Written by Jordan Holm
I want to thank everyone who has supported me in my quest to make the US Olympic team! Your support has meant so much. It has been an incredible blessing to represent you and the United States around the world. Thank you!
As I stood in the tunnel that exits Carver Hawkeye Arena still sweating from my last match, I did my best to review the technical aspects of my performance. Usually this comes easy, like an instinctive thought process that’s adjoined with any competition. Following a win, it’s simple and silent; an evaluation that’s conducted in my mind. Following a loss, I’m often much more ensnared in the process. People nearby are likely to hear me question my technique with brief reminders like, “move...hips solid...don’t overreact,” as I rehearse what I’m saying with small motions.
I was doing just this as I stood and paced in the tunnel, but not entirely for deep concern with my technique. I actually more appreciated the distraction it provided as I struggled to keep myself from taking further inventory of the moment. I knew if I didn’t continue my filibuster on technique, I was likely to crumble to the floor. I could feel the gravity of the moment creeping up through every fiber of my being. I knew if I paused for too long or rested on the reality that my dreams were just dashed, I might well become a mess of emotion in the interviews to follow. So I tried to focus on the distraction of technique. At one point I even asked my escort from USADA, whose purpose is to see that I provide a timely urine sample after I walk off the mat, what he thought of my parterre defense. He looked at me with a blank face so I told him what I thought, as if he had any concern. I was just doing my best to keep it together.
Still, I thought of my dad in the stands. I pictured him with his hands outstretched, raised high over his head and how I would have loved to hear him shout in victory. And I thought of my brothers - one in Texas, one in Japan and two more in attendance in Iowa City. I thought of my little sister and my mom. I thought of the hundreds of times that I doubled up my long johns and waited on the edge of my bed for my prison cell door to open at 6:05 a.m. so I could make fresh tracks in the snow before breakfast. I thought of the thousands of times I worked out in the lower prison yard in Anamosa. I thought of the effort I poured into becoming an NCAA Division I national champion - the sweat on the mat at the end of long practices, the burn in my lungs as we’d push to a new level, and the pain of watching that opportunity vanish. I thought of how similar it felt to train and miss once more. I thought of so many families and individuals to whom my making the Olympic team would have meant so much. I thought of how awesome it would have been to bless them with a gold medal.
My mind raced through these thoughts in a matter of seconds and a wave of emotion rushed over me. So I quickly jumped back to thoughts on the failure of my parterre D, which, for the most part, was baffling to me. I am familiar with the right technique, and yet in terms of execution, I wondered if I couldn’t relate to a shooting guard who tanks a wide open shot or a defensive lineman who lets a quarterback slip through his tackle. My disappointment was so heavy and palpable that, for a second, with a flash of optimism, I considered if the moment was not real.
After a couple of minutes in the tunnel, I was brought in front of the media to take questions. Earlier in the day I had listened to my coach, Brandon Paulson, an Olympic silver medalist in 1996, recall how he was asked by the media to explain how he felt immediately after he lost to Dennis Hall in the finals of the Olympic Trials in 2004. It wasn’t portrayed as a fond memory but it was the first thing that came to mind when I stepped in front of reporters and heard the same question, “how do you feel?” I had no expectation of actually being able to put my answer into words so I just said that I’m sure I would gain a better understanding of how I felt over the course of the next few days.
Most of the questions they asked were straightforward and I hope I did a fine job of answering. I was happy to credit Chas for his hard work and the obvious improvements he has made in parterre. Our sport is challenging enough that respect amongst competitors is common.
As I stood there, other reporters continued shuffling into the group, repeating a similar cycle of questions. After a while, I took notice of one particular question that kept being asked. It was the question of, “What now?” Or, “What are you going to do now?”
My first thought was, “I do not know.” Prior to the result of my last match, I expected to win. I did not plan to lose. I had only rehearsed victory - just as anyone should who is serious about winning. So I did not know “what now?” All I could say with confidence was that I would do my best regardless of what the future may hold.
When I heard the question again, I drifted back to where I was two years ago and considered what I likely would have said if I were asked the same question at that time. I’m sure I would have alluded to maximizing the talents I’ve been given, but as for clear direction, I wouldn’t have known what to say. As I stood there in Carver, I felt like I was stepping back into that same square. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing next week. Would I be wrestling in a month? How about next year? If I was asked two years ago what I would be doing, it’s unlikely I would have mentioned wrestling. I had only revealed to a couple of people that I was interested in returning to the sport. After so many years of being away from a mat it was hard to know what others would make of this goal so I kept it close to my chest. I also knew there were several factors to be determined that were largely beyond my control, like, where I would train? Who would coach me? And what abilities did I even have to still compete?
At that time it would have been crazy to predict that in the coming months I would criss-cross the United States and travel all around the world to wrestle. I could not have predicted before I left prison that I would earn an alternate spot on the Olympic team to represent the United States in London - no matter my hope for that dream. So even now I feel it’s okay to wonder: what am I going to do next? In the past several years I have learned not to worry so much about tomorrow. There is plenty for us to strive for in being our best today. I believe God has a sovereign plan for our lives. Our concern should be to ready ourselves for His calling.
Although as I stood there fielding questions, bouncing from subject to subject, it began to sink in just how huge the chasm is between first and second place at the Olympic Team Trials. Suddenly my mind was spinning with determination to break it all down as it raced to generate a list a mile long of all the differences between making the Olympic team and being an alternate. Soon I began to question my own words that “day by day I’ll do my best.” Perhaps I spoke too soon. Why am I even being asked about tomorrow? I thought. Why is anyone asking me anything? I just lost and every item on this mega-list is hitting me in the gut and buckling my knees with the crushing force of an unfulfilled dream. I wanted a rematch. Of course I wanted a rematch, even though I knew it wasn’t for lack of motivation or effort that I lost.
