Mark Ironside has a lot going on in his life.
He is a husband and father to three teenage girls who are active in athletics and their church. He is a small-business owner. He is the passionate voice during Iowa wrestling broadcasts on KXIC.
He also loves the outdoors, fishing and hunting, even stalking elk for days with only a bow and arrow. He dabbles in auto racing, too, competing at Hawkeye Downs.
You want a judge for your county fair? A speaker for your group or classroom? He doesn’t say “no” very often.
But, even at 44 years old, he is a wrestler at heart.
Wrestling, more than any other sport it seems, sticks with those who compete, especially those who make it to the top. Ironside spent many years at the top during his career. A four-time All-American at Iowa, he won NCAA titles as a junior and senior in 1997 and ’98. He won the Dan Hodge Trophy in 1998 as college wrestling’s most dominant wrestler.
“I want to win and I like to win big,” he said at the time. “I like to be dominating.”
Wrestling not only sticks with those who compete, but also with the families, the friends and, of course, the fans, many of whom wrestled at one point or another in their life.
The NCAA wrestling championships are a yearly reunion where even old competitors share a laugh while recalling past matches and old war stories. Other sports, I’m sure, could have similar tales, but they don’t have the same passion that burns long after competitive wrestling careers have ended.
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“I don’t even know where to begin,” Ironside said Sunday, taking a break from watching a replay of the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships on TV. “It’s a very unique sport once you’ve done it and done it at a high level ... it’s hard to get away from it.
“It’s in your blood.”
A lot of ex-wrestlers get into coaching. Ironside has had those opportunities, but found a different path to stay involved in the sport that still lights a fire in his belly. If you’ve ever listened to him on the radio, who can’t help but sense that passion.
Wrestling has made Ironside a better husband and father, a better businessman and a better hunter.
“It’s been very instrumental to me and my life,” he said. “The return on it is off the charts ... how you learn how to time manage everything. ... I built my business model (based on) how to train and develop a training model.”
An example is his love of hunting and not just going out for a day in fields in Iowa. He said bow hunting elk — with a “7 percent” success rate — puts him in a “situation most people won’t” even attempt.
“You really have to go above and beyond,” he said.
The last few weeks haven’t been easy for many people, especially someone who has seen their livelihood take a hit. He wasn’t able to work at the canceled NCAA wrestling tournament, wasn’t able to cheer on his beloved Hawkeyes in their attempt to win a national title for the first time in 10 years.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” he said of the lost NCAA tournament. “It rips at your heart to know what those athletes have gone through.
But wrestlers, especially wrestlers like Ironside, don’t dwell on losses. They focus on getting better — on the mat and if life.
Ironside developed a T-shirt that went on sale last week that, yes, he’d like to see do well. But he thinks the message is more important than the sales. It has a rainbow — with the colors of the Olympic rings — with messages of unity, determination and hope.
“Once you’ve wrestled everything else in life is easy,” one of the lines reads.
“Tough times go away. Tough people don’t,” another one reads.
All things he’s learned — he’s lived — in wrestling.
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“It sucks,” he said of the current situation of people losing work, businesses forced to close, athletes not allowed to compete. “But there are going to be better days ahead.”
The rainbow? Everybody likes to see a rainbow, he said.
“It’s all about hope, sticking together ... getting through this together.”
A message we all need to hear.
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