BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DES MOINES – The best stories are those that come with happy endings, but sometimes stories deserve to be written even when the end is met with heartbreak.
Fort Madison’s Sam Hayes has been ranked in the top 10 for the past two years wrestling for the Bloodhounds at various weights. Hayes had only lost four matches at 195lbs against 24 wins and came into Saturday’s tournament with aspirations of placing high on the podium at Wells-Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
But Hayes couldn’t forget the black shoulder sling he’s been wearing for the last half of the season after tearing a labrum in his right shoulder, in a practice session.
He’s put that sling in the back of his mind, knowing post-season surgery was a sure thing. He worked through duals and tournaments throughout the year, positioning himself to get to the tourney. He even passed on a chance for a district title last Saturday against Cedar Rapids Prairie’s Ashton Stoner-DeGroot, whom he’d beaten the previous year, to help preserve the shoulder.
In the first round, Glenwood’s Noah Carter, somehow, reversed what was headed for a quick cradle by Hayes, and rolled Hayes over to a pin in just :18 seconds.
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that. Kudos to that kid,” Head Coach Ryan Smith said after the match.
The loss sent him to the consolation round where 3rd place became the focus.
Hayes ran up against Javian Rolley (35-11) of Johnston. Hayes, again firing on all cylinders, had Rolley compromised and down 0-3 before Rolley scored an escape in the 2nd period and then grabbed Hayes’ leg and wrestled him to the ground. In the scramble to get out of Rolley’s grasp, the shoulder under that sling came front and center….again.
Hayes laid on the mat writhing in pain as trainers and coaches reacted. He tried to get up a couple times, but only managed to get back to his feet after about 1:15 had gone by knowing he was on a two-minute injury timeout.
“It popped out wrestling through that takedown. The trainers didn’t do anything to put it back in, but I wanted to go back in,” Hayes said on Saturday. “It kinda popped back in while I was wrestling.”
Later in the same round, it popped out again.
“The second time I went to the trainers, they said, ‘you’re done’ and I said ‘No’ and I went back in,” he said.
Hayes still won’t use the injury as a reason for the loss. It’s a respect thing with most wrestlers.
“Wrestling with one arm is tough, but he’s a good wrestler and it just didn’t work out.”
The humbleness is an odd byproduct of a series of events for someone who’s been cursed with injuries.
“I’ve never had a kid so snake-bitten by injury. It’s been mentally challenging for him getting over the frustration level of not being able to commit at the highest level at the end of the season,” Smith said. “I’m just so happy that he had the chance to come here and experience this atmosphere. Even with the bum shoulder, he’s a tough hombre.”
The injuries clearly took a toll on the otherwise silky Hayes from the first 2:15 of the match. He would eventually be pinned early in the third period. A win in the match would have guaranteed him a medal at the tournament.
“You still get that feeling that I felt like I let people down. When you’re wrestling state and this great community of Fort Madison is behind you, it’s disappointing.”
He said after the match he let his emotions get to him, but quickly realized Wells-Fargo isn’t a bad place to end his high school wrestling.
“Emotion afterwards took over and I sobbed a little bit, but Coach Rickelman came over and gave me a hug and Coach Smith came over and shed some tears with me. It was a good moment, but…there’s no place better to finish your high school career.”
Hayes said he will have another surgery as soon as possible after this weekend. He said he’s had some interest from college coaches, but it’s 50/50 whether he will wrestle in college, but his career goals include more wrestling as a coach and a teacher.
But the shoulder injury on Friday was just the most recent of a long string of setbacks Hayes has had to push through.
As a freshman, he injured his back in a football game. He said he stayed quiet about it because it wasn’t causing him a lot of pain, but after a wrestling match his freshman year, he said he felt paralyzed.
“At Cedar Rapids Jefferson my freshman year after my final match I showered and sat down and I just felt like almost paralyzed. I can’t describe it, but I just told my dad I need to go to the hospital,” Hayes said.
After several MRIs and doctor reviews, it was determined that Hayes had several fractures in his back that required surgery in the summer of 2016. He didn’t play football that year and then wanted to wrestle as a sophomore, but he was told it would take a year to heal. So his family made the decision to sit him out.
His junior year he was engaged with a coach in a “red-flag” practice, which are practices where wrestlers go into full-on matches. He said he found himself in a tight spot and tried to roll out when his left shoulder hit the mat and he felt something pop. At the time, he was ranked 5th in state.
Hayes said he was trying to walk it off, and the coaching staff decided to take him to the emergency room where eventually, at University of Iowa Hospitals, a torn labrum was revealed. Hayes was done of the rest of the year.
Mental preparation and rehab became his focus and Hayes said he turned to inspirational videos and reading to keep his mind in the right place.
“When I’m out and can’t physically train, you do mental training and hang signs, watch YouTube with inspirational people, and you keep things in perspective.”
And this year, his final year, he was wrestling Cade Parker of Cedar Rapids Kennedy at the Hounds’ own tournament and got down 2-0.
“I started flurrying and trying to get back into position and rolled and then felt that pain and pop in my other shoulder,” Hayes said.
After another trip to the hospital, another tear was revealed. Hayes said he wasn’t sure if it was a posterior or anterior tear or both, but he was going to see the rest of the season through.
“Coach Smith said he’d support me either way, but I wanted to wrestle, and it was my senior year so my family and everyone decided we’d keep going.” he said.
Smith said Hayes has done a remarkable job at staying focused on handling the work at hand.
“I know he’s probably frustrated, too. He did a good job of putting that first match behind him, but career-wise he’s done a good job of staying as positive as can be. He was hungry to get on the podium.
“It’s just kinda heartbreaking. At the same time, I know I gave 100%. Coach Smith always says he doesn’t care about the wins and losses as much as you knowing you gave 100% and you’re happy with yourself and can sleep at night,” Hayes said.