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Remember the Wrestler: Ruben Chavez, West Liberty HS/Iowa Hawkeyes


The first time I ever heard of Ruben Chavez was on the wrestling forums in the year 2001, when Ruben was a Sophomore. Back then it was common for the high school wrestlers to get on them and post as themselves…without a nickname to make them anonymous. That year, a guy named Ruben C. began commenting on a lot of topics and was obviously familiar with the Iowa HS wrestling scene, for he made good points. And he had made it known that he was from West Liberty. I didn’t know if he was a wrestler, a coach, a parent or what? 

Then one day, how weight was being discussed on the forums and he made a short, sweet, simple comment. It was, “Yo, you guys are forgetting someone. Ruben Chavez of West Liberty. Watch out for him.” And remember, this was posted by “Ruben C.” I hadn’t ever heard of him until then and it baffled me because at the time I was familiar with almost everyone across the state and this guy was from my area, around my brother and best friend’s weight (Justin Swafford and Aaron Drain) and as mentioned, he obviously knew his stuff. When a guy would get on the forums back in the day and talk about himself, 90% of the time, they couldn’t walk the walk, but this Ruben’s C. had officially sparked my interest.  It wasn’t long until West Liberty and Mediapolis met in a dual where I finally got to see him wrestle. He wrestled against one of our best guys. A 3 time qualifier who placed 2nd his Senior year. And Ruben beat him. Our guy got frustrated as hell because he couldn’t get anything going. And the moment he got frustrated with that, he was struck by Ruben’s quick offense and found himself in an increasingly bigger hole. And if you get into a hole against Ruben, it’s difficult to dig yourself out of it, because he’s difficult to score on. 

Ruben went on to place at state that year and qualify another 2 times and placed again even. He gave my brother, Justin one of his best matches he had his entire Junior season. Ruben was a part of matches that were so close that the fan bases would be full of adrenaline and talking crap to each other to the point of almost wanting to fight. However, win or lose, Ruben always treated his opponent and the fans with respect. Would shake hands, look the opponent right in the eye and say “good job” or pat them on the back… even in matches where a call didn’t go his way. He was a class act and right up there with anyone he took the mat with.



Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

I had a few cousins(Joe, Ralph, and Mario Cardona) that wrestled in high school so that helped. I also remember throughout grade school I had a cousin(Lenin Elizalde) that would always tell me to join the kids club and he would always tell me that he would buy me wrestling shoes. I was just never really about it until Jr. High.


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

Joe, Ralph, and Mario Cardona, Ivan Escobedo. I Ralph was a state qualifier at 145 maybe.  Mario was pretty good but had some tough post season draws.


What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I did some free wrestling camps that were maybe a week long throughout the years but I didn’t start wrestling until 7th grade and I didn’t compete in AAU until 8th grade. I won districts in 8th grade and then went something like 2-2 at state.  


What was your record in HS?

I think 112-18 which includes something like 11 losses my Jr. year.


How did you place at state every year?

2000 – JV

2001 – 5th

2002 –DNP

2003 –3rd

If it’s any consolation(I suppose it is since I’m mentioning it) all my losses at state were to eventual Finalists or Champions(not necessarily that same year): Trent Goodale(Osage), Willie Harris(Creston), Brady Dolan( Independence), Moza Fay(Anamosa), Brad Gregory(Glenwood).


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

I had to have shoulder surgery after my senior year wrestling season.  It didn’t limit me that much because I could adjust but it was mentally taxing.  Also the self-imposed poor nutrition which I didn’t really learn until college.  That most likely affected peak physical performance


How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was pretty raw and basic in high school but I was stingy so I was tough to score on.  I had a few offensive things that I forced and it ended up working out a little bit.  I didn’t develop much offense until college where it’s kind of hard not to….



Who was your most influential coach?

First I’d like to mention the late great Mike Duroe.  He was a great coach and better man.  He really helped me understand how to move and use all parts of my body from the bottom position!  I can get pretty damn close to the exact location of where we drilled and I learned so much(eye/mind opening) one evening at CHA.

