By Conor Hockett | BSU at the Games
In 2008, Jared Frayer decided to give up the sport of wrestling—his Olympic dream was dead.
After he finished serving as a training partner for the US Olympic wrestling team in Beijing, Frayer was heading back home to teach and coach high school wrestling in Florida.
Helping others get ready for their matches was the closest he’d get to the Olympic Games, and Frayer accepted that.
But it all changed when, just before leaving China, Frayer received a strange job offer for someone who graduated from the University of Oklahoma.
“As crazy as it was, the University of Iowa is what brought me back (into wrestling),” Frayer said. “They offered me a job in Beijing, and I took it. I went half a year (at Iowa) and then asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I wrestle these guys every day and I should still compete. That brought me right back into it.”
At the 2012 Olympic Trials in April, nearly four years had passed since Frayer had taken the assistant coaching position at Iowa, a rival for Oklahoma in college wrestling.
Frayer was back in Iowa City, Iowa, but not as a coach. He had just beaten Brent Metcalf in the 66kg weight class in freestyle wrestling to qualify for his first Olympic Games.
“Physically I was there, but mentally I wasn’t ready to make that (the Olympic) step (earlier in my career),” Frayer said. “I don’t know whether it was becoming a father or just growing up a little bit, but I made that jump mentally and that allowed me the confidence and ability to make the team.”
At 33 years old, Frayer’s journey to London wasn’t ideal. But after his daughter, Khloe, was born with Down syndrome, Frayer used her struggle to inspire himself, his teammates and a teenager from Florida to never give up on their dreams.
A Wrestling Background
With a dad, David, who wrestled in college and coached after, Frayer was born into the sport. Ever since he was a baby, Frayer said he followed his dad to practices and always wanted to get involved.
“In Florida, wrestling isn’t as big,” Frayer said. “When I was young the sport wasn’t where it is now. So I had to do about everything—go all over the country (to wrestle). I was blessed with a father who was able to do that. Summer times were filled with traveling, and you wrestled as many tournaments as you could.”
David coached Frayer at Countryside High School in Florida where he won three state championships before heading to Oklahoma.
Frayer was a two-time All-American at Oklahoma and finished as the 2002 NCAA runner-up at 149 lbs. After graduating, all his efforts turned toward making the Olympic team.
Before qualifying in 2012, Frayer’s career resembled a journeyman—countless clubs and teams throughout the US and even a few stints overseas.
Wrestling in Iran, Frayer said he remembers fans heckling him about his high school record. Training sessions in India and tournaments in Cuba were the norm. He’d seen and done just about everything in the sport of wrestling.
He was always good enough to stick around, but was missing the big breakthrough into the Games.
In 2010, after losing to Metcalf in the World Team Trials, Frayer decided he was done finishing second. He’d made a career of it after finishing runner-up at the 2006 and 2009 US World Team Trials along with not qualifying for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.
The loss was a turning point in his career. He took a year off to have Khloe and that’s when everything changed. He found a new motivation and mental edge through watching his daughter.
“Now that I look back at it, I think it (having Khloe) played a huge part,” Frayer said. “I think being able to take that year to focus on her and focus on the family really allowed me to grow up and mature a little bit. I think it played a major part in me being able to lay it on the line and get the victory (to qualify).”
Six months into the pregnancy, Frayer and his wife, Nicole, found out Khloe would be born with Down syndrome. It was a shock to both of them, but he said they tried to just learn as much as they could about the disease.
“It’ll make a man look inside himself and find out what he’s all about,” Frayer said. “I remember where I was when it was 100 percent. You think you’re the only guy in the world (dealing with it). But you find out it’s a situation people go through and they grow from. You hear more good things about children with Down syndrome than you do anything bad. It’s just an awesome experience.”
It was an experience that, mathematically, he and his wife were destined to go through.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the odds of having a child with Down syndrome are 1 in 1,250 (.08 percent). Frayer said the blood tests from he and Nicole were higher than normal. Khloe had a seven percent chance of being born with the disease and, if they had a second child, the chances were five percent.
It was a risk Frayer doesn’t regret taking.
“Khloe is just a ball fire,” Frayer said. “I love hearing her in the background when I’m talking to my wife—love Skyping her. She’s nonstop smiling. She struggles, but she has her own way and I think that’s going to be her whole life. She’s so easy to love—just a joy.”
Frayer said Khloe is delayed in her speech and movements, but is now walking. Despite her limitations, he and Nicole decided to have a second child.
