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SCHULTZ FEATURE: Wechter combines medical career with wrestling, and excels at both



John Wechter tosses Caylor Williams on the way to his victory at 96 kg in the semifinals at the Dave Schultz Memorial International. John Sachs photo

John Wechter of Minnesota Storm is not the average athlete, whose focus is only driven toward the singular goal of victory on the mat.

Wechter, 32, caused a stir at today’s Dave Schultz Memorial International in Greco-Roman when he beat talented rising star Caylor Williams in the 96 kg semifinals and went on to place second in the tournament. He dropped a close 1-0, 2-0 finals bout to 2012 Junior World champion Vilius Laurinaitis of Lithuania to come home with silver.

It was an amazing finish, considering he only makes it to 10 percent of official Minnesota Storm practices. His time is limited due to his main profession, orthopedic surgery.

If being a surgeon is not noteworthy enough, Wechter also has a passion for humanitarian work, driven by his Christian faith, his sense of duty and his own satisfaction that comes from helping others.

“I want a large part of my career to be mission work,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a more fulfilling trip than when I’m doing that kind of stuff.”

So far, Wechter has taken trips to Ecuador, Peru and Africa to assist on surgeries.

His ultimate plan is to take a month out of each year to dedicate to mission work and hopefully get a rotation going with other surgeons at his future place of practice.

Currently in his fourth year of residency at the University of Minnesota, Wechter has time for intermittent wrestling practice and even fewer competitions. He often has to work out on his own, or line up training partners at times when he is available. Why, then, does he continue to wrestle, when his competitors are often training full-time?

Because, like many in the medical profession, keeping on top of his own health remains a top priority.

“It’s fun to actually train for something, and I’m not big into marathons, so this is the thing I like. Everybody I know works out an hour or two a day. So for me, I choose to use that hour or hour and a half wrestling or doing things that are applicable to wrestling,” Wechter said. “I figure as long as I’m healthy and I have good training partners and a good coach, why not keep training for wrestling?”

Wechter, who wrestled for Michigan State and trained most of his career up in Michigan, has been a U.S. Open placewinner a number of times and has competed in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He has competed in the Dave Schultz Memorial a number of previous times, but never reached the finals before.

Wechter has been training with Greco-Roman Coach Dan Chandler, who also works with Jordan Holm and Jake Fisher, two of the top Greco-Roman wrestlers in their weights.

“I haven’t won a ton of tournaments, only a couple, in the past. I’ve kind of been trying to teach myself over the years and I haven’t had a ton of coaching so that’s really been a game changer for me,” he said.

Chandler was pleasantly surprised by Wechter’s performance at the Schultz Memorial.

“It’s been amazing that he’s done as well as he has. The other guys train while he’s doing his rounds at the hospital,” Chandler said. “I don’t know how he did it, but he’s beat some outstanding wrestlers. I was very impressed with his performance.”

In addition to quality coaching, Wechter has found a few other strategies that have helped his wrestling performance. Chandler said Wechter is incredibly focused and a great student in practice.

“His intensity is off the charts. He soaks up everything that’s going on, he’s one of the best practice guys there is,” said Chandler. “He’s just so conscientious, wants to do everything right, he asks the questions he needs to and he’s not afraid to be critiqued.”

Training with Holm, who wrestles at 84 kg, and won today’s 84 kg gold medal, has also helped Wechter with his technique. But reworking his mental game has also been a big key to his improvement.

“The things that have gotten me into trouble in the past are focusing too much on outcomes and looking in the distance and things I want to accomplish,” he said. “For me it’s just a day to day thing and a match to match thing, not even looking to the next opponent and really just focusing on the little details and being very diligent [during each match].”

While Wechter’s goal for this year is to place at the U.S. Open and make it to the World Team Trials, he tries not to focus too much on the big goals and just takes it one step at a time.

Much of his time is being used trying to obtain a fellowship in orthopedic hand surgery since his residency will be up soon, and is currently applying and interviewing for those.

He may be a full-time orthopedic resident and full-time husband and father of two, but the part-time wrestler certainly endows his chosen sport with extra diversity. Even at 32, Wechter plans to keep wrestling as long as he can, because, why not?

“It’s too bad you can’t [wrestle] longer because it beats your body,” he said. “But I’ll just keep training, and so long as I keep healthy I’ll keep competing. I think it’s the best sport out there.”
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