A calm, relaxed approach to wrestling has helped him in the sport as a leader and in pondering life after his senior season
MADISON, WI — The sun is barely sneaking over the horizon. An alarm interrupts what was a peaceful state of dreaming and rest. Maybe it is an early class or work forcing you up so early. For Ricky Robertson, he chooses to be up.
Robertson, a wrestler for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is up on this Thursday morning for an early morning workout. With a dual that night against Maryland, he has some weight to shed in order to make the limit. Focusing in on technique will also help him start to lock in for the day.
Then, as the student he is, it is off to class at 9:55 a.m. There are minimal breaks as he navigates the wrestling season and learning the ins and outs of sociology, his major.
“My intention was to do biology, but with wrestling it was kind of a little hard to keep up with so I switched to sociology,” Robertson said. “I think it has been beneficial all around. I think the classes are interesting first off, but being able to find a balance between school and wrestling has made it a lot easier.”
Finding that balance is just a day in the life for Robertson. And this gameday is no different.
A day in the life
Robertson is coming off of a huge weekend at the year’s biggest wrestling tournament: the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
In Vegas, the senior went 5-2 overall which was good enough for a fifth-place finish at the 184-pound weight class. He faced his toughest opponents of the season as he won against three ranked foes.
But there is no break or rest this week.
“We had Monday technically off, I just kind of got a little workout in,” Robertson said. “A lot of it is earlier in the week will be tougher workouts and as the week goes on it’s a lighter load and focused on technique and making sure that we are in rhythm and everything is going smoothly.”
The number of workouts and practices per week take up hours upon hours, and that is on top of any duals or tournaments happening to be on that week along with any travel.
While navigating a 14-credit course load this semester, Robertson has seen his way off to a 18-3 record; the best start of his career.
After his 9:55 a.m. class he has another class and then it is right back to the gym for yet another workout just prior to his match against Maryland.
“Once the season starts up it’s just focusing in on school and wrestling and not much else,” Robertson said.
‘A unique character’
Getting amped up before a game or match: Listening to your favorite music that gets you and your teammates jacked up. It is a quintessential sports moment. In the locker room with the team leader getting everyone riled up to take on their opponents.
The team feeds off of the energy as the match goes on. Against Maryland on Dec. 7, that is exactly what happened. As sophomore wrestler Eli Stickley upset a top-ranked opponent early in the match, his team on the bench was jumping out of their seats with fans screaming and cheering with every point Stickley scored.
Robertson though, was calmly sitting in the second row of the bench watching the match unfold. The calm, cool and collected attitude gives him and his teammates a unique edge.
“You definitely have guys who lead with words and are intense. Then you have a guy like Ricky who leads through keeping guys calm and doing his thing,” assistant coach Trevor Brandvold said. “Ricky is a unique character, a unique individual and I think that is really fun.”
For Robertson, the calmness stems from looking at the sport he loves like the career path he will one day go down.
It is business on and off of the mat.
“For me I look at it a lot in terms of a business in a way. For me it’s like, there’s guys that are going to help me more. Even guys I might not click with,” Robertson said. “Those are the guys that I need to surround myself with. In the practice room especially.
“Making sure I’m making gains but also helping them out. In wrestling you have to be a little selfish in a way and make sure that you’re doing what is best for you but at the same time if I can help someone, like why not help them as well.”
In being selfish though, Robertson has given his teammates an ever important source of calmness that stems from him approaching wrestling with the calm and cool demeanor a business person would.
“Ricky is a leader. He is really relaxed and likes to have fun so that’s good. A lot of wrestlers try to get worked up so to have that light person in there, it makes it fun,” Stickley said.
So which came first, the chicken or the egg? The business-like approach to wrestling or the desire to enter a business profession after college?
Just like the first question, the second question will go unanswered. But what Robertson does know, is that his unbending realistic perspective is what allows him to be calm and his teammates to feed off of the calmness.
“It might be the opposite light, I don’t know which way. I’ve always been realistic with myself. Always understanding how society works in a sense and really just understanding how people function and people think,” Robertson said. “Even myself.”
In sport, there is generally a clear line as to what is and what is not a team sport. Football and Basketball are obvious team sports, while track and golf proved the polar opposite.
Wrestling would fall into the individual category for most casual sports fans but those who know the game know how reliant individual wrestlers are on their fellow teammates. As Robertson explained, his teammates help him make gains while he does the same for them.
“I mean, wrestling is not a sport that you can just do on your own. You need someone in the room to work out with, you need practice partners, you need your coaches and you need all of those guys,” Robertson said.
Another valuable leadership quality Robertson brings to the table is his experience at the top level.
“It brings a different perspective to the team which is good. And he’s been there before,” Brandvold said. “He’s battled some of the best guys in the country so guys look to him because he is battled tested.”
Robertson though, is not happy with just being battle tested. He wants to win the battle. And his next battle has been one he’s been preparing for his whole collegiate wrestling career.
But to enter the battle as focused and as relaxed as he approaches the rest of his life, Robertson must find sanity.
Comfort in home, himself and naps
In a life that revolves around constant motion, either taking notes in class or getting in time in the gym or on the mat, finding time to slow down is crucial.