My mouth was moving and I kept answering every question until it was okay for me to go. About three feet removed from my last interview, my eyes began to swell. Soon tears were streaming down my face as I traced my way back through the tunnel. I had a pit in my stomach that was growing with every thought that came to mind.
I knew going into the weekend that a lot of people saw this tournament as an opportunity for redemption. They shared in the pain of my experience with injustice and were hoping and longing for success on the mat so that it might push back and provide some reprieve. The irony of the tournament being held in Iowa City, where I was wrongly accused and convicted, seemed to increase knowledge of my plight and amplify sentiment for redemption. I could see it in the eyes of so many who were eager to shake my hand. I would hear it in their words. I could feel it in random hugs and I could sense it in the crowd as I stepped onto the mat.
The next morning my mom told me through bubbling tears how uplifting it was for her to receive so much love from people she met the day before. “Complete strangers,” she explained. People who recognized her as my mom and related to her enduring hope for my life. “So many people,” she continued. Three of them were my old bosses at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. I thought it was great that they came and even better that they met my parents.
While I was aware of the opportunity that many people saw for redemption, it wasn’t why I was there. It wasn’t my motivation to compete. It was not why I trained or why I was in Iowa City. I was there to wrestle and to make the Olympic team. I was there to accomplish a goal that began in my youth. This was my outlook and my approach to the tournament.
However, as I exited through the tunnel, having completed all interviews for that day, I felt a deep longing, like a pit in my stomach, to have found some redemption on the mat. Suddenly I wanted to “pin this horror down,” which was something I’d read earlier that day. I wanted some reprieve. I wanted to pin injustice to the mat. I wanted a reason to shout “hallelujah!” I wanted to rewrite this chapter. Nothing was going according to script. The pit in my stomach only became worse as I considered my loss and how it seemed to squander so much hope for redemption.
My dreams felt like they had just been crushed by a boulder- a massive boulder that was splashing waves of despair over everything I’ve been wading through. I wanted to shout at the waves and throw the boulder ashore. I wanted to swim over them. I wanted to do something other than absorb them. Stupid waves! They were nothing but water, just painful and powerful sheets of water. But as they washed over me, I couldn’t help but want to just duck, sink down and wallow in the depths of solitude, holding my breath until it was safe to hope again.
Now today, not so much later, I aspire to be like Peter in his first few steps on the stormy sea. By faith he stood in peace above the crashing waves. “Since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God...” It is perfectly peaceful to know that I am justified. To know I am held secure in the hands of God. “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” I love this verse, and even though it paints a different picture, it reminds me of the song lyrics, “if grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” The passage continues, “and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...” Suffering - endurance - character - hope! It’s not always my favorite route to the end result of hope, but experience has taught me there is truth in these words.
I probably mumbled these verses to myself 20 times this past week as I shuffled or jogged to warm-up. Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 46 and Psalm 17 were also in my mind’s playlist last week. At one point in my last interview I mentioned the passage above from Romans 5 as an attempt to explain something about my future. I was sure the woman would press on to the next question. Instead she asked me to slow down and go back.
There’s a practical pattern in these words. Indeed, “character produces hope,” but my favorite is the promise in the next verse. The simple truth that “hope does not put us to shame.” Rm 5:5
Of course, if my hope were rooted in wrestling, I might contend with this promise after a loss. Instead, my hope is rooted in the character of God. His glory is my foundation. His unfailing love and atonement are my prize. He is my hope. “He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.” I am so glad there is greater hope to be found than what could result from even a magnificent display of redemption through success in athletics. I am grateful to be sustained by such hope that “does not put us to shame.”
So even now as I press on and consider my answer to the question of “what now?” I’m not likely to forget the sting of finishing second. I am standing in grace and I’m grateful, but I’m also standing in the boulder’s destruction and feeling the crash of waves all around me. What's more is this burden falls well short of the ongoing burden of injustice. And yet, there is hope that does not fail. I appreciate Paul’s understanding when he writes, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing...” II Cor 4:8.
The past two years of my life have been an incredible journey! I could not feel more blessed by your support and the opportunities I have had as a result. I am so grateful to be able to represent you and all who support me as I train and compete throughout the United States and around the world.
You have blessed me with encouragement and opportunity and I am grateful for it beyond what I could begin to express in these written words! I encourage you to feel invested in my life. I certainly hope I am given the opportunity to be investing in yours.
As for my future, I can only predict. During my early time in prison, I wrote this poem.
The finishing pace at the end of a race
Is a testament to all that’s been wrought.
Be it mountains or hills, valleys or thrills,
Experience extends all that was taught.
Either hardships define our limits in time,
Or bolster our stride to fruition.
The mountains before can’t predict what’s in store
But they’ve fashioned our life and ambition.
These thoughts continue to resonate with me as I'm still considering the question of “what now?” However, I do feel healthy and I do love to wrestle so it’s likely I will continue to set new goals in this sport.
In the meantime, with regard to the Dream Fund, I would like to emphasize that a portion of every donation has been set aside with the intent to use it to inspire people to participate in wrestling and other activities that aim to instill specific qualities like perseverance, commitment, determination and hard work in pursuit of a goal. These attributes were reinforced in me through my participation in the sport of wrestling. I am passionate about their value and I appreciate how they have helped me, so I am grateful for the opportunity to give back. The Dream Fund supports this ongoing ambition. Therefore, I hope you continue to believe in its sustaining relevance and value.
Team USA 84kg
ps. The Dream Fund is an established unincorporated nonprofit association registered with the state whose 501(c)3 status is pending. All previous, current and future donations will be 100% tax deductible when 501(c)3 status is received, which we anticipate will happen soon.