IOWA CITY - Married life has been good to Grant Gambrall.
While many men gain weight after their wedding, the University of Iowa senior actually shed pounds to return close to the weight he competed in high school and wrestle at the lightest class since becoming a Hawkeye.
Gambrall won the wrestle-off and is listed as the starter for the Hawkeyes’ home opener Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes (3-0) face Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Cornell College and Iowa Central Community College, starting at 9 a.m.
Gambrall married Iowa track and cross country athlete Brooke Eilers during the summer. He adopted a “runner’s diet,” eating a lot of lean meat, fruit and vegetables. Gambrall, a two-time NCAA qualifier who placed third in 2011 at 184 pounds, shrunk to 170′s well before Hawkeyes’ wrestle-offs.
“I’ve just been eating the right things and it’s taken care of itself. It’s pretty natural I think,” said Gambrall, who won two Class 3A state titles at 171 pounds for Iowa City West.
“It’s good food but it’s healthy stuff. I like it. I eat plenty of it, but I’m just not adding on the pounds.”
In recent seasons there have been good examples to follow. Vinnie Wagner contributed to the Hawkeyes’ lineup at 197 last season and was married. Luke Lofthouse, Iowa’s current strength and conditioning coach, was married when he was an All-American at 197 in 2011.
Gambrall, 22, said he is not sure he learned from them, but it did make the decision easier to balance a married and wrestling life. Consistency in one helps the other.
“It helps you focus in here at the task at hand,” Gambrall said about the practice room, “instead of other distractions of life.”
Marriage requires devotion like wrestling. Making the commitment shows the maturity that could make an impact in his final athletic campaign as a Hawkeye.
“It remains to be seen but I’m optimistic,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said during the team’s media day in early November. “A marriage is healthy if the relationship’s healthy.”
What makes it healthier is the support he has received from his wife and in-laws, who were foreign to wrestling until Brooke and Grant dated. Gambrall said they jumped right in and started to follow him.
Eilers, a 23-year-old from Holland, Mich., was an NCAA qualifier in the 5,000 meters for Iowa. She can relate to what Gambrall experiences as a competitor in an individual sport.
“She definitely knows what it’s like to be in a sport where it’s all on you,” Gambrall said. “Not that there isn’t a team aspect to it, too, but if you mess up in running or wrestling everyone knows where the mistake came from.”
Brands said the preseason was too early to determine if Gambrall’s personal life will be a big factor in his success.
“We will see,” Brands said before wrestle-offs. “I like where he’s at, but show me with results.”
Gambrall, ranked as high as ninth nationally, posted a 2-1 record last week as the Hawkeyes beat Cumberland (Tenn.), University of Virginia and host University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Gambrall won a pair of two-point decisions, including one in overtime, and lost by fall in overtime.
He wasn’t thrilled with the results, noting that him and his teammates don’t work to have close matches. He wants to revisit his prep days where he handles foes, mentioning the performances of current Hawkeyes Matt McDonough (125), Tony Ramos (133), Derek St. John (157) and heavyweight Bobby Telford.
“I train like everyone else in this room, to dominate opponents,” Gambrall said. “I haven’t done a whole lot of that the last couple of years. It’s definitely something I’m not OK with and I’m going to work hard to change because I remember what it feels like to dominate.”
Gambrall and some others have some progress to make from that opening day of competition. Brands said he said he didn’t know if the Hawkeyes were ready for the 26-12 battle against the 17th-ranked Cavaliers.
“We know we have to solidify our lineup,” Brands said Tuesday at a weekly media meeting. “We know we have to work to widen the gap. We know we have to be ready.”
Brands said he doesn’t think it matters what time of year you receive a challenge. Taking a punch to the face is good as long as you respond immediately.
“I mean, if you’re a fighter you like to fight. If you’re an American you like a fight. If you’re an Iowa Hawkeye, you know you’re going to get a fight, so let’s use our imagination a little bit better and get ready,” Brands said Tuesday. “Don’t go out there acting like these guys are going to be nice to you and that it’s going to be easy and you can blow their house down. It’s not about huffing and puffing. It’s about putting the screws to them and doing the things our guys can do.”