In HS my cousin Mario Cardona helped carry me through and tried to guide and show me as much as possible.  I also have to give a shout to my HS coaching crew that did their best with a kid that didn’t know much about wrestling: Morgan DePrenger(current City High Assistant), Pete Robles, Nick Marin, Jesse Lira, and Brandon Hudson.  Apparently I had coach Hudson convinced that I was a pretty slick wrestler or something because he called me “Sweetness” haha….

Then I’ll have to take it to the top with Jim Zalesky, Tom and Terry Brands, and Dan Gable.  Gable gave me some pretty good beatings my first year at Iowa.  I’ve had the pleasure of coaching his grandson in clubs but most notably in Jr. High where Gable was steady presence at our practicing.  I have something like 4 sheets of paper front and back that Gable gave to me outlining a practice and why.   Good Stuff.


What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

When Trent Goodale “fluke” headlocked me in the semi’s.  It was pretty quick so I was wasn’t tired which gave me all this energy to just be mad, I kind of hyperventilated, cried, ran sprints.  Also, my jr. year after losing at districts to Justin Swafford he said something like” I’ll see you Saturday night” and I was like “yup”…..However, first round I had Brady Dolan, I was winning the match by 1 with about 10 seconds to go.  I was on top, there was a restart and I must have had some sort of mental lapse, because out of nowhere I got reversed with a switch and Saturday night was long gone……. Reversed with 10 seconds left……


Was your team competitive in HS/college?

We were definitely competitive, but when it came to qualify for team duals we came up just a little short.  Davenport Assumption teams were in our way as a fr, and soph. Maquoketa beat us in regional duals my jr. year and I think my senior year we may have gotten 2nd at districts so we didn’t go to the regional dual.

In college my first year we won the Big Tens and place 2nd at nationals. It wasn’t quite as good the next 2 years I was there.  


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

Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, Brett “The Hitman” Hart, Ric Flair lol!!……. I didn’t really follow amatuerwrestling. I think after watching “The Season” on ESPN about the Hawkeyes I was all about Mike Zadick. I also really liked Travis Lee from Cornell. As a teammate, Alex Tsirtsis helped develop me a lot.


Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Thomas Gilman, Nelson Brands, Helen Maroulis, Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, Isaiah Martinez, Paul Glynn, Kinsee Brands, Ben Keuter, Torsten, Tenley, and TytanNixt, Andrie and Abel Robles, and this kid who I’ve only met a few times but is really fun to watch, Nolan Fellers!!


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

I worked hard, I just didn’t put in enough time. To be elite you need both time and effort.  In high school I got decent pretty quick and I was ranked pretty high, but I had not put in the time of the elite guys nor did I know what they did or what they were doing to become elite.  All I knew is that I was working hard and that was enough for me but I didn’t accomplish my goals.  I just didn’t commit and put in the time I needed to.  In college, it’s hard not to put in the time because it seems like you’re always working.  Then it just gets relative and it goes back to the same thing.  You gotta commit even more time….


What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment? How hard did you work?

I worked hard… Accomplishment: I think maybe getting 3rd my senior year because I came back to earn that spot and it was a physically and emotionally taxing year.  


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

Check out these bad records from jr. year against some pretty good wrestlers: 0-3 vs Ryan Morninstar, 0-3 vs Moza Fay, 0-2 vs Justin Swafford, Brandon Young from Regina beat me, along with Brady Dolan, I don’t recall the other loss. They were all good matches(except for Moza Fay who majored me).  It was a rough year for me haha!


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

After my freshman year it was more like seasonal through the end of freestyle season along with a couple of camps in the summer.


Did you wrestle after high school?

University of Iowa 2003-2006

Hawkeye Wrestling Club 2009-2010(My last stair buddy carry was with my pal, good ol’ Ryan Morningstar on my back and he was very encouraging and motivating). This is pretty silly and I really think it will not be true after this year, but the Hawkeyes haven’t won a title since I stopped training in that room!!!


