IOWA CITY — Michael Kemerer waited two years to get back to the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Injury caused his absence, stealing away his junior season. Iowa’s two-time All-American worked hard to get healthy and return to the top-ranked Hawkeyes’ lineup, growing into the 174-pound spot.
He had impressed throughout the season, posting a 15-1 record and earning the second seed after spending part of the season ranked No. 1 nationally. Instead of a chance to contend for a national title and third podium finish, Kemerer’s return was put on hold when college wrestling’s biggest event was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any hope for another opportunity rests on a successful medical hardship petition to reclaim the year spent sidelined. The process started before the Big Ten Championships in March.
“We’ve turned in the paperwork and going to stay on top of it,” said Kemerer, who was considered a senior last season. “Hopefully, get an answer here soon, but I’m feeling confident about it.
“The administration, they’ve shown confidence in it. If something did happen, it’s really not in my control so I’m just going to be ready to go. I feel good about it.”
The premature end to this season wasn’t in his control either. Kemerer was on pace to join Iowa’s list of 20 four-time All-Americans. He felt worse for teammates, like Pat Lugo, a top-seeded senior who didn’t get his final tournament, and Spencer Lee, whose quest for four NCAA titles was derailed.
The Big Ten finalist has a good perspective and wrestlers are trained to handle difficulty.
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“Wrestling is a sport you encounter a lot of adversity,” Kemerer said. “It’s so individual. The highs are the wins and the lows are the losses. You see and feel a lot of that stuff. At this point, especially after missing that year, I’ve learned that you never know when you’ll have the chance to compete, so there’s really no reason to hold back when you do have that chance.
“The one thing I still think about is I lost my last match of the season. I didn’t realize it was the last match of the season at the time, so I’ve got to learn my lesson again. You never know when you’re going to have the opportunities and when you’re not, so you’ve got to leave it all out there.”
After the season, Kemerer returned home to the Pittsburgh area with his girlfriend to spend time with his family. He enjoyed the time for about a week and came back for online classes.
“It was down time anyway, so I figured it was a good time for it,” Kemerer said. “Now, I like being around Iowa City and all the guys and teammates. I’ll be here the rest of the school year.”
The Pennsylvania native didn’t even have the distraction of following his Pittsburgh Pirates during Spring Training and the opening weeks of the Major League Baseball season. Although, he laughed when he said a shortened baseball season could benefit the team in the long run.
“Maybe they’ll get on a couple winning streaks and sneak in there somehow,” Kemerer said. “It favors them more than a whole 162 (game season).”
This is usually a slower time in training for wrestlers. Still, he’s had to find alternatives to his normal regimen since he is locked out of school facilities, like many college athletes affected by mitigation attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Kemerer isn’t able to get on the mats of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He has adapted, however, focusing on mental aspects of the sport and incorporating more running and maybe biking for workouts.
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He doesn’t mind running. Runs aren’t more than 3 to 4 miles and lead to more conditioning exercises to keep things short and explosive, mimicking the demands of a match.
“I’m not the fastest guy on the team, but it’s cool to me,” Kemerer said. “It’s a different way to push yourself. Good way to push your body and mind. Most wrestlers’ bodies aren’t built for running, so it’s good to add another element to shape. I think it builds a lot of mental toughness, too.”
Kemerer isn’t fond of being idle and welcomed the routine that came with the start of distance learning. He resumed his work toward a Master of Finance degree at Iowa Tippie College of Business, completing his undergrad work a year ago.
“It definitely helps,” Kemerer said. “The type of guy I am, I like to stay busy and have stuff to do all throughout the day. I don’t like to sit around much, so it’s honestly been good to have that, even though it has been different from going to classes in person.”
Kemerer added, “We have to finish out my college career and I plan to wrestle in the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, competing as long as I can. For now, the biggest thing for me is trying to learn as much as possible in my classes, learning about different options. I want to take care of my wrestling goals and then we’ll see if that’s in the (professional) cards or what the plan is.”
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