This guy is awesome.
He hit my radar as my practice partner and one of my best friends, Adam Roberts’s (Burlington) common opponent when we were 8th graders and then got into another heated match with another one of my best friends, Aaron Drain (Mepo) in the blood round at HS state a few years later. I talked a lot of smack after that match because I tried convincing myself that I didn’t like how it was called, when really…I just did it for Drain. Water under the bridge now and I am glad I have gotten to know this guy for he is extremely intelligent and insightful. His matches were some of the most fun to watch despite the fact that he likely gave his coaches a heart attack or two with his willingness to throw haymakers and take risks. There was an element of “live by the sword-die by the sword” with him and as a result, his record was not perfect, he lost the occasional head-scratcher, but he also won against guys who beforehand, didn’t seem very beatable. You have got to respect that. A person who is willing to let loose and at times give up a point or two so he can score 5. If all wrestlers were like Alex Grunder, the general audience of wrestling would probably increase due to the fun factor that he brings to the game.
And my first impression of him was that he really knew how to step up in big moments and when the pressure was the highest. Roberts and Grunder (Roberts’s dad always mispronounced his name as “Grunger,” so I had a difficult time conditioning myself to not think of Nirvana and Soundgarden when I’d see him) met up like 3-4 times when Roberts was an 8th grader, Grunder was in 7th and Adam won all of them. This included the district finals match-up. Then when AAU State rolled along a couple weeks later, Grunder steam-rolled his way to the finals and placed 2nd while Adam wrestled well and placed 6th. That bracket was tough as hell.
And his state finals celebration his Junior year is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. If you try telling me that there is a person out there who has cared more than Alex Grunder did about wrestling, I will not hesitate to call you a deludenoid. Haha, goodness I wish I had experienced something as awesome as this!
And what makes it even cooler is that it’s a cool person celebrating in that video. Always great to see awesome friends things happen to good people. This man had a lot of fans and it is easy to see why. With the high level of insight and introspection, Grunder makes me proud to be a part of the age group that I am. So many can learn from him and so many probably already have. Alex Grunder…only he knows how cool his life is, but I know how cool he is at approaching life and holy cow, how cool would that be?!
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
Mostly my friend Gabe Boorn. Gabe started wrestling at a young age and his family was sort of the “wrestling family” in Wilton. By the time we were in second grade I convinced my parents to let me participate. It took a lot of crying and begging on my end but eventually they gave in, thankfully.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My brother wrestled in Junior High a few years after I started wrestling. He was actually pretty darn good. Aggressive and wiry. However, he played basketball in high school.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I placed 3rd in 6th grade, 2nd in 7th grade, and 3rd in 8th grade.
I had a few rivals back in the day. I remember having some tough matches against Jarod Bormann, Mick Wiele, Adam Roberts, Brandon Graham and the Weiland twins. I’m sure there were a ton of others but can’t think of too many off the top of my head.
What was your record in HS?
Oh man, I’m not sure. Something like 120-19 I think.
How did you do at state?
I finish 6th as a freshman, 4th as a sophomore, 1st as a Junior, and 2nd as a Senior.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
A big one is really just the grind of the season. Constantly watching your food and fluid intake, going to bed hungry and/or thirsty, putting in the extra workouts before school, after practice and on the weekends, making weight multiple times during the week, sacrificing a social life, and the brutal practices are just some of the reasons wrestling can be such a soul sucking sport. However, through that discipline and discomfort you become a better person. You can mentally and physically endure what others can’t.
But, as all wrestlers know, whenever you sacrifice and put all your heart and effort into something any loss is extremely painful. No loss has ever been more painful than my loss in the state finals my senior. Not only was it a huge event that you work the whole season, year, and sometimes whole life for, but the really tough part is there is no opportunity for redemption. You’re stuck on that loss. You go out on that loss. It stays with you and eats at you for a long time. But like all things, time heals all wounds.
Also, I think if I hadn’t experienced that loss I wouldn’t have wrestled at Iowa, or anywhere else for that matter. That loss left a hole in my heart that I felt needed to be filled and Iowa did just that. In a way I owe a lot to that loss. It has given me a ton of great memories, friends, family and opportunities. And although it’s taken me a while to realize this, I’m better off for it.
Who was your most influential coach?
I’ve had a ton of great coaches throughout my wrestling career. Randy Marolf, Steve Shirk, CT Campbell, Willie Gadson, Nick Dohrman, Pete Smith, Paul Jenn, Jim Zalesky, Mike Zadick, Troy Steiner, Doug Schwab, Tom Brands and the GOAT Dan Gable. But I think the one that had the most profound impact on me was Kevin Brisker. I’ve never had a coach invest so much time and energy into me. He really took our class under his wing and I believe is the main reason we were so dang tough. Nick Dohrman is right there as another one that pushed us and brought the “attack, attack, attack” mentality we all wrestled with.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Our team was always pretty competitive in high school and college. We won individual state and got third at state duals my senior year. I believe we made it to state duals my freshman year but lost first round.
