice.

PINDOX: Did you wrestle after high school?


PINDOX: What other sports did you play?

-Baseball for 7 seasons. Football for a couple.

PINDOX: What are your favorite sports teams?

-I don’t watch sports. I’m a USA fan though.

PINDOX: What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

-Mountain biking, gaming, rock climbing. Anything with danger that is stimulating.

PINDOX: How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

-Well, I just retired from coaching. It felt good prior to ODU cutting the program. Now, I’m just bitter. I spent a decade of my life building something for others to admire. My legacy was boxed up and sent to me without any bubblewrap or newspaper or any care. That’s the value I was provided after all I did for that school. Now, I’m giving all the time I dedicated to the sport back to myself. I’m free. I’m sure this will subside one day, but, currently, I’m leaving wrestling alone.

PINDOX: How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

-Do you want honesty? I felt like I owed wrestling after all its giving me. Well, it’s also taken a lot from me as well. Wrestling has hardened my mind and my body. I see something I want and I relentlessly pursue it.

PINDOX: What do you do now?

-I’m on vacation.

PINDOX: Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

  1. Don’t listen when a coach blocks a resource that may be beneficial to you. Too many coach’s coach with ego and don’t know how to get out of their own way for their athletes.
  2. 10 minutes a day for a year of stance motion is ~61 hours of basic movement. Don’t miss a day. Since I no longer coach, here’s my blueprint:
  3. My rules to wrestling
    1. Simplicity. Wrestling is a battle of balance. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you are grounded at all times, no one can surprise you.
    2. Efficiency. Move with purpose and intention. Don’t waste energy just to move because your coach yelled from the corner. Angles make us more efficient at moving opponents. Chase angles relentlessly.
    3. Coordination. The more times you train your brain to fire different motor skills, the more your neural network develops. You have to be malleable and take what’s there not by force, by flow.
    4. Breathing – Don’t just run harder, breathe better. Think about it. Imagine if you had 10-15% more lung capacity and you never restricted airflow. If you don’t have a gas tank, you better start building one.
    5. Drills elevate skills and build confidence. Live tests those skills and solidifies confidence. Finding the proper balance for your skill level is the key to exponential growth.

PINDOX: Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

-Not unless I get 3 new discs in my back or stem cells injected.

PINDOX: Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

-Shout out to Montell Marion for being my teammate in HS. The same goes for Kyle Hutter in college. I’d like to shout out to anyone that had an impact on my athletic career. I’m so grateful I was surrounded by so many influential men. This country needs more like you.

PINDOX: Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

-Yeah. Does anyone have $25M laying around? I’ll get back into coaching if someone wants to endow the program at ODU.

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