A Story of Joy
Iowa Hawkeye Offensive Tackle Tristan Wirfs is used to turning heads in Mount Vernon.

Sometimes it was his size. More heads turned when they noticed a not-yet-teenager hitting towering home runs into the city pool. Even more heads turned when one of the best throwers in state history launched a discus that touched down in the tennis courts.

The Gazette took a tour around Mount Vernon in mid-July with Sarah and Tristan Wirfs. There was an interview and along with that, scenes from around what essentially is the one square mile where Wirfs grew up.

This is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs is used to turning heads in Mount Vernon.

Sometimes it was his size. More heads turned when they noticed a not-yet-teenager hitting towering home runs into the city pool. Even more heads turned when one of the best throwers in state history launched a discus that touched down in the tennis courts.

Throughout the next week, The Gazette will take you to Mount Vernon with Tristan Wirfs, our 2017 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year, and his mother, Sarah.

MOUNT VERNON — At the moment, Tristan Wirfs is hanging upside down in his backyard. He’s also wearing a white T-shirt with a pair of cats ironed onto his left pec.

It’s as summer as summer gets. Heat, humidity and a big, bright sun.

The Wirfses live right on Highway 1. If you’ve driven through Mount Vernon, you’ve driven past their split level, kind of up by the train tracks on the north side of town.

MOUNT VERNON — Lori Thomsen has run a day care out of her home for 34 years, her husband, Bill, said. He had to think about how many wrestling families his wife has watched over the years.

“I mean, I’ve never thought about it that way,” Bill Thomsen said. “We had a kid who’s a senior this year (Noah Erickson). I don’t know how many wrestlers. Probably six or seven, with Justin’s kids and everyone else.”

(For the record, Lori Thomsen guessed seven or eight.)

MOUNT VERNON — There’s something different about Sarah Wirfs’ voice.

Absolutely, it’s a voice that you know has told a lot of people what to do. That’s maybe No. 1 in a single mother’s toolbox. Her voice has guided customers at Target on Blairs Ferry Road in Cedar Rapids for 28 years, a job she started when she was 16.

MOUNT VERNON — School starts in less than a month. Kaylia Wirfs is still at work on a late-July evening. It’s about 8:30.

“Starting in August, I also will be babysitting,” said Kaylia, 17, who’s Iowa offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs’ sister.

Going into her senior year at Mount Vernon, Kaylia works as a lifeguard at the Mount Vernon pool. She also works at a pet food store in uptown Mount Vernon. She helps a friend who she’s known her whole life. And, soon, she’ll babysit for one of her old Mount Vernon teachers. She’s also been taking classes at Kirkwood Community College.

MOUNT VERNON — Sam Moore is standing in his backyard and he’s getting a little wistful.

That can happen to 20-year-olds. Certain things stick with you. Moore built a world-class Wiffle Ball field in his backyard. He’s seeing it in his head right now and, yeah, it stings a little.

It was called Wiffle Park. It was home to endless games between members of the Copperheads, the youth baseball team in Mount Vernon that had future Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs at first base.

MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon High School class of 2017 is getting old. OK, “old” is pushing it. Let’s not get crazy. We’re talking 20 or 21 years old at the most.

Still, that’s an age where you start seeing shadows of life’s past. The Wiffle Park mound has been leveled in the Moores’ backyard. Kids are getting deep into college. That feeling of “being out of place” at home starts to creep.

“It’s different now,” said Tristan Wirfs, who was the designated “big kid” of the group. “We’re all off to college. Everyone comes back at different times, but you love seeing each other. Heritage Days is always a good time.”

MOUNT VERNON — Jamie Parker moved to the Mount Vernon school district in second grade.

This is a tricky age for a move. School is very new when you’re in second grade. It probably feels really big and, if you look at it from kid level, it has to be pretty scary.

Jamie Parker cried. Understandably. That didn’t last long, though.

“He was crying,” Tristan Wirfs said. “Mom said, ‘Go ask him if he wants to play at recess.’ ‘All right.’ So, I did and he said ‘Yeah,’ and we’ve been best friends ever since. I think from second grade up until eighth grade, I’d spend every weekend there. I’d stay at his house from, if I didn’t have anything going on, Friday until Sunday night.”

MOUNT VERNON — Tristan Wirfs almost didn’t put the “four” in front of his wrestling career at Mount Vernon. Football was taking off, and wrestling demands weight limits, even for the weight called “heavyweight.”

Wirfs had worries about making it down to 285 pounds. He overcame that and won a state title in his senior year.

Baseball didn’t get the year four. It only got a little of year three.

MOUNT VERNON — You’re on a tennis court. It’s quiet. That’s how tennis rolls. It’s the world’s most polite spectator sport.

Of course, big points are cheered loudly, but, mostly, the atmosphere is quiet. The players are allowed to concentrate on placing the ball exactly where they want it.

Imagine you’re on the Mount Vernon prep tennis team and a discus flies into the fence or onto the court while you’re practicing.

That happened three times with Tristan Wirfs on the other end of the incoming discus.

MOUNT VERNON — When Tristan Wirfs went to the Outback Bowl in December, he had ringlets of curls unfurling over his forehead.

Kids like their hair. Wirfs likes his curls.

But in Tampa, Fla., he didn’t have his hometown barber.

MOUNT VERNON — Sometimes, all it takes is that one voice in your head. It doesn’t matter who it is.

Tristan Wirfs could’ve skated away from his final year of high school wrestling and no one would’ve shrugged.

MOUNT VERNON — Dialing the cellphone for Mount Vernon head football coach Lance Pedersen.

Of course, he’s at the Mount Vernon quarry with his son, Zavier. You hopefully have read about the quarry. It’s a scene in the story.

This is high summer in Iowa, meaning 90 million degrees with 6,000 percent humidity, but the koi fish will still bite. At this point, Zavier has a hot streak going on blue gills. Sweet corn is the igniter, by the way.

Pedersen coached Tristan Wirfs through high school football at Mount Vernon. Wirfs’ recruitment went the way a lot of Iowa homestaters’ recruitments go.

MOUNT VERNON — Things happened fast during the early part of the 2017 Iowa football season.

The Hawkeyes entered their second game, a trip to Iowa State with a brand-new quarterback named Nate Stanley. It’s never easy for Iowa in Ames. It just isn’t. The Hawkeyes did at least have two senior offensive tackles, Ike Boettger and Boone Myers, protecting a first-year QB making his first road start in front of about 61,000 fans who — yeah, it’s Cy-Hawk — pretty much wanted him to fail miserably.

CHICAGO — So, Tristan Wirfs is a freak. Athletically, not in real life and not in an Insane Clown Posse sort of way.

Bruce Feldman has curated his “College Football Freaks” list since the early 2000s. This post always hits in the most lethargic part of the summer, at least for college football fans. It’s just before conference media days fire out of the chute.

MOUNT VERNON — The drop ceiling in the Mount Vernon wrestling room measures around 8 feet from mat to someone’s head going through the drop ceiling.

Or their feet scraping that poor, poor drop ceiling.

Tristan Wirfs is 6-foot-5. That math was never going to work.