Ben Swalla strives for excellence

Ben Swalla has not eaten in two days. He has lost twenty-five pounds in two months, and he is set to face the eighth-ranked wrestler in the state this afternoon. Yet he does not appear lethargic, frail, or anxious while sitting in freshmen study hall. Swalla is carrying on a casual conversation with his friends, slowly starting his math homework, no different from most students in the cafeteria. Swalla’s poise can be attributed to years of preparation. Ben and his twin brother, Luke, began wrestling eleven years ago. Since then they have traveled from camps in Missouri to tournaments in Tulsa in pursuit of wrestling excellence. In many cases, excellence is what they have achieved. This past year Ben finished runner-up in both Amateur Athletic Union and Middle School Nationals. “He’s had a very successful wrestling career and he’ll have success in the future,” freshmen Tess Hawley said. But Swalla admits moving to high school wrestling has not been easy. “It’s a pretty big adjustment,” he said. “There’s a whole new intensity at practices. Coming in as a freshmen, everyone is gunning for you.” Swalla is fortunate just to be healthy at this point in the season. The varsity squad has suffered a number of injuries since the start of the year, including Ben’s own brother, Luke, who is out with a dislocated clavicle. But Ben goes on, overcoming grueling practices, stiff competition, and even a lack of food. “I haven’t eaten anything for two days,” Swalla said. Wrestlers are required to watch what they eat in order to stay in a particular weight class. Swalla currently competes at the 140 pound and under division. “I just weighed myself last period at 139.9,” he said. “I can barely make it.” And what if he comes in overweight? “I start running,” Swalla said. If he knows he needs to drop weight the day before a match, there is no limit to the methods for making weight. “Sometimes I get in the shower with lots of sweats, crank up the heat, close the door, and turn the fan off,” he said. As Swalla struggles to make weight, he also battles the side effects of his diet. “You don’t have as much energy before a big match,” he said. Before every match, he throws down a peanut butter and banana sandwich and turns on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” to make up for days without food. “I just try to get pumped up, ready to go,” he said. So far the sandwich-Metallica combo has been a recipe for success. Swalla holds a 2-1 record at this point in the year, with the loss coming by a narrow point margin. He puts years of practice to use every time he takes the mat. “I’d say I’m a finesse wrestler,” he said. “I try to beat people with a variety of moves, technique, and conditioning.” Even with his impressive wrestling accolades, Swalla blends in among his peers in fourth period study hall. “(Wrestling’s) not that big of a deal in Ames,” he said. “But once you get the reward of a win, the hours of training and conditioning is all worth it.”