IOWA CITY — This city normally is a bad place for claustrophobics.
With its compact nature and the number of the University of Iowa’s students, Iowa City may have less elbow room than anywhere in the state. But during those times when the university is on break, it takes on a different feel.
“I like it,” said Hawkeye wrestler Alex Marinelli. “It’s a calming experience. You get to kind of relax a little more.”
Finals Week ended last Friday, and the vast majority of UI students headed home. Most of the wrestlers, though free to leave, stayed behind. There was a voluntary workout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Monday. But by Tuesday and Wednesday, they’ll be scattered, not required back at their wrestling room until 2 p.m. on Dec. 26.
The self-discipline required of them won’t take a holiday. They can’t forget about conditioning, and they certainly can’t overeat. Not with the prestigious Midland Championships Dec. 29-30 in suburban Chicago.
The focus thing isn’t a worry, said Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands. “We have serious people here,” he said. “If we didn’t, there’d be five people here for this voluntary workout instead of 30.”
Nonetheless, it is Christmas. Wrestlers are at home. Food is plentiful, and much of it isn’t what a wrestling team’s nutritionist might recommend.
“It takes a lot of discipline,” Marinelli said. “People that don’t understand what we do in this room want to spoon-feed you food. You don’t want to offend them, but you’ve got to tell them ‘Hey, I’m on a mission. I can’t eat what you eat. I’ve got to eat good food.’
“You can do it in moderation but you can’t be like everyone else.”
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It’s one thing to just maintain your wrestling weight like 165-pounder Marinelli is doing. Try being Hawkeye senior Mitch Bowman over Christmas. He’s going from 184 pounds to compete at 174 at the Midlands.
“I’ve been cutting weight for 15 years, so I kind of know how it works, how to do it the best way,” Bowman said. “It’s the wrestling lifestyle, so you know what to do.”
What you do is look at more food than what you put on your plate. Bowman’s sacrifice has already begun in Iowa City. He said he’s cut way down on his visits to the town’s Bluebird Diner.
“I’m kind of sad about that,” he said. “I usually get the Popeye omelet. It’s a big favorite, but it’s pretty heavy. Especially with the hash browns. I can only go like once a week now.”
The Popeye, as you may have guessed, contains spinach. As well as cremini mushrooms and tomatoes, with hollandaise sauce.
The Bluebird rules.
Bowman says he now makes breakfast for himself, “a couple eggs instead of their whole big omelet. You make small sacrifices.”
That the wrestling team is set free for a solid week may surprise you, but it’s the only break from the start of the season several weeks ago until the end in late March.
“To send them home for one or two days doesn’t do them justice,” Brands said. “One, and most importantly, they need to recharge. We have the Midlands and a mid-January dual, then 2 1/2 months of very intense wrestling.
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“The other thing that’s important is Christmas is important for families, whether they celebrate it not. It’s built into the American psyche.”
Some of the Hawkeyes will wait to go home. “Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Bowman said.
Others will take more time. Marinelli has an 8-hour drive home to Miamisburg, Ohio. He’ll work out there at his former high school.
“There’s a certain formula to getting what you need,” said Marinelli. “(Iowa 149-pounder) Pat Lugo is from Florida, and Miami’s pretty nice, right? Ohio’s whatever. Pat Lugo may need to stay for a week. I may need to stay three days.”
Bowman’s hometown is an hour from Iowa City. He’ll stay here until Christmas Eve, and try to keep that weight down once he does get home.
“You’ve got to be disciplined,” he said. “You can’t go back for seconds. And no cookies.”
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