At Iowa, we hovered around top 5 I believe every year but were never able to win a national title. Pretty sure Oklahoma State won it every year I was there.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Thankfully I grew up in a town with a strong history and culture of wrestling, so I had a lot of wrestlers to look up to. Pete Robles, Tommy Fitzer, Eric Fitzer, Corey Stanley, Kyle Hansen, Ben Shirk, Matt Pasvogel, Damon Boorn, Shane Boorn, Jake Cline to name a few. I really enjoyed watching Ben Shirk and Justin Stanley. Ben had a unique style of wrestling and creativity on the mat that was always fun to watch, and Justin was just one of those guys that seemed to do whatever he wanted. It was fun to watch that sort of domination.
With Kevin Brisker being one of your coaches, how cool has it been watching his sons Trey and Kael do well on the wrestling mat? Ever coach them?
It’s been great watching and hearing about all their success. There are times I wish I still lived in Iowa so I could attend some of their meets or get in the room and help coach.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Spencer Lee is fun to watch dominate and stack up points in an unprecedented fashion, DeSanto has an unbelievable gas tank, Marinelli is a hammer, and Kemerer is attacking at a high rate too.
Outside the Iowa wrestling room I enjoy watching Kyle Dake, David Taylor, and J’Den Cox.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Definitely my state finals match my senior year. My final match of my college career was pretty devastating too. The last losses always stick with you.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment?
Besides winning a state title, my first match in the varsity lineup at Iowa was pretty awesome. I was told the night before that Ty Eustice, the starting 149 pounder, was sick with the flu and I would be wrestling. At that time, I was 13 pounds over weight. I was able to get the weight off that practice but felt pretty sucked in over the next 20 or so hours until weigh-ins. I ended up wrestling Troy Tirapelli from Illinois and won 9-4.
I don’t think it’s possible to be any happier than you were after scoring the pin in the finals your junior year. Can you describe how that felt?
Man, I can’t even explain how great that felt. My emotions and celebration after the pin were entirely involuntary. The only thing I remember consciously doing was pointing to the Wilton crowd and jumping into my coaches’ arms. I had always dreamed of doing those two things and I wasn’t going to let that moment slip away.
Did you have any experience with the Moscow Wrestling Club?
Yes, I believe we were the Moscow Wrestling Club until I was in 4th grade or 5th grade, so around ‘94 or ‘95. That was a cool experience because we had some kids from out of town that would wrestle in the club. I remember rolling with the McIntires, Mick Wiele, and JJ Garcia from West Liberty a lot. Randy Marolf had created a club full of tough kids with the expectation of winning. I was very fortunate to be involved during that time.
Your matches were fun to watch due to it always being a given that something big was going to happen. Someone was gonna go to their back. Didn’t know if it’d be you or every once in a while your opponent, but things always seemed to be a roller coaster in your matches. And even the elite guys like Dustin Schlatter weren’t in the clear… what is it about your wrestling style that you feel initiates these fun, wild matches?
I think it comes from pushing the pace; sometimes, like you said, to my detriment. I think Dan Gable said it during one of my matches while he was commentating, I go hard but sometimes to the point of getting out of position. Looking back on it, I wish I would have wrestled more technical and not try to just wear the other guy out. But back in my day, a lot of wrestling was just about grinding on the other guy and getting him to fold. At least that’s what seemed to be preached. Wrestling has really evolved over the last few years and more emphasis is put on technique. I think that’s why we’re seeing so much success at the international level. If I could go back and do it again, I would have spent more time on technique.
Did you cut a lot of weight?
In high school I’d probably lose about 10-15 pounds for season and when I got into college it was around 25-30 pounds. Thankfully weight came off me pretty easily. I’m not saying it was fun but I don’t ever remember skipping meals, except the time against Illinois. I will say that when I wrestled up a weight class in college I would compete better and place higher at tournaments. I may have been cutting too many calories at 149 but hard to say for sure.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
In high school Josh Watts was of course always a tough match. I never beat him but we had some good goes. In college, I had to wrestle Ty Eustice a few times and Dustin Schlatter was another notable competitor.
Who was the fiercest competitor you ever faced?