“I find times where I can take a nap,” Robertson said. “If not I will definitely get a nap before 3:30 practice. Just to make sure I feel rested so I have enough energy to give a full effort in practice so I don’t half it. Just working in your schedule to find times to get that relaxation and get a nap in is kind of a way to adjust to everything.”
With his free time dedicated to relaxing to prepare himself for grueling practices or a normal school workload, there is little time to hang out with friends like a normal college student does on a normal basis.
Just like a normal student, Robertson finds sanity and energy in going home for holiday and semester breaks.
“I think some of the times for me, for Christmas break you go back home get to see those friends that are somewhere else in the country or live back home,” Robertson said. “I think those times are, just thinking back to Thanksgiving, like those times really help with the season.”
“Even just seeing your family. You don’t get to see your family every day, so when they get to come here or you get to see them, I think all of that is really what helps me keep sane.”
One of the most important times for Robertson, however, is time he has to himself. Some people are uncomfortable with themselves, afraid to be in their own skin and afraid to be real with themselves.
Robertson thrives in his alone time.
“I love to do (hang out with friends and family) but at the same time, I don’t have a problem just being by myself and just enjoying some alone time,” Robertson said.
And wrestling has been a part of the self in which Robertson has become comfortable with, from an early age.
‘I thought is was like WWE’
Robertson was introduced to wrestling from an early age. Ironically enough, he did not want to enter into wrestling.
“I thought it was like WWE wrestling and I didn’t want to do that. I guess I just wasn’t into that much violence at the time,” Robertson said.
But at age five his mom pushed him to just try it out and see if it was something he might like.
“I tried it out and ended up enjoying it and started, like those first couple years were pretty average,” Robertson said. “Then when I got to be about seven or eight years old I started to really pick it up and become really successful in the sport.”
When pressed to point to a single person that helped mentor him into the successful wrestler he is today, Robertson shies away from such a definitive statement.
For Robertson, everything builds upon itself. Every piece of advice he has received over the years builds off of the last piece of advice he had received.
“I hate to try to pin point it down to one single person…it’s all accumulation, everything builds together and works together. You find ways to take bits and pieces,” Robertson said.
It is like a business approach, it would seem, as the first step is just as crucial as the last step. The first deal is just as important as the last.
The next step
“It is something I like to do and something I am good at. It’s been a part of my life for so long,” is how Robertson described his desire to wrestle in college.
It has been a part of his life for almost 15 years. Think of something that has been apart of your life for such a substantial amount of time and now try to imagine it being gone. What is the next step?
The answer for Robertson started with a long winded sigh. Anyone who is coming to the end of a substantive part of their life knows the sigh.
“I don’t know. I hope to try and stay involved somehow. Honestly I thought about, for the longest time I thought about continuing wrestling and looking to coach potentially,” Robertson said pondering his life after his senior season.
Entering the coaching ranks, especially the upper-class of coaching in wrestling is already tough to crack into.
Robertson cites the fact he never has been an All-American as a huge challenge that he would have to overcome in order to be in a good spot to enter the coaching career or to continue his wrestling career post graduation.
So, just like in school and on the mat, Robertson is real with himself. Something most people will continually struggle to see or find, the reality of a situation, is something Robertson finds with ease.
“For me, like I know there’s one point in the day where I have to either try to make it to the higher ranks of coaching or I have to switch and go from wrestling to getting a professional job,” Robertson said. “So I think if I were to continue wrestling and then I think it would just postpone that transition, which to me doesn’t make sense.”
But Robertson thinks back to all of the years that shaped him. Wrestling and the coaches and mentors he’s had have all helped in smaller or larger ways, to bring him to the point he is in his life.
Returning the favor is one way for him to stay connected to the sport.
“For me, I’m going to have to find a different way to get that side of wrestling. I wouldn’t mind helping youth kids,” Robertson said. “I look back and think about all the people who helped me, even now I try to see if I can do that for one kid at least. If I can even help one kid out that is great.”
But before Robertson can set out to help one kid, to be a step in their process of success, he has that one last battle to wage.
And here Robertson is. His last battle. He has prepared three seasons for this. He has nothing left to prove to anyone except himself.
For three straight seasons, Robertson has made it to the National tournament. But with a 3-6 career record in the NCAA Championships, the title of being an All-American has proven elusive.
“The goal is to be an All-American. I’ve made it to Nationals the last three years and I expect to be there again, Robertson said. “The last thing is to become a National All-American.”
It is his last battle. A battle to prove to what he already knows.
“I came in trying to accomplish that and it would solidify myself as a high-caliber athlete. A lot of times to the outside, making it to Nationals is a great accomplishment but at the end of the day, you hold yourself to a high standard so you want to achieve more than that,” Robertson said.
Seeing a team or an individual continually succeed can seem boring in a way. People take the success for granted. With Robertson also being the calm, cool and collected leader he is, some can mistake his style as boring, just as someone could look at the world of business and the mundane exercises of the industry as boring.
But others are aware of the inspiration it can bring.
“He has high expectations this year, he wants to be at the top of that podium. And any time you have a guy who believes they can on the team like Ricky does, it inspires other guys,” Brandvold said.
There’s something inspiring in someone setting out an agenda and goals and then watching them step by step, match by match slowly but surely reach their goals.
Robertson is well on his way to reaching his last goal. But achieve it or not, his relaxed business approach to his sport and his life has already prepared him for what’s next.