Small College Sports

Coe wrestler Brock Henderson remains driven despite past disappoints

Injury and pandemic have kept him from NCAA goals; marriage has provided more perspective, strength and support

Coe College's Brock Henderson (right) lifts Central College's Shandon Akeo during their 133 lbs. third place match at th
Coe College’s Brock Henderson (right) lifts Central College’s Shandon Akeo during their 133 lbs. third place match at the NCAA Division III Lower Midwest Regional Wrestling Tournament at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa, on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Henderson won to advance to the NCAA Division III national championships. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — Brock Henderson considers it a blessing every time he steps into a wrestling room.

Each muscle-tiring practice is time well spent. Every puddle of sweat at his feet is welcome. Any chance to do what he loves is a gift.

The Coe junior appreciates the simple chance to toil at one of his life’s passions, especially when his dreams have been dashed by a season-ending arm injury one year and a global pandemic that pulled the mat from under his feet the evening before the NCAA Championships the next.

“It was really, really hard,” Henderson said. “I think, looking back on it, I’m fortunate because I hardly take anything for granted. I don’t take a workout for granted, now.

“In today’s world, our workouts can get canceled pretty quickly because of a COVID-19 spike. You don’t take that for granted. I could have another injury. You never know. I think all that adversity has helped me so much. The level I’m at and the way I’m training right now is because I don’t take things for granted.”

The disappointment of two premature finishes to the last two seasons and a delayed start and compressed schedule of this season hasn’t soured his outlook. Henderson possesses the same high aspirations, which includes the 133-pound national title.

“One of the things we noticed early on with Brock was his focus,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. “He’s extremely mature. He looks at his goals. He methodically and consistently works toward reaching them.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“He’s never wavered through any of the disappointments of losing a year to a broken arm and last year right before nationals. None of the adversity has affected his want and drive to reach his goals.”

Giving up or giving in would be easy to some and even excusable to most. Not Henderson.

His freshman season ended when a furious comeback from a 6-0 deficit fell one point shy of the last NCAA qualifying spot. Henderson ascended to fourth in the 133 national rankings the following year only to be derailed by a broken upper arm during a match at the National Wrestling Coaches Association Multi-Divisional Duals that January.

The two-time North Linn state champ battled back again. He was ranked as high as ninth nationally at 133 by d3wrestle.com and finally secured a national tournament berth. Like many D-II and D-III competitors, he was preparing to wrestle when the NCAA canceled the championships a little more than 12 hours from the start due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Henderson dedicated himself throughout the offseason, refusing to pause his personal training because of the uncertainty of when, where and how the 2020-21 college wrestling season would take place. He said it wasn’t as hard to return to the mat with teammates who push each other to new heights and the motivation from coaches, including Oostendorp and assistant Jimmy Gotto.

“I think you combine that with someone like me and a lot of other guys on the team that want to be a champion,” Henderson said. “We don’t sit back like normal people. We’re training no matter what.

“It was hard at first and that ‘Oh, we have nothing to train for’ can slide in. When you’re intentional about it and you just love the sport it’s a no-brainer. We’re going to train hard and work hard all the time.”

Wrestling spent the offseason in limbo. Facilities weren’t available. The season remained in jeopardy as D-III fall sports were canceled or postponed. Henderson’s devotion and work ethic garnered praise from Oostendorp.

“He has as much year-round commitment level as anyone we’ve had here,” Oostendorp said. “He’s in that top group as far as year-round commitment.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“He’s unique in he’s very mature and driven. He really has a plan for what it’s going to take to reach his goal on and off the mat.”

Maturity extends beyond sports and studies into his personal life. Henderson, 21, is among a select group of married college athletes. He met his wife Sydney, while the two were in high school. She was a freshman and he was a sophomore. The pair hit it off and have remained nearly inseparable, attending Coe together.

Henderson recalled attending the state wrestling tournament with Sydney a month after he broke his arm, watching his brother, Brady, compete. He managed to get away and picked out a ring with the help of Sydney’s sister. They were married in July 2019.

“She helps me more than anything,” Henderson said. “She’s a great supporter. It’s been great.”

Relationships can sometimes be a distraction. The opposite proves true for Henderson. Sydney has been by his side through wrestling’s highs and lows. Henderson credits her for strength, stability and perspective on what is important.

“Sydney keeps me rock solid in my faith,” Henderson said. “Without her, it makes it a lot harder. I can get way too caught up in wrestling and basically run myself into the ground sometimes. She is there. She is steady and keeps me grounded.”

The demands of wrestling and a double major in Kinesiology and Business Administration are tough. Adding the responsibilities of marriage can be overwhelming. Oostendorp said Henderson balances it all admirably.

“I don’t think it’s affected him,” Oostendorp said. “I feel like Brock is mature enough to handle marriage, school and wrestling and he has perfectly. He’s mature enough to excel in all those things.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Family is important to Henderson, who shares his love of the sport with his younger brother and dad, Larry. The moment when Brady joined him on the Kohawks roster last season was special. The brothers get to train and compete side-by-side.

“He’s just a great friend and training partner,” Henderson said. “We do a lot of things together. He knows how to push me. I know how to push him. It’s awesome that he’s there. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate and friend.”

This season is far from normal, consisting of online classes during the day before going into practice. Coe’s regular season doesn’t start until Jan. 23 and will be conference duals only. Henderson still has his sights set on the postseason and getting a shot at the NCAA tournament, which he’s been working toward for more than two years now.

“There are a lot of things that are different,” Henderson said. “At the end of the day, when we step on the wrestling mat and step on the line, it’s a seven-minute fight. It’s no different. I’ve been training for this for decades. The goal is to win a national title and I’m going to do that in March.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.