According to Alex Burkle, each of life’s events has a purpose.
The reason may not be clear immediately, but he is not the type to wait for an answer of why or why him.
So, when last season ended with a disappointing fluke knee injury in the final match of the Iowa Conference Championships, Burkle handled it with resolve and didn’t waste any time to get back to his nationally-ranked form.
Another knee injury threatened to end his wrestling career last month, but Burkle has rebounded again to compete in the NCAA Division III Central regional wrestling tournament Saturday at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, beginning at 9 a.m. The top three individuals at each weight advance to the NCAA Championships on March 15-16 at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena.
“He’s a great young man,” Coe Coach John Oostendorp said. “I’m excited he’s getting the opportunity to finish his senior year here.”
The Kohawks senior posted Coe’s only win against top-ranked Wartburg on Jan. 18 at Eby Fieldhouse, beating sixth-ranked Ryan Fank, 6-4.
The match was the same opponent and venue as last year’s IIAC final, where Burkle led before simply stepping out of bounds and dropping to the floor in pain at the end of the second period with torn knee ligaments. Burkle had already secured an NCAA berth, looking for a conference title and a possible All-American finish. Instead, he underwent surgery and was a spectator for the national tournament.
“You catch yourself sometimes feeling sorry for yourself, but you have to look at it that things happen for a reason,” said Burkle, noting it was tough to sit back and just watch the NCAA Championships. “That’s my motto. Everything happens for a reason, whether it’s to teach you something or something better will come.”
Then, as if in a nightmare, Burkle injured his other knee during a morning practice the following Monday. It appeared his college career may have come to a screeching halt without a chance to compete at the national tournament his final two seasons.
“I felt horrible for the young man, because I know how much he has invested his time and effort,” Oostendorp said. “Everyone likes him so much and he’s such a good teammate it hurt everybody to see him go down.”
Adversity is nothing new to Burkle. He has overcome bigger obstacles in his life, including surviving a head-on collision with a drunk driver at age seven. Burkle was thrown into the window and endured a five-day hospital stay and multiple surgeries to repair injuries. he turned that into a positive, speaking to others about the effects of drinking and driving.
Like last season’s injury, Burkle looks to make the most of the situation.
“Life throws you a bunch of curve balls and it’s just about how you respond,” Burkle said. “All you can do is your best. Yeah, that won’t the best-case scenario last year. You take it for what it’s worth and try to battle back from it.”
Oostendorp said Burkle has a strong spirit. He has witnessed Burkle’s hard work to return to his previous form.
“He’s one of those people you just want around you, because he makes everybody better,” Oostendorp said. “He has a great attitude. You really can’t keep him down.”
The trek back from his first knee injury produced frustration. As Burkle rehabbed from surgery over the summer, he had to skip riding dirt bikes with older brothers, Kyle, and Tyler, who is a former Coe national champion and current assistant coach. He couldn’t wrestle and lift with his friends, roommates and teammates during the offseason.
“It’s hard to go in there and you go to the training room for leg exercises that are a lot of repetition,” Burkle said. “Your friends are out there, putting a lot of weight on the squat rack, cranking up the tunes in the weight room, and that’s something I live for. It’s one of my hobbies. I don’t look at it as training.”
His belief of learning a lesson or something better coming from a setback motivated him during his rehabilitation. It led to his recovery and one that had continued with each competition. He looked much sharper in mid-January than his first match back, which was a close loss to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s third-ranked William Mayer after about two weeks of live wrestling.
Burkle said his knee was numb and loose to start the season, but became stronger each week before injuring his other knee. He has rebounded again, looking solid and sturdy while drilling with assistant coaches Ted Drees and older brother, Tyler Burkle, during individual workouts Thursday.
He owns a 19-4 record and is fifth in the latest brute National Wrestling Coaches Association individual rankings. Oostendorp said Burkle’s year-long dedication with daily lifting or wrestling workouts has assisted in his return to the mat.
“He has such a big foundation and having to be off the mat for three to four weeks doesn’t affect someone like that as much as it does someone who wrestles six months out of the year,” Oostendorp said. “The strength of his lower body, and his entire body, is allowing him to wrestle effectively. He’s wrestling at a high level right now.”
Although he was happy for Fank, who earned All-American honors last season, Burkle had visions on being on the national podium. Oostendorp said he was a top contender last year before the injury and can compete with the best when he is at his best. Burkle is down to his final chance to be an All-American or even an NCAA champion.
“This is my last year to get the job done,” Burkle said. “The goal is to go down there and finish the best I can.”
The field consists of the entire IIAC, Cornell College, Augustana (Ill.) and Knox (Ill.) College.
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