What other sports did you play?

Football, Baseball, Track


What are your favorite sports teams?

Notre Dame, Iowa, Real Madrid, Atlanta Braves, 49ers, Chicago Bulls, Little Hawks


What are your hobbies?

Board games, Trivia, reading and audiobooks, working out, going to the movies, traveling, coaching.


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

It has obviously helped shape my work ethic. It’s given me a foundation to understand and how to build a mental edge, whatever that may be for me.  


What do you do now?

I work at a software company called LeepfrogTechnologies in Coralville, Iowa that creates software for higher education institutions to help them create their online catalogs, and build course curricula. Specifically, I support about 25 clients helping them with our software. Involving some light front-end and back-end programming along with end user support and a lot of problem solving. Side note: As much as we love to hate Penn State, one could make the argument that they directly pay my salary!


Are you still involved with wrestling?

I volunteer at Iowa City High and I’m the head coach at Southeast Jr. High in Iowa City. I also do some individual/partner sessions from time to time.


Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.  That sounds simple enough but the only way to believe in yourself is to do the right things and work hard.  Push your mind and body past the limits you think you have and create new boundaries.  If you’re not pushing yourself hard enough, giving up a little early, not doing the right things, you’re susceptible to creating doubt in your mind.  When you have that doubt, it’s hard to truly BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Keep in mind: “Easier said than done” – Dan Gable


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

I might be able to be convinced, but mostly no. I’m not trying to get hurt!!


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

The first wrestling teammates I looked up to: Keith Pearl, Jeff Wiele, Eddie Ortiz, Aaron Griffith, Travis Maurer, Eric Baker(That was all one senior class my freshman year of high school!) and Jay Simon. That same year, one of my best friends to this day Eric Maldonado who was about 90 lbs soaking wet and didn’t “know jack” about wrestling was thrown to the wolves as a 103 lber because that pretty darn good team needed to fill that spot!

Pablo Ubasa who gave me my start in private club coaching!  I’ve had the honor of coaching so many great kids through Ubasa Wrestling Academy.  I listed Nelson Brands, Kinsee Brands, and Paul Glynn as some of my favorite current wrestlers, I met and coached them through Pablo!

My Mid-Prairie boys who I think and hope still sing my praise, Nearoth, Phiram, and Visouth Peterschmidt, and Duncan McCain.  Also Shout to Justin Garvey at MP for allowing me to join his coaching staff for a couple years!

Finally, special shout to my former Hawkeye teammate Tyler Anthony Nixt whom I’ve become best friends with throughout the years. He along with his wife Stephanie, have given me the honor and pleasure of becoming a Godfather!


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

It was my freshman year pre-season at Iowa and I had heard some rumors about a “Beer Party” on Friday night.  I was bewildered because even coaches Brands(Tom) and Zadick(Mike) were talking about this “Beer Party”  There were so many things going through my mind, how/why are these guys I looked up to talking about some “beer party”? It didn’t make sense!  Then Friday came and after practice Tom asked me if I was going to the “Beer Party”. I was reluctant and confused but I said yes.  I caught a ride with a teammate and we go out into some wooded land and I see a little fire pit area.  We get there and are just hanging out sort of waiting around for the coaches and the “beer”.  Zadick(with Smoke) and Brands show up and they have coolers full of “beer” and food.  I remember Tom opens up a cooler and asks me if I want a “beer”,,,, what was I supposed to say to my coach?  No?  He hands me a “beer” and he just starts laughing!!! It was a bottle of root-beer soda!!!! The sly dogs had planned a little cookout with nothing but root-beer soda and water. They had all of the freshmen sort of crapping their pants and stressing about this “Beer Party”!

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Trent Goodale December 26, 2019, 9:58 pm

    Wow this brings back so many good memories……and some pretty intense times as well!!

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