WESTPORT — Chasing the dream of being part of a U.S. Olympic team is a tremendous commitment of time and effort.
Many athletes can try. But ultimately, a small percentage qualify for membership in this special club that opens its doors every four years.
The final destination here in 2020 is Tokyo, Japan.
Greens Farms Academy wrestling assistant coach Jake Fisher has advanced to one giant step away from competing against the best athletes the world has to offer.
Fisher won four matches to reach the finals of the Greco-Roman wrestling 77 kg weight division at the 2019 U.S. Senior Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas to receive a berth into the U.S. Olympic Trials. A nice Christmas present.
So the process of preparation continues for Fisher, pointing toward the U.S. Olympic Trials set for April 4-5 at Penn State University.
“There is a Last Chance qualifying event (March 26-28 in Millersville, Pa.) that will produce two more qualifiers. So overall there should be about 12 wrestlers in the Greco Roman 77 kg division at the U.S. Olympic Trials. I feel I’ll be very familiar with all the other participants,” Fisher said. “My dream is the same. I’m just looking for a different ending this time.”
Indeed. This will be the fourth trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 35-year-old Fisher. He qualified for the Trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016 but did not make those U.S. Olympic teams.
“At the 2016 Trials, I suffered a concussion in the quarterfinals. So I received a medical red card and was out of the tournament,” Fisher said. “I was burned out on wrestling at that point. I was in Minnesota and I moved to Connecticut. I focused my attention on chiropractic school. I didn’t go near a wrestling mat.”
But four years is a long time to swear off something you’ve spent decades competing in.
“In 2018, I went over to Sacred Heart University and wrestled a few times with their team to work with some kids. It was fun,” Fisher said. “I decided to go to the 2018 U.S. Senior Nationals without any heavy training and I finished in eighth place. That’s when the wrestling monster in me awoke once more.”
In 2019, Fisher was into his final year of chiropractic school. The schedule and time needed to devote to that endeavor had lessened to a manageable degree.
Fisher decided his wrestling dream deserved one last journey at age 35. The difference this fourth time around is he would train and prepare on his own terms.
“In the other trips to the Trials I had some sponsorship which is good. But there are so many obligations connected to that,” Fisher said. “This time I’m in control of the process. If I need a day off, I take a day off. I can listen to what my body is telling me. This time I’m training because I want to be there. It’s enjoyable. I’m 100 % driven this time around.”
Fisher has made his big training push since last September. He has great wrestling partners. Former Cuban No. 1 wrestler Alan Vera moved to New Jersey. World Class wrestler Jon Anderson moved to West Point.
“My brother in-law has a gym in Troy, N.Y. where some All-American Greco Roman wrestlers are as well. So between Vera, Anderson and upstate New York, I’ve gotten into a great training cycle,” Fisher said. “I’ve been able to be very tactical in my training. It’s much easier to work on and address weaknesses.”
One other change for the Missouri native and two-time state high school wrestling champ is the addition of a sports psychologist to his team.
“Seeing a sports psychologist for the first time has really opened my mind,” Fisher said. “It’s been a huge help in the big moments of a match. I don’t let nerves rule the day. She has been wonderful.”
After playing all sports early in his life, Fisher and his brother were forced into wrestling in a sense in seventh grade.
“My dad was a wrestler,” Fisher recounted. “My brother and I got in trouble. I forget what we did wrong. But Dad gave us a choice. Be grounded for two months or spend that time at wrestling practice. We went to wrestling and the rest is history.”
Greco Roman style wrestling is a bit unique in the United States but very common in the rest of the world.
“Greco Roman was the first form of wrestling at the Olympics,” Fisher explained. “You can’t grab an opponent’s legs. That limits your offensive options so it’s a lot (more) strategic. But you can throw opponents on their head. Internationally, it’s so so tough. I love Greco Roman. You have to be on every time you compete or you’re going to get thrown. I’ve traveled the world thanks to Greco Roman wrestling. So I have no regrets.”
Greens Farms Academy wrestling head coach Jack Conroy, the Dragon wrestling squad and the entire GFA community has been incredibly supportive to Fisher in his quest.
There was a Go Fund Me page established that produced the finances to cover expenses for Fisher’s trip to Texas for the U.S. Senior Nationals as well as for April’s trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials at Penn State.
“The kids have been great. GFA has some nationally-ranked wrestlers,” Fisher said. “Being able to use the GFA wrestling facilities to train at times is great. I’m so grateful for all the school support.”
And so, the work continues pointing to April at Penn State. Where Jake Fisher hopes the fourth time is the charm for his Olympic dream.
“I didn’t watch the Olympic wrestling live in 2008, 2012 or 2016. I watched other events. I looked back at some of the wrestling matches online months later,” Fisher said. “I want to be there in Tokyo. I feel this time I’m doing everything I possibly can. So I will have no regrets no matter what the ultimate outcome is.”