If I were to consider my toughest, most grueling goes I’d have to say my goes against Cliff Moore and Joe Johnston. Those guys were absolutely relentless with their attacks and had some of the heaviest hands I’ve ever felt and a gas tank that never emptied. Ty Eustice was another tough go in the room. He stayed in unbelievable position. It was one thing to even touch his legs but finishing a shot on him was near impossible. If you ever paired up with any of those guys for a practice you knew you were in for a rough one.
How proud are you to be a part of a Wilton wrestling program that has not only had its moments at the top over the years, but seems to consistently remain very competitive even in “down” years?
It’s great belonging to something with such a rich history of stud wrestlers. Guys like Kyle Hansen, Ben Shirk, the Stanleys, the Boorns, Chad Beatty, the list goes on and on; those are the guys that have set such a high precedent for future teams. Wilton wrestlers are not only representing themselves but a community that’s passionate about its wrestling and all the wrestlers that came before. It was a similar situation at Iowa. The fans expect a competitive team and the coaches and wrestlers were very motivated to live up to that standard.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
In high school it was seasonal. I competed in four sport which left little time for out of season wrestling. Plus, to be honest, I was pretty burnt out by the end of the season and was ready to get back to more enjoyable sports like baseball and football. Once I got into college it was a year-round thing. I really enjoyed freestyle and wish I would have done more in high school but I think it’s good for kids to compete in multiple sports. Gives them different perspective between individual and team sports, allows body to learn different athletic movements and how to move in different planes, keeps the mind fresh and reduces risk of injury due to repetitive movements.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I wrestled at the University of Iowa from 2002-2007.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
When I was in high school my mentality was score, score, score but once I got into college it turned into more of a “wear on a guy” mentality, which I feel was to my detriment. I think I was too worried about hand fighting and getting the other guy tired rather than hitting my offense.
What other sports did you play?
I also played football, baseball, and ran track.
Did you have good practice partners to help push you in the room?
I had awesome practice partners through high school. Shout outs to Damon Boorn, Gabe Boorn, Dylan Hagen, Ryan White, Chad Beatty, JJ Cooper, Jake Cline, David Dotson, Riley Wagaman, Andy Roush, Billy Scott, Tyler Babb, Devin Maxwell, Kyle Taylor, Cody Smith, and probably some others I forgot to mention. I also rolled around with some coaches, Pete Smith and Nick Dohrman, quite a bit.
At Iowa, everyone was a good practice partner.
What are your favorite sports teams?
All things Iowa!
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I enjoy working out, doing yard work, hanging out with my smoke show of a wife, and hanging with my kids. I’ve also had the privilege to help coach some fighters of team MMAGold out of El Dorado Hills, California. Great group of young men and women.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
This is probably an oversimplified and cliché answer but wrestling has taught me that if you want to be successful you have to work hard, be disciplined, and be 100% committed to the task at hand. Everyone wants to be successful but very few are willing to put in the work. By not giving it their all, they’re able to make excuses afterwards for their lack of success, “if I would have worked harder or been more consistent I would have blah blah blah…” It’s a difficult pill to swallow to put everything you have into something and fail. It puts a spotlight on the fact you just weren’t good enough. But you’re almost guaranteed to fail if you don’t.
What do you do now?
I currently work at CalPERS as a pension actuary. Great job, great atmosphere, and great group of people to work with. Also, the husband of a beautiful, supportive, smart, funny wife that keeps me grounded and the father of two beautiful kids that keep me tired but also bring a ton of joy and love to my life.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I roll around with our fighters and other coaches of team MMAGold once a week. We work on takedowns and then once we get to the mat it’s jujitsu. Every once in a while, I’ll get into Sierra College’s wrestling room. If my son, Milo, or my daughter, Jo, ever decide to wrestle I’ll likely help coach.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Concentrate on technique, work on situational wrestling and setups to shots, limit long distance running that leads to injuries from repetitive pounding on the road or treadmill, concentrate on good nutrition, and avoid overtraining. The overtraining part is really the responsibility of the coaches. The wrestler should be concerned about working hard and getting the most out of their practice. And in competition work on trying new things and have fun.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
No, I think my competition days are done unless I enter a jujitsu tournament someday when I have time to practice.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
I’d really like to give a shout out to my mom and dad for traveling to all my tournaments, supporting me and not pushing me to wrestle. It was always my choice if I wanted to or not, and win or lose, I knew they loved me. Also like to give a shout to my older brother and sisters for supporting me but particularly my brother who was my biggest fan and defender should a ref ever get a call wrong, haha.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
I think you got it all. Thank you, Josh Swafford, for putting in so much work and promoting the sport of wrestling! I believe wrestling is the greatest sport in the world and produces outstanding individuals. It’s so important for the development of our youth.