Wrestling runs deep in my blood. My father wrestled. My uncles wrestled. My cousins wrestled. It’s just what we did. Wrestling is much more than just a sport to us. It’s a platform to learn about work ethic, accountability, discipline, grit, and mental toughness.
I come from a small town in Eastern Montana. The population is a mere 5,000 people. Opportunities to leave Montana and North Dakota are rare, if not unheard of, and wrestling became my instrument to experience the world. My father would drive me across the country to wrestle, spanning from Colorado to Florida. It didn’t matter how long or how far we had to go; we would be there. Wrestling tournaments provided a far greater experience than the sport alone. It introduced me to various cultures, and allowed me to meet people of different races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, gender identities, etc. In 6th grade, I travelled to Japan to train with their wrestling team and stayed with a host family for two weeks. Prior to this experience, I had never been on an airplane.
Ultimately, these experiences opened the door to college. In my family, I am a first-generation college graduate. I was at the top of my high school class, and was recruited by colleges in the Ivy League, Big 10, Pac 12, and Pac 10. The path I was setting was unprecedented, and wrestling was my anchor paving the way. I could have gone to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, among others, but I chose Stanford. I chose Stanford because of the way in which the student athletes carried themselves, and the way in which they were treated. They were respected by their teachers and peers, while at the same time, pushed to excel in the classroom, on the mat, and in the community. I was held to the same standard as every other student pursuing a Civil Engineering Degree. I knew Civil Engineering would be difficult to pursue while competing, but I had the support of my coach and my teachers to do so. Other schools may tout this level of support, but it’s easier said than done. I never had to worry about that at Stanford.
Stanford Wrestling changed my life in more ways than I can express, and I will be forever grateful. It allowed me to pursue my passion for the sport, while building a robust education that would lead me to a career I love. To this day, my closest friends are from the wrestling team. We’ve been through the good times together, as well as the tough times. Our kids are now friends with one another, and there’s not a reunion that goes by without one of us taking another down to the floor. My time spend on the Stanford Wrestling team is irreplaceable and will be forever remembered as some of the best years of my life.
- Ryan Hagen