Former Cornell University wrestling star and Lansing-native Kyle Dake spoke at the Lansing Town Hall, in conjunction with the Lansing Community Library on Saturday, March 10, to speak to the public about his successes, travels, and share his stories throughout his wrestling career.
Dake, most famous for being the first and only NCAA wrestler to win four national championships in four different weight classes (141, 149, 157 and 165), no other wrestler had previously won NCAA titles in more than two weight classes. With his four national championships with the Big Red, he also became the third wrestler in history to win four Division I national titles – Ohio State’s Logan Stieber went on to join the prestigious club shortly after Dake’s collegiate career. Dake won the 2013 Dan Hodge Trophy – the wrestling equivalent of the Heisman in college football – and was named Sports Illustrated’s collegiate male athlete of the year.
The Lansing product also brought home two New York State wrestling titles with the Bobcats and was a finalist in three other finals, accolades that eventually brought Dake to Cornell under the coaching of Rob Koll. Dake almost went to Penn State, where Koll was being considered for a coaching job, but ultimately committed to Cornell when Koll landed to the Big Red job. Dake admitted he flirted with the idea of wrestling at Ohio State, citing his parents were from Ohio and members of his family were big Buckeye fans.
With a number of youth in attendance, a question was posed to Dake about his views on sports specialization – the idea that kids should only focus on one sport with the believe putting all your time and effort into it will be more beneficial than experiencing other sports.
“I think that, from the time that you’re five until you’re 14, you should be playing as many sports as you can. Learning to control your body is really important and obviously wrestling allows you to do that, probably to the highest degree because you have to not only control your body, but you have to control someone else’s body. But there’s no throwing in it or no running in it and I think it’s very important to know those things because that’s kind of how our bodies are made – that’s why our shoulders are the way they are, that’s why our hips are the way that they are,” Dake said.
A few in the crowd had questions about weight-cutting in wrestling and what athletes did and ate to keep up with the constant changing of weight in both directions. Dake noted there were rules, for official weigh-ins, as to how much you could lose between each one, but how you got there was up to the athlete and program.
He also dispelled the idea that wrestlers need to gain or cut weight in order to gain an advantage. That process isn’t necessarily always helpful and it’s better to wrestle at a “natural weight” like Dake has been doing for Team USA in the 174-pound division in the upcoming Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City in April. Dake shared the story of how he ended up in the 165-pound division his senior year which started, and ended, with a match against his biggest collegiate rival, Penn State’s David Taylor.
“My senior year what happened was David Taylor was in the weight class above me and they wanted me to wrestle in an all-star match. It was before season and I talked to my coaches about it and he was like yeah, go do it, who cares? And I asked him, well do you want me to be able to wrestle at 157 at the beginning of the year and he’s like nah, just weigh 165 and we’ll bring you back down half way through the year – because there’s a decent program so you can only lose 1.5 percent of your body weight per week at official weigh-ins … by this time I no longer weighed 172 as I did (before) my sophomore year,” Dake said.
Dake ended up beating Taylor in that all-star match in overtime despite the “mistakes and calculation errors” he thought he made. Following the match he thought to himself he could “beat him worse” and when coach Koll told him that the team might be better if he wrestled at 165, at this time having three national championships under his belt in three different weight classes, Dake took on the challenge knowing he could drop back down midway through the season and compete at 165 again.
“It gave me something to shoot for and made me a lot better wrestler and although I wasn’t growing physically, I was growing a lot mentally and emotionally because there was a lot more to take care of. A lot of pressure and expectation on me to accomplish this goal of four-time national champ because there’s only four people who have ever done it, and I happened to be the third,” Dake said. “Most of the time people who try to suck weight, bring their weight down and be 20 pounds less than they are because they think it’ll make them stronger, it’ll make them better, but a lot of times that’s not the case. When people get that dehydrated when people don’t cut their weight or manage their weight correctly, a lot of negative can come about it; you’re not as fast, you’re more injury prone and you’re not necessarily as strong either. So when you stay at your natural weight class and compete there then usually you compete at a much higher level.”
So for Dake, with each weight class brought a new challenge and a new goal; a winner’s mindset of not becoming too complacent with your success and focusing on your next goal – although the best winners still can enjoy their victories.
Dake still trains almost every day, except for his Sunday day off, whether he’s on the mat, in the gym or just taking mental reps or analyzing his game. Someone asked if Dake thought about what he would do post-competition career and he noted that he’s always thought about coaching, preferably at the collegiate level although he does enjoy coaching kids at camps and clinics, so he could share his knowledge and experiences.
Dake’s father, Doug Dake, is a member of the Lansing Town Board and the Bobcats’ wrestling coach. Both of Koll’s kids, William (who is now a junior for Cornell) and Daniel (a two-time Section IV champion graduating this year), are products of Lansing. Needless to say there’s a lot of wrestling talent in-and-around the Ithaca area.