By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Imagine waking up at 6:30 every morning to run a mile or more before setting off for four wrestling practices in one day.
Now imagine doing that for 28 straight days.
Sounds hard, right?
You don’t even know the half of it.
Lemon Bay High School wrestling coach Mike Schyck recently sent seven of his wrestlers, along with his son and rising eighth-grader Lance, to Jay Robinson’s 28-day intensive wrestling camp in Wisconsin. Albert Werden, Michael Morales, Tripp Lytle, Mark Towers, Derick Dagg, Tyler Brady and Payton Binns all made the trek north for the most grueling experience of their lives, an experience that was full of soreness, doubt, fear and tears.
“This camp is basically designed to toughen you up,” Schyck said. “When we registered all the kids they got a PDF file in their emails and the first paragraph talked about how (the camp) was going to teach you what consequences are, both positive and negative, and they were going to reinforce them through all this hard work.”
Robinson is a former Olympic wrestler and former wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota. It was the 40th anniversary of his camp, which is meant to teach young adults important life skills Those life skills are called Robinson’s “Jay 7” — discipline, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, accountability, responsibility and service. He harps on all seven and all 261 campers had to know all of them on the spot if called upon, or they lost valuable points that went toward their graduation from the camp.
Campers were given 1,000 points at the beginning of the four-week gauntlet and needed 700 to graduate and receive their “IDidIt” shirts at the end. They lost points for a variety of reasons, such as for tardiness, forgetting their water bottle or losing their room key.
Lytle said he left the camp a changed person.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be late to anything ever again because you had to be five minutes early to everything,” Lytle said. “My definition of hard work has definitely changed. I don’t want to just sleep through in the mornings. I want to wake up before school now and run and work out and just get better. I don’t want to waste time sitting around because I’ve seen in one month how much we got done and accomplished.”
The days started with the campers waking up at 6:30 a.m. before going on long runs towards “Wrestler’s Hill,” which they had to run up and down eight times. That was followed by max pushups and then a break for breakfast from 8 to 9.
Some wrestlers tried to fit a nap between breakfast and their next practice at 9:40, which was more laid back and taught the group techniques and moves on the mat. After lunch from 12 to 1, the wrestlers went back at it from 3 to 5 for the most intense part of the day — nonstop livewrestling between campers, who were split into four groups by weight.
After a final break for dinner, Robinson would talk to the wrestlers at 7, having them lie down and close their eyes to help them relax. That was sometimes followed by more running and then a final review period before the campers had to write in their journal before bed.
By the third week, the campers were drained mentally and physically.
“It gives you a different perspective on what hard work is,” Werden said. “They teach you at the beginning of camp that you don’t know what hard work is. At the end of camp you know what hard work is.
“It changed my mindset. I feel like I can beat anybody mentally now.”
But there was a carrot hanging for the seven Manta Rays. They knew Schyck would be coming to for the final week of the camp, a camp he attended himself back in 1984.
Schyck knew how tough the month would be on his wrestlers. After all, he went through it himself three decades ago and he wanted to show his students that he understood what they were going through.
“I wanted to jump in there and I think the best way to lead is by example. I wanted to jump in there with my guys and do it with them,” Schyck said. “I pretty much did everything with them, short of some of the hard drilling that they did.”
Schyck, who wrestled collegiately at Ohio State, says he never had a practice in college that was as taxing as Robinson’s camp. He knew it would pay big dividends for his wrestlers heading into next season, which is why he held multiple fundraisers to help foot the bill of $20,048 to send the Manta Rays to the camp.
That bill didn’t even include plane fare.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Schyck said. “I wrestled in college and we never had to do four practices a day like that, nor was it that grueling. I’m proud of my guys for doing it.”
The final day of the camp featured a marathon that the wrestlers had to complete. They had the option of running nine, 12 or 15 miles, with most of the Manta Rays, including Schyck, choosing the 15.
When they all finally crossed the finish line, the 28 days of soreness, doubt, fear and tears finally turned to joy. The wrestlers felt accomplished for tackling the toughest challenge of their young lives.
“This was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Lytle said. “Not only because it was so long but because of how hard you were pushed by the people around you and the counselors there. I think the best part was the kids you were working with because they really motivated you along the way. You just saw them working hard, which made me want to work a lot harder.”