Many Paths

He's young but he's experienced. He's wrestled at the highest collegiate level, but lost a crucial year to injuries. He's excited about coaching wrestling, but he also wants to go to medical school and become a doctor.

Meet Kyle Ott, the new assistant wrestling coach at WVU. He's a young man of many contradictions, but somehow all those disparate elements blend into an effective teacher, advocate, and guide for the still-youthful Mountaineer grapplers.

"WVU has a great wrestling program, a great athletic program throughout, and a great school. The team is young, but these guys have had some success already and the wrestlers and the program are respected nationally," Ott enthused. "I really, really like [head wrestling coach] Craig Turnbull. I think we clicked. I appreciate how he values communication. I'm also looking forward to working with [assistant coach and three-time national champion] Greg Jones. He had so much success, but he's humble and nice. It should be fun working with him."

Ott is also well acquainted with recent WVU graduate Seth Lisa. "I wrestled him at the Las Vegas Invitational. He cut my eye open, so I remember him," he chuckled.

Ott comes to WVU from the University of Illinois, where he was twice the national runner-up at 125 pounds. He graduated this spring in pre-medicine and kinesiology, and looks to burnish his credentials for a future application to medical school while coaching at West Virginia.

"I'll be taking a class at WVU this fall, advanced organic chemistry, and I'm hoping to have the opportunity to do some medically-related research, too. As a college athlete, I was really busy, but I've done everything I could for my resume and personal experience – volunteer work, extracurriculars – but I haven't done any research yet, so I'm looking forward to that," he said. "I work hard, I wrestle hard, I will coach hard, and I will study hard."

Not just every major college athlete aspires to join the medical profession, but Ott came to this goal the hard way: by struggling through no fewer than 12 operations on his knee, elbows, and nose, over the course of his wrestling career. "I'm done with competition," he firmly stated. "If Coach Turnbull wants me to work out with some of those guys who are looking to be senior, Olympic-type wrestlers, I will, but I am definitely done with competition."

Ott's accomplishments at Illinois are all the more impressive when his medical history is reviewed. He suffered a torn meniscus in the spring of his junior year of high school. The surgery to correct it should have been a fairly routine arthroscopic procedure, but it wasn't. "I had complications," he ruefully admitted. "The docs messed up, so I had to have several surgeries to fix the skin and take out scar tissue."

The timing of his adversity could hardly have been worse: it was at the height of the college recruiting season.

"It happened right when all the coaches started calling," Ott recalled. "It certainly affected my recruiting. I have no regrets about going to Illinois, but I had been getting recruited by a lot more schools until they found out about my knee. I was honest with them and I told the coaches that I wasn't even sure I could wrestle again. When I took my visits, I was still on crutches. One visit I was in a wheelchair. Some of the schools backed off; some stayed with me. It was cool knowing that the coach knew I was having some problems, but saw I would stick with my physical therapy and get ready to be back on the mat."

Ott still visits the physical therapist regularly. He has never regained the full range of motion in his knee. "It definitely affected my wrestling. I'm not making excuses, but I never wrestled at 100% in college and I probably never will be 100% again," he stated.

Perhaps the adversity brought an unexpected blessing. Ott believes his experience will make him a better coach. He had to change his own wrestling style post-injury, so he knows there is more than one way to skin a cat, as it were. "I had to gain more strategies to get the same things accomplished," he said. "I only had 40 to 60% range of motion. I couldn't even touch my heel to my butt. I like to attack a lot, but I couldn't shoot over my knee. I had to use defense as my best offense, and I had to wrestle a lot smarter."

"The injuries will also make me a better coach in another way," Ott reflected. "I understand now that when something's really hurt, it's better to get it taken care of than to risk reinjuring it and making it worse. It you do that, it will be worse when it really counts, when you need to be at your best."

Through his medical travails, Ott gained a new appreciation for and some interesting relationships with the medical profession. The plastic surgeon who worked on his knee has become a friend and adviser, as has his orthopedic surgeon, who allowed him to scrub up and watch several operations. These generous doctors inspired Ott to his goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, his arrival at WVU will be delayed until after he sits the MCAT (medical school entrance exam) in mid-August.

Although it will still be a few weeks before he arrives on campus, Ott is already preparing for his new job. "Coach Turnbull needed someone to work with the lighter weights, from 140 on down. One of the things I like most about West Virginia is that they play up everyone's strengths. If I have a strength at something, they'll utilize that to help them achieve their goals," he smiled.

He also hopes to bring some new training and technique from his competition in the Big 10. "There are differences between the Big 10 and the Eastern Wrestling League, and I hope to add some different perspectives," he said. "Of course people may come from different conferences or different teams, but you can never overlook anyone at this level."

"I'm going to do my best for West Virginia," Ott affirmed. The determination and strength that took him through a difficult rehabilitation to the highest levels of collegiate competition shone through clearly. "I'm passionate about wrestling and working with young wrestlers. I'm ready to start."

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