AMES — Wrestling.
The idea of doing it didn’t sit well with Iowa State 197-pounder Kyven Gadson as he began what turned out to be a triumphant Big 12 Championships run March 8-9 — and the accompanying automatic berth to this week’s NCAA meet in Des Moines.
“I didn’t really want to be there to be honest,” said the ultra-talented, but grieving sophomore, who is one of seven ISU national qualifiers. “After my first match with (Oklahoma State’s Blake) Rosholt, I told (Coach Kevin Jackson), ‘I don’t really want to be here right now.’ And he gave me the go-ahead, if I needed to, to go home and be with my family. At that point I didn’t know what was going on with anything. I guess I just had a feeling that I was in the wrong place.”
But the tougher-than-nails Gadson held fast in Stillwater, Okla., buffeted by swirling emotions, grounded by his commitment to the task at hand.
“I knew what my dad would want me to do,” he said. “And what my mom would also want me to do.”
Clearly, Gadson is his father’s son.
Willie Gadson, a two-time All-American for the Cyclones and Waterloo East coach, died of cancer on March 10 — one day after the Big 12s concluded.
Kyven loaded up his car immediately after arriving back in Ames, dropped off teammate John Meeks, and steered toward home.
He approached his father’s bedside, a gold medal grasped in his hand.
“I told him before I left I was going to bring him back the gold medal, so I’m glad I could stay true to that,” Gadson said.
Since being diagnosed last spring, Willie Gadson battled for his life as he did for medals on the mat — with tenacity and dignity.
Monday, he was laid to rest in Waterloo, with his son, his family, the entire ISU wrestling team and countless others on hand to pay their respects.
“The type of love and support our family has received, it’s amazing,” Kyven said. “Not only for my dad, but for my mom and my sisters and my brother. The love is great ... In a time like this it’s great to know you have that.”
Now it’s on to the ultimate drive toward the sport’s biggest prize. Willie Gadson prepared his two-time state champion son to be the best on the mat and off it.
His legacy lives on.
“His passion and love for Iowa State has never changed,” said Jackson, a longtime close friend. “He lived in Iowa City (for a time) and still wore cardinal and gold and that takes a real man to be able to do that. ... He always continued to motivate me, to challenge me.”
It’s who he was. And is.
“I’m just trying to take it all in,” Kyven Gadson said. “But, at the same time, still get my mind focused for (this) week. That’s what he’d want.”