Who We Are: Fowler grappling toward goals
SUMMIT DAILY NEWS
FARMER’S KORNER – It’s easy to spot Stetson Fowler before he takes to the mat. Don’t look toward the Summit High bench, though, or toward his coaches or teammates lingering and stretching in that general vicinity.
If you want to spot one of the state’s top 152-lb. wrestlers, look for the kid pacing in the background, head phones pulled over his backwards ballcap and eyes staring just a few feet in front of the tips of his shoes, isolated, focused and eager.
The ritual is the same whether he’s facing a defending state champ or pushed into a meaningless exhibition match at the end of a dual meet.
“I can’t stand to sit,” he said. “I want on that mat more than anything. It makes my arms shake.”
To say wrestling is a big part of Fowler’s make up is to say snow is important to Summit County. He eats, drinks and sleeps the sport, his mind never straying far from that moment when he shakes an opponent’s hand before a match.
“It’s a great feeling to step out there and think, ‘I’m unstoppable,'” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
And it’s something doctors told him a year ago he’d never experience again.
As a sophomore in Rexburg, Idaho, Fowler was leading decisively in the opening round of the district finals. He was the runner-up at state as a freshman and after another strong season, he could feel that state title within his grasp.
He was wrestling well, up 8-0 and sure to make quick work of his opponent.
Then, it happened: His opponent chopped down on the back of Fowler’s elbow and – snap! He dislocated the joint, broke his ulna (one of the two main bones in the forearm) and separated two ligaments and a muscle clear from the bone.
His season was done and, as doctors put it, his career was done, too.
Not even halfway through high school, Fowler was faced with giving up his passion.
“They told me I’d never touch my shoulder again, let alone step on a mat,” he said.
Fowler was devastated but remained hopeful that reconstructive surgery would help him back to the sport he first got into as a 6-year-old.
The choice to start wrestling was pretty easy, he said, as he followed in the footsteps of his father, a two-time Idaho state champion.
“When I was young, my dad was always watching wrestling matches and talking about the great mentality that it gave him in life,” Fowler said. “I was 6 years old and I wanted to try it.”
And when faced with trying to keep his career going, the choice was just as simple.
“That’s all I wanted,” he said.
Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, Fowler had full range of motion within two months of the surgery and, after just two rehabilitation sessions, he was told to stop coming.
“They said there wasn’t much point, I already had my strength back,” he said.
Fowler missed a good chunk of his offseason training and tournaments – not to mention a shot at an Idaho state championship – and still feels like he needs to make up for the lost time.
“Last year, I feel like I got robbed,” he said. “These next two (seasons), I want my state title.”
Fowler’s family moved to the Colorado mountains this past summer, and as a junior Fowler was not only still working his way back into shape after surgery but trying to get used to a whole new situation in his life.
“It’s definitely a change,” he said of moving to a ski community. ” … It was kind of clicky when I moved here, but once I got (into the school year), everything was fine.”
Fowler was the starting fullback on the Tiger football team this past fall, a position he also excels at. (“Any chance to get out and hit people is a good thing,” he said with a laugh.)
But all fall, his thoughts were straying to wrestling.
“Those two months in football, I’m just aching to get back on the mat,” he said.
When he finally did, he joined an SHS program that’s certainly on the rise.
Although the Tigers are on their fourth head coach in four years, the team’s success has improved dramatically in each of those seasons. The Tigers had a slew of top finishers at last year’s regional meet and Devon Emerson (then a junior) became just the second Summit grappler to make it to state since the mid-1990s.
Emerson is back this year as one of the team’s senior leaders. Head coach Pete Baker feels Emerson and Fowler are both poised for a deep run at state.
“Stetson’s a real strong wrestler,” said Baker, a mixed-martial arts fighter. “I mean, if he works on a couple little things, he’ll be at that state championship level.”
And Fowler’s already gotten a taste of what that level looks like.
His preseason goal was to go undefeated for the season, and it was looking good for the first 18 matches of the year, as he downed opponent after opponent.
Then, in the finals of the Evergreen Invitational on Jan. 15, Fowler went up against the two-time defending state champion in the 152 weight class.
And he lost.
“I wasn’t having a good tournament, my mentality wasn’t working really good. I had a really tough kid and went out there, and he embarrassed me,” Fowler said.
Although, he now sees it as a good thing. After the blistering pace he started the season on, Fowler said he was getting complacent – the one loss being perfect evidence of that.
Now, still 20-1 on the season, he’s more determined than ever to get back on track.
“It definitely made me realize how much harder I’m going to have to work to get that goal,” he said, “and I’m going to work my guts out to get there.”
Cut to Thursday, a dual meet with a strong Glenwood Springs squad, and Fowler is doing his usual pacing. He already won his official match for the night, pinning his foe in a little more than a minute. Now, he’s getting ready for an exhibition match, moving up a weight class to face off with one of Glenwood’s strongest wrestlers.
Baker said he wants to get as much competition for his star junior as he can as the season goes on, and Thursday, that was a great chance for that.
Fowler, showing every bit of his usual intensity, controlled the match throughout the first period. In the second, though, his feet seemed to slip and he was caught underneath his opponent in a vulnerable position. He fought off several attempts from the Glenwood wrestler to pin him, but with just 30 seconds left, he felt his reconstructed elbow tweak.
Fowler was clearly in pain, and Baker called the match, worried about the possibility of the injury being serious.
Needless to say, Fowler was concerned, too.
“It was really scary,” he admitted. “Anytime that gets jerked just right, it’s scary.”
Fortunately, he was OK, just a little sore on Friday.
And he was ready to get back on the mat.
“After last year and getting my season taken away from me, there’s no way I’ll let my elbow take me out of another tournament,” he said. “When you’re going out there on the mat, you can’t have any worries on your mind or else you’ll be thinking about that and lose. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing.”
And by that, he means winning, because, if you want to spot Fowler after a match, well, he’s the one holding his arms up.
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