Wrestler Vering Found Lift to Beijing in D.C.

"Wrestling is really hard, and it's a tough sport physically and mentally," said Olympian and American University assistant coach Brad Vering, left. (By Larry Slater -- Usa Wrestling)
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By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Before high school, Brad Vering learned traits that made him one of the nation's best Greco-Roman wrestlers.

His passion developed when, during drives to club practice, his older brother, Russ, told him to invest himself in each session.

His discipline matured when, before dawn, he watched his father, Reynold, crawl from bed to run the family feed business.

His focus sharpened when, in sweltering heat, he hammered fence posts and shoveled corn from rusted bins.

"I didn't realize this until I went back, but hard work was always around me," Vering said. "People are working hard to make it, whether they're farmers or people just doing their jobs, because in a small town everyone works hard and works together."

Vering learned resiliency growing up in Howells, Neb., population 632, and it made him a repeat Olympian. A volunteer assistant wrestling coach at American University, Vering will participate in his second consecutive Summer Games, looking to improve upon a 1-1 performance in Athens.

A revitalization in Washington allowed his Beijing dreams to come true.

Russ recognized Brad's interest early. Russ, seven years older, wrestled at Howells High School and later at Nebraska. Whenever possible, Russ gave tips to his bright-eyed brother. They discussed vision. They debated technique. They talked about the importance of pushing forward as others faltered, and Brad took the advice to heart.

"You train on a Big Eight [now Big 12 Conference] level, and you bring that home to someone who wants to do it and is excited about it," Russ said. "Brad just ate it up."

The younger Vering quickly captured Lee Schroeder's attention. Schroeder, Vering's wrestling coach at Howells High, was beside himself: How could a freshman be so good, so fast? During practice, Vering tangled teammates with moves Schroeder had never seen. In his first tournament, Vering beat three seniors who participated in the previous year's state meet. Schroeder knew he had stumbled upon something special.

"My older brother, Jay, who was also involved with wrestling, gives me a call and says, 'Well, what do you have?' " Schroeder said. "[I said], 'Well, we have this freshman, and if he's not going to be a state champion more than once, I'll never see one.' "

By the time he graduated in 1996, Vering had a 148-2 record and won three Class D state championships. His imagination brimmed with possibility: He was one of the best, so why not push for more?

For much of the next decade, he did. In 2000, he won an NCAA championship at Nebraska. From 2002 to '05, he qualified for each Olympic or world championship team.

Then, a loss in 2006 made him re-evaluate his direction. During the world team trials, he lost to rival Aaron Sieracki in the 185-pound division. Later, Vering watched as teammates competed in Guangzhou, China. He thought he may have peaked.

An invitation from AU Coach Mark Cody renewed his career. Cody and Vering met in the summer of 2006 at a friend's wedding in Pennsylvania. Cody had been an assistant during Vering's time at Nebraska, and Cody could sense that Vering needed a lift. Cody coached a promising wrestler named Josh Glenn and sought Vering's help.

"I want you to come out to American this year and work with this kid," Cody said then.

"You're crazy," Vering said. "I'm two years away from the Olympics. I just got beat off the team. My coaches are never going to agree to this."

They did, and Vering was invigorated. That fall, he started at American. He helped Glenn with hand-fighting and positioning, Vering's strengths. Meantime, Cody allowed Vering to escape the Olympic Training Center's competitive grind. The partnership worked; in March 2007, Glenn won an NCAA championship, and Vering regained his form.

"The guys who do better always have an outlet," Cody said. "We tried to get [Vering] out here so his outlet would be coaching."

Vering said: "It wasn't so much that [Cody] could help me technically. He just helped me on my mental game and my training plans. Just [with] little things like that I was like, 'Yeah man, now I remember how I did it when I was at the best in my career.' "

Vering approaches the upcoming Olympics with confidence. In 2007, he placed first at the U.S. Nationals, world team trials and the Pan American Games. In June, he beat Sieracki in the Olympic trials final, avenging the defeat that eventually brought him to Washington.

The small-town soul who grew up chasing greatness has one more chance. He's considering retirement after Beijing. He'll be 31 next month, and his body is beginning to ache. He's thinking about starting a family and walking away from the rush of a crowd's roar. Whatever happens, the path from quiet country roads to the world's grandest stage goes straight through his heart.

"When you sit back and have those experiences and you go and work on a farm . . . it makes everything else in life seem simpler," Vering said. "Wrestling is really hard, and it's a tough sport physically and mentally, but you appreciate the finer things in life. You feel like you earned them, because you worked hard."

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