Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa's Spencer Lee bides time until he can return to the wrestling mat

2-time NCAA champion is an avid reader of fantasy genre; watches video of past wrestling Olympians

Iowa's Spencer Lee gets ready to wrestle in their dual against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday
Iowa’s Spencer Lee gets ready to wrestle in their dual against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Spencer Lee wants to be on the wrestling mat.

At the moment, he isn’t able to step inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex in University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The two-time NCAA champion and 2020 Big Ten titlist has tried to adapt to the current situation, stemming from the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down sports.

“I’m kind of in this state where I’m not sure what to do right now,” Lee said during a teleconference last week after he was named the 2020 Hodge Trophy winner, which is awarded to the nation’s most dominant wrestler. “I’m just kind of going day-by-day and what’s the best thing for me.”

During the nearly 50-minute teleconference, Lee fielded various questions, including how he has passed the time over the last few weeks since wrestling practice and face-to-face workouts with teammates aren’t a current option. He said he spends a lot of time reading, playing video games and spending time with his family.

Lee has shared his love for Pokemon, choosing its theme as an entrance song for the 2018 NCAA finals.

“I read fantasy, magic ... that’s my genre,” the 2019 Academic All-American said. “I’m big into reading. I’ve probably read 12 books the last three weeks.”

Lee said reading provides a good escape. He said he watches shows, but reading suits his imagination.

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“I just prefer reading,” Lee said. “I always have. I read fast, too. I finish books pretty quick.”

Past videos provides a wrestling fix for Lee. He is a student of the sport and watches footage of Tom and Terry Brands and some Russian Olympic champions like Buvaisar Saitiev.

“I like watching how they competed and continued to always score points,” Lee said. “All those guys were high point scorers. That’s kind of what I do. I enjoy it. It’s fun.

“Wrestling is what I love. It’s my passion.”

The Hawkeyes’ tight-knit culture was demonstrated all season, resulting in a perfect dual season and a Big Ten Championships team title. They have been there for each other, processing the emotions of the last few weeks and dealing with the disappointment of a canceled national tournament.

“They’ve certainly helped me a lot more than I’ve probably helped them,” Lee said. “I took it pretty hard, but they were able to help me move on to what’s next.”

Lee has turned his attention to online classes that have resumed. Activity rests on the shoulders of the individuals, who are locked out of their normal facilities. Lee said “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” and work on things like running and mental imagery.

Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes had to immediately transition from preparing for the biggest event on the college schedule to nothing. No championships, no Olympic Trials and no Olympic Games in Tokyo, which was postponed until 2021.

“Now, it’s just focus on school, staying healthy, maintaining your shape and everything else,” Lee said. “The team seems pretty positive. They’re not really down. They’re just bored.

“They’re so used to working out twice a day. Now, you can only run so much.”

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Many wrestlers live near each other. Lee has run at the same time as 133-pound All-American Austin DeSanto, even though they do not run together because DeSanto runs farther.

“It’s nice to know someone is working out at the same time as you,” Lee said. “I want to get back on the mat. I want to be with my team.”

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

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