After spending half his season off the mat with an injury, Nick Whitenburg, an Eastern Michigan University 197-pound redshirt junior wrestler, has made a strong comeback in his wrestling season.
At the EMU Open Nov. 3, 2012, Whitenburg suffered a torn Quad and MCL in his knee that took him off the mat.
He also endured a torn shoulder labrum in high school at Bedford High School in Temperance, Mich. and received the same shoulder injury to the opposite shoulder during his sophomore year at EMU.
Even with his injuries, wrestling has had a positive impact on Whitenburg both on the mat and in class.
“It has made me more determined to accomplish my goals,” Whitenburg said.
He has tested his talents in other sports including football and baseball. Wrestling eventually became the sport to outlast the others.
“With wrestling, I felt more by myself; no one can help you. You have to reach down in and find what it really takes to win a
match,” he said.
When the time came to decide on a college, Whitenburg had no idea what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. After being contacted by his cousin Alex Ortman, an EMU wrestling alumnus, the idea to be an Eagle presented itself.
“I never really thought about college,” Whitenburg said. “I never thought I was that quality. I thought I would be another guy thrown in the mix.”
Once the opportunity presented itself, Whitenburg didn’t want to turn it down.
“There are certain things that I look for in the athletes we recruit and Nick had a lot of them,” EMU coach Derek DelPorto said.
“Learning the sport is the easy part, it’s having the balance, strength, mental toughness and athleticism—the things you can’t teach—that attracted us to ‘Whit.’”
Whitenburg committed to EMU just before his senior year and released some of the stress. After his decision was solidified, he felt more determined during wrestling season.
“It pumped me up too,” Whitenburg said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to continue wrestling, so it was a confidence boost.”
His freshman year of college was really eye-opening. There were no parents around and not many home-cooked meals. Whitenburg said he learned a lot during that time.
“I found out who I was as a person,” he said.
Having the EMU coaches on his side also helped his transition. He learned how the coaches wrestled and tried to apply it to his wrestling.
“I think they’re why I’m doing so good,” Whitenburg said.
DelPorto said he has seen improvement both on and off the mat. According to DelPorto, Whitenburg was already a very mature young man and has become a great leader for the team.
“I get to see these guys work so hard to accomplish their athletic goals and at the same time, see them grow up to be great men,” DelPorto said. “Nick is one of those guys.”
When the wrestling season started, Whitenburg believed this would be his breakout season. Once he was injured, there came a time to either give up or use the experience to better himself.
“Injuries have been a big part of my career and they have shaped me,” Whitenburg said. “You just have to push through them.”
He used the time to go through rehab and wait until he could wrestle again. Seeing the rest of his teammates grapple for a win only fueled his passion to get back out.
“Nick is highly competitive,” DelPorto said. “He wants to win at everything. He’s a nice kid and kind of soft spoken off the mat, but he isn’t afraid to apply some legal pain when he is competing.”
Whitenburg has made a successful comeback and soared to a 17-10 record with a perfect 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference. With his performance at the MAC tournament, he placed third in his weight class and qualified for the national tournament.
“I needed to place as high as I could and do my best,” Whitenburg said. “I took the tournament one match at a time.”
He is one of two EMU wrestlers to qualify for competition in the NCAA championship tournament March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Whitenburg expects to make it at least out of the first round and even go All-American.
“I can hang with those top 10 guys,” he said.
This exercise science major plans to stretch his season as far as it will go.