Cornell grad tries for Olympic gold
Troy Nickerson has had four shoulder surgeries and a sidelining back injury; most wrestlers would hang up their singlets and move on from the sport after college — but not Nickerson. He has decided to fight through the hardships and give the sport one last run.
When Nickerson was pre-med at Cornell University, he was the face of Cornell wrestling. Now, he hopes to become the face of American wrestling at this summer’s Olympic games in London. After graduating from Cornell in 2010 and training in Colorado all last year, Nickerson has decided to come back to the sport for one last push, and he intends to finish with gold.
Nickerson’s wrestling career began at age five. His first match was against a girl, and he was pinned almost instantly. Despite this discouragement, Nickerson kept with the sport and began to train vigorously, winning five New York State titles at Chenango Forks High School in Binghamton, N.Y.
At Cornell, Nickerson was a four-time All-American and a national champion in 2009. Despite his achievements, Nickerson admits that he never reached all of the goals he wanted to and as a self-motivating athlete, Nickerson constantly pushes himself to see what his limits are.
Throughout his career, Nickerson has had to wrestle just as many opponents off the mat as he has on it. According to Cornell wrestling coach Rob Koll, “[Troy’s] biggest battle is with the scale, and the second biggest battle would be the opponent he faces.”
Making weight is a crucial part of wrestling; Nickerson plans to compete in the 121-pound weight class at the summer Olympics, but in the past, he has competed in the 125-weight class. Nickerson must focus on keeping his weight at 121 pounds, which is an increasingly difficult task, especially as Nickerson gets older.
Nickerson stresses that wrestling is no longer just a sport — it is his job. For the past two years, Troy has dedicated his life to wrestling. He moved to Colorado Springs to train full time at the Olympic Training Center. But after one year of training away from home, Nickerson recently decided to move back to Ithaca for the last few months before Olympic Trials.
“Being around familiar faces in my old training environment, I felt that it was the best decision for me to finish out my last couple months of training,” said Nickerson.
He came back and chose Mike Grey, a former teammate at Cornell, to be his personal coach. Grey is a huge part of Nickerson’s support system and says that he is less of a demanding coach and more of a friend to Nickerson to support and push him in his training.
Nickerson trains six hours a day in addition to the time dedicated to rehabbing his injuries, watching films of his opponents and focusing on his diet.
After four shoulder surgeries and a few other serious injuries, Nickerson said he couldn’t train as hard as he used to.
“[A]t this point in my career I don’t know if I would ever consider myself fully healthy,” he said.
Fortunately, Nickerson has more control over his training in Ithaca and he is able to test his limits without pushing too far. “Troy is able to battle through injuries and does not make excuses, despite the adversity he faces,” said Grey.
Nickerson’s focus is on his body during these final months of training. With his weight being one of his toughest opponents, Nickerson’s nutrition is a top priority. He must also adjust his mentality and strategy to be able to compete at the national level. The biggest difference between collegiate and international wrestling is the pace. Collegiate wrestling is a slower-paced match where the athlete with the better endurance usually wins.
At the international level, Nickerson said, “It’s really fast paced, much more focused on technique than conditioning.”
Nickerson’s next step is the Olympic trials in April. Here, the U.S. national teams for wrestling are assembled for a tournament in each weight class and style.
Whatever the outcome of the Olympic trials, Nickerson said this is going to be his last year competing due to health issues.
“I’m really just trying to take it one day at a time,” said Nickerson, “and make sure I leave the sport on my terms and walk away with no regrets.”
Brittany Romano is a sophomore journalism and sport media major who plans to win gold in table tennis. Email her at bromano1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.