We recently caught up with Nick Gwiazdowski, a North Carolina State graduate and wrestler who won back-to-back national championships in 2014-15. More recently he earned the gold medal at 125 kilograms (275 pounds) on March 15th at the Pan Am Olympic Qualifier in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. With the abrupt changes in the sports world unfolding at the same time as Nick’s gold medal performance, eventually leading to the delay of the 2020 Olympics, we wanted to get his take on the effect COVID19 is having on competitive sports, wrestling, and his training.
As far as COVID19’s impact on the future of athletic competition, Gwiazdowski says he is hopeful that there will not be any significant long-term changes. “I imagine there might be some additional precautions taken, like maybe a limited amount of fans or more medical checks prior to activities.” he said. As far as how stay at home orders are impacting his personal workout routines and training, he admits, “My mat time has been taken away, and so has my regular gym for lifting. But I do what I can with what I have–a few weights and resistance bands at home, plus a bike that I have been using for my workouts.” Nick says he will continue to push for some physical activity each day, even if it’s not what he’s used to. Keeping in shape is his highest priority. He added that when it comes to mental fitness, he “will also use this quarantine time to make the most of improving my mental game, and sharpen my skills in visualization to keep my mind sharp, even though I won’t be on a wrestling mat.”
Nick realized his passion for wrestling during his middle school and high school years at Duanesburg High School, under the late Coach Joe Bena. “By the time I was in 8th grade, Coach Bena was a retired teacher and on his second stint as a Varsity wrestling coach. This followed a short-lived retirement after a career of 30+ years and multiple champions at all levels. Coach Bena was a positive influence, a man who encouraged and challenged me. But he always made sure we were having fun and enjoying the hard labors of wrestling. Those years learning the basics of the sport and mastering the high school landscape was a huge positive impact in my life and really cultivated my already strong passion for wrestling.” Gwiazdowski came from an athletic family. His older brother was a great source of inspiration (and healthy competition) as he developed his love for sports.
Nick’s motivation for wrestling runs deep. “I do this because it’s my passion and I love it. I have devoted a lot of time to it, and have discovered these God-given talents that make it possible for me to succeed. I’ve been supported by so many people along the way, most notably my parents, family, coaches, teammates, and amazing fans all encouraging me to do my best. That’s my goal each time I get on the mat. Just give it my best effort.”
Gwiazdowski says his relationship with his coaches over the course of his career has helped shape him as an athlete in his day-to-day life, but it doesn’t always come easily. “These relationships have evolved throughout my career. What stays constant, and at times is most challenging, is trusting what they are saying in matches and during training. Sometimes what a coach asks of me is challenging, but I know I need to surrender to the process. I think it is important to keep communication open with my coaches so that they know what I am thinking in different positions. At times in the match they can better guide me and help me develop moves I already do or even find new ways to push me in training.”
When it comes to mental toughness, Nick knows the importance of building his self-confidence before a match. “I remember that I’m a highly successful wrestler, and I know I can compete against anyone, I am built for this sport, and that’s it. I trust instincts that I have developed in training and let it rip! Simplifying the event helps too. I know that this match will not ruin my life if it doesn’t go well, and I will still wake up the next day! I think overall. I aim to simplify the task at hand, knowing that there isn’t a shortcut to where I want to go–or get the win–so it’s going to be hard. That’s guaranteed. The more times you face the pressure, the faster and more successful you will be at operating under it. It’s more instinctual,” he said.
Training on the mat with focus and attention to detail for the entirety of a practice, exercising discipline in the weightroom (proper form and solid reps) are part of the formula for greatness that gives Nick a competitive edge. “I’m always learning from my peers as well as books and people in other professions who are elite at what they do–whether it’s a new routine, a focus on recovery and sleep, or practicing visualization and mindfulness. Practice is the key to everything, you have to have a certain amount of failures before it will be perfect or competition ready.”
Giving back and supporting charitable causes is also part of what makes Nick an athlete of both skill and integrity. “In 2019 I began donating platelets and blood to the Red Cross as often as I could (as long as it did not interfere with training or competitions). I ended up donating 15 units of blood/platelets/plasma. This was something that my mother really inspired me to do because I witnessed her doing it regularly over the last few years. It makes such a huge impact on all types of people. My body is healthy, but my time is limited because of my schedule. This is a way I have found to positively impact people, even if I will never meet them.”
Nick believes that sports enhances life, offering people a reason to better themselves from a physical or mental aspect. He says sport can create opportunities in professions and friendships that help support a positive mental space for individuals; “Being involved in sports can transform, influence, and unite so many people–far and wide–bringing various cultures and traditional rivals together.”
We think Gwiazdowski’s perspective on what good may come from the Coronavirus global pandemic is a winning one: “I think people will be more grateful for their ability to go wherever they want, and be with whomever they want. In today’s world, we seem to move so fast that we almost ignore–or give very limited attention to–certain tasks or events. Now in this extremely unique period, we have an abundance of time to check in with the people who matter most and reflect on our personal and professional direction.”
Our Sport Fuels Life team couldn’t agree more. Now is the time to celebrate your incredible teams and coaches. Do you know an amazing athlete or coach that we should feature on our blog? Nominate them here and tell us why they’ve inspired you. And make sure to sign up for our FREE Sport Fuels Life community to experience all the benefits of being a part of Team Connection!