ALBIA — On a cool night in late March, local athletes left the track at Albia High School following the Early Bird Invitational track and field meet hosted by the Blue Demons and Lady Dees.
Almost everyone had left the premises, except for a shadowy figure lifting a sledgehammer and driving it into a tractor tire up the hill just outside the Albia wrestling room.
No, this isn't a scary summer camp story. This is the story of Aden Reeves, a two-time high school state wrestling champion from Albia who is determined to get back on track in his quest to find more success on the mat as he prepares to embark on the start of his college wrestling journey at Iowa State University.
Inside the Albia wrestling room, Reeves spent helped teach over 40 youth wrestlers along with former four-time NCAA All-American Willie Miklus some of the basic skills it takes to be a successful wrestlers. Just seven months removed from a season-ending knee injury, Reeves has made strides down the road to recovery with his freshman season at Iowa State on the horizon.
"I went from being the low man on the todem poll 36 hours earlier training in the Iowa State wrestling room to being the guy teaching all the young guys in our camp. It really shows you how quickly you can go from end of the spectrum to the other," Reeves said. "I'm feeling really good. I'm pretty close to getting medically cleared. I'm pretty sure within the next month I'll get the go-ahead to get back to scrapping. I've put on some really good weight, which was my main goal after surgery.
"It's got to be about five to seven hours a day I've been putting in trying to get back to being the wrestler that I want to be. If I get an extra motivational burst, that will be the nights people will see me outside hitting those tires. I've really focused on improving my strength and improving my size."
Reeves put together one of the best four-year runs any Albia wrestler has had. Besides winning state championships as a sophomore and a freshman, winning 166 of 169 varsity high school matches over his four years in a Blue Demon singlet, Reeves was also a five-time Fargo All-American, a 2018 Dan Gable Award finalist, a member of the 2018 Junior Duals all-tournament team and a 2019 Wrestling USA Magazine All-American.
That last honor came this past winter, right around the time that Reeves officially brought his time as a high school wrestler to a premature end. Citing a knee injury suffered while wrestling up a weight class for the Blue Demons during a home dual in December, Reeves opted for surgery ending his bid for a third straight state championship two months shy of the 2019 Iowa High School state wrestling tournament.
"He was ready to move on with where he was at with his ability level and where he was at. He was ready to move on from high school wrestling," Albia head wrestling coach Dave Wenger said of Reeves. "I'm excited for his next chapter. He's where he needs to be right now, but I'm a little selfish. I'd like to have him back. It motivates me to look at the young wrestlers we have in the room now and be on the lookout for the next Aden Reeves."
Reeves looked to turn the adversity of an injury that wiped away a state championship opportunity into a positive in building up his chances of competing with the Cyclones. In the process of getting back to as close to 100 percent healthy as possible, Reeves has found ways to challenge himself that were not as easily found last year as one of the state's most dominant high school wrestlers.
"I was getting to the point where the physical challenges were not coming as often as they did early in my high school career," Reeves said. "The knee injury gave me a mental challenge, something that put me on the spot to get ready. I was also able to watch a lot of wrestling. I was able to dissect the sport in a way I was never able to before."
Wenger hopes that, while learning something about himself over the past several months coming back from an injury, that Reeves can help teach young wrestlers some valuable lessons. Besides the skills on the mat it takes to be successful, Wenger hopes to use the comeback story of Reeves as a motivational tool for athletes just coming up learning how to succeed on the mat.
"Kids like Aden only come through once in a lifetime, but if we can just a few of these kids to buy in to the adversity that Aden's overcome, we'll have another one that can be very successful," Wenger said. "A lot of this comes down to what's between the ears. That's the toughest part. Overcoming adversity is way more important than the techniques you learn."