WINNIPEG — Wrestling dynamo Caleb Rutner added to his medal and trophy collection with a championship performance at the recently concluded Canadian National Wrestling Championships in Windsor, Ont.
Fighting in the 66-kilogram division, Rutner, 16, was also named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler, ahead of 500 other participants aged 15 to 17.
For Rutner, it wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk that he would attain such recognition.
“It was a huge surprise to me. I really didn’t think I was going to get it. I thought it would be nice, but I didn’t expect it,” he said.
The Grade 10 St. Paul’s High School student also recently completed his third perfect unbeaten season as Manitoba high school champion and was named Manitoba’s most outstanding wrestler. He led St. Paul’s to the provincial team championship, and earlier this year, he added to his collection the gold medal in the 2011 Cadet National Championships, along with another most outstanding wrestler award.
Despite his penchant for winning, Rutner doesn’t always take it for granted that he is going to come out on top, even though he’s been grappling with Grade 12s ever since he was in Grade 8.
“It really depends upon the event,” he explained matter-of-factly. “If it’s just a Manitoba or local tournament, it doesn’t surprise me. If it’s a national one, then yes, it does give me a surprise.”
Rutner, born in Winnipeg, possesses dual citizenship and competes in national championships in the United States as a member of the North Dakota team.
“They made an exception [due to his status], and I attend a lot of tournaments in Grand Forks and I got to know a lot of people well. Training in the United States is much superior,” he said.
His sporting pedigree is rich in that his dad, Toby, a local psychologist, was born in the Bronx and was himself a wrestler in his college days. He attended Nebraska State on a scholarship.
It follows, then, that his father, would play a major role in Caleb’s passion. “My dad is one of my coaches. Mike Watson is my coach at St. Paul’s, but when the high school season is over, I go to the Winnipeg Wrestling Club. There is a main coach there … and my dad is the assistant coach. Ever since I started wrestling, my dad has coached me. He’s played a really big role,” he said.
As well, Toby’s dad, Milton “Mickey” Rutner, played major league baseball briefly with the old Philadelphia Athletics as a third baseman, and at the AAA level in Canada with the old Toronto Maple Leafs.
As for his own sport, Caleb said the amateur wrestling he excels at bears little resemblance to the pro variety on TV. That’s “fake stuff,” he said.
Amateur wrestling, he added, is pure sport and almost gentlemanly. “I’ve never really seen somebody lose their temper and just punch a person. I have seen where after a match a person is upset and is a poor sport about it and just doesn’t shake the opponent’s hand, but nothing extreme,” he said.
As for how a winner is determined, Rutner said that “most bouts end in a decision on points, but it’s better to always pin your opponent, [although] that’s hard to do. The majority of bouts end in a technical fall, where you’re ahead of your opponent by six points in two rounds straight in the match.”
As in the game of chess, Rutner said wrestlers need to think several moves ahead of their opponent. “It’s my mental strength. It is my ability to overcome adversity and also I have a very good feel for it. I always know where my body is. Some people think like they’re on railroad tracks. That’s very linear. I’m able to think a couple moves ahead and it really helps,” he said.
As to how prevalent injuries are in amateur wrestling, he said they’re “nothing major.”
“They really crack down on potentially dangerous moves, so you rarely see an arm break or anything like that. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a concussion – maybe once, but it’s very rare.”
Like many kids his age, Rutner isn’t certain where he’ll continue his education after high school. He does know, however, that he wants to continue in his sport. “I’m going to wrestle in university for sure, but I’m not sure of which one [in the United States or Canada]. The University of Manitoba has no wrestling [program]. They are trying to start one at the University of Winnipeg, but it’ll take a while for it to develop into a really good one.”
Not to worry. Wrestling scholarships are available south of the border, and many of those strangers in the stands at tournaments are scouts for U.S. schools.
Caleb Rutner grappling with an opponent at the national championships.