By Molly Irene Olmstead
Mike Zadick lost, and it broke his heart.
The current Iowa assistant coach is 33 years old, and has wrestled through 28 grueling years with one thing — one ultimate goal — in mind: an Olympic gold medal.
But Zadick lost in the quarterfinals of the 60-kg tournament in the Olympic Team Trials on Saturday, a 2-1, 0-1, 0-1 decision to Ohio State redshirt freshman Logan Stieber. He lost his chance at a second Olympic games. He lost his dream.
“I don’t know what other analogy I can put it in perspective, but it’s like saying you want to go buy a chainsaw and you don’t have $500 to go buy a chainsaw,” Zadick said. “So you save up every single penny from when you’re five years old to 33 years old — what is that, 28 years? — and you still don’t get that damn chainsaw that you lived every single day for 28 years to achieve.”
Zadick said he’s not sure if he’s officially retired from wrestling, but said it’s time to move into the “next phase of life.” He served six years as a volunteer assistant coach and strength-training coach with the Hawkeyes before joining the Iowa coaching staff as a true assistant coach this past season.
Zadick said he fell short; he fell short of his international goals — and even his NCAA goals — and that will always sting. But he’s going to excel past that in his next phase of life. As a coach.
“He wanted to win but it didn’t happen. So what do you do? You go on,” legendary Iowa coach Dan Gable said. “The best way to get over these types of things is to continue to do things in your life that are good. Mike Zadick will be a good coach. Yeah, he’ll be good, he’ll be amazing, at that.”
Zadick is already the coach the wrestler’s can connect with. Iowa wrestler Mike Evans told The Daily Iowan that Zadick is “the f***ing man.”
The collegiate athletes are always welcome at Zadick’s house, to just hang out or enjoy the one thing their coach loves nearly as much as wrestling — the outdoors. The young grapplers look up to Zadick in a way more significant than just as an authority figure; they respect him infinitely, but also love him as a brother.
“He’s definitely a lot easier to relate and to listen to than Coach [Tom Brands],” Evans said. “That’s what makes our coaching staff so great, because no one who’s ever come out of the Iowa wrestling room has ever stopped. Everyone sticks around and no one leaves; we’re in it for life.”
Zadick will be a life-changing coach because he cares exhaustively for the people around him. Following his disheartening loss, Zadick said one of the hardest things he was struggling with was disappointing Hawkeye Wrestling Club coach Terry Brands. Terry Brands deserves better, he said.
Zadick said one of the only positives amid the misery of ending his competitive career is remembering all the people — people he has unfathomable love for — who are in his life because of wrestling.
“The family, the people that are closest to me,” Zadick said. “If I was stuck in a ditch or ever needed something; if I had cancer; if I needed support from any method of life, it’s all through wrestling that I have these close ties.”
Gable said this connection to people — not just as athletes, but as human beings — is an essential quality of an effective coach. He said a good coach has to gain the athlete’s respect, but also build relationships; a good coach will follow his wrestlers for life, even if they leave the room. And if they still need guidance later, a good coach still drops everything to help them.
Zadick will do that.
He said he’s going to teach his wrestlers how to live.
“The focus, the heart, and the drive it takes in staying the course in the sport … For me and for this program it’s, lifestyle and your approach to it,” Zadick said. “That’s the most important thing that I’ll take forward.”