“I think everybody takes that (the odds) into consideration after having a firstborn that has Down syndrome,” Frayer said. “It’s out of our hands. My wife and I have a pretty strong spiritual background. The Lord blessed us with Khloe, and if we had another one (child with down syndrome), we were going to love her just the same.”
Blessing in Disguise
Since Khloe was born, however, everything seems to be going Frayer’s way. Nicole gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Beckett Olivia, two weeks ago. She was due during the Games, but was born during a three-day period between Frayer’s training camp and his trip to London.
“She (Beckett) is just so little and so precious,” Frayer said. “She was (delivered) five weeks earlier than Khloe was. I got less than two days with her, and I just can’t wait to get back to her. It was definitely a blessing. The Lord had us under his watch, and we were able to sneak her in there.”
Khloe is 19 months old now and Beckett is a perfectly healthy baby. Being the spiritual man he is, Frayer said something has been on his side.
Frayer’s good fortune through a life of struggles has inspired teammates to train even harder.
“Our stories are a lot alike,” Sam Hazewinkel said, the US’s 55kg wrestler. “We both wrestled in Florida, both wrestled at OU. It’s an inspiration to me to watch him fight through. Seeing what he goes through and training with him is awesome. When everything is going on and I start thinking things are going hard for me, I just think, how can I complain? This guy is fighting through all of this and has the best attitude in the world.”
Frayer’s road to the Olympic Games may be the hardest and longest on the team, but it doesn’t take away from the respect other wrestlers have for him.
“My first tour with him in ’08, he was telling me about how he felt like the old guy,” Jake Herbert said, the US’s 84kg wrestler. “Here we are four years later and he’s still going at it. He’s knowledgeable, he’s experienced and Jared is an all-around great guy. It (Frayer’s journey) show’s me this isn’t it for me.”
This hope for others comes because Frayer is the oldest guy on the team by five years. Hazewinkel said the guys don’t give him grief because he’s as dangerous as anyone.
“I’m calling it right now—the dude is gonna crush some people,” Hazewinkel said. “Mark my words, he’s getting some hardware. Would not surprise me at all if that guy comes away with gold. Of the whole team, he’s looked the best the last two weeks. I didn’t think I’d say that with Jordan Burroughs on the team, but he’s been amazing. In simulation matches, Frayer was pinning them (opponents), teching them—just making it look easy.”
Frayer said the visible improvement stems from the recent time devoted to his individual wrestling.
“All these years, I’ve been worried about other guy getting the medal when I’m the training partner,” Frayer said. “Now the last two months have been just me. It hasn’t been since I was probably in college that I focused on just me. I’ve made so much gain in the last month and a half. There’s no reason I’m not turning that outcome around (into something).”
Although his teammates think differently, Frayer acknowledges he’s not the favorite to win a medal. Mehdi Sadegh Taghavi Kermani of Iran has won two of the last three World Championships (2009, 2011) and will be his toughest test.
None of that fazes him though.
To win the Olympic Trials, Frayer had to defeat Metcalf, the same person who beat him at the World Trials in 2010, and the same man he coached for a brief time at Iowa.
“I just had the belief I could beat him because I have in the past,” Frayer said. “I had the approach that it was my match and I was going to take it from him.”
A Wish Granted
It’s that kind of attitude which comes out in Frayer’s wrestling. That’s why Blake Chandler, a 19 year old from just outside Tampa, Fla., has been a fan for years.
Chandler is a wrestler himself, but his situation is different. He is limited to grappling with one leg after a vicious bone cancer forced an amputation of his left leg.
Diagnosed with osteosarcoma March 29, 2011, Chandler managed to fight the disease for nearly a year before losing his leg.
As part of the Make A Wish Foundation, Chandler was allowed to visit the US Olympic wrestling camp on August 7 to meet with all the athletes.
But the one wrestler he wanted to meet more than any other was Frayer.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a freshman,” Chandler said. “I watch his moves and he’s just an amazing wrestler. When I was granted the wish to come here, his parents came to see me and gave me T-shirts and presented me with most of the stuff he has as well. His parents have been awesome to me.”
A handful of US coaches also went down to Florida to present Chandler with tickets and gear at his high school. He was flown to London and was allowed to watch practice and get invaluable instruction.
“I’m having a blast,” Chandler said at the practice session. “I feel very privileged just to be standing in the training room with everybody.”
His journey isn’t stopping there. Two weeks after his amputation, Chandler said he was back on the mat. He hopes to wrestle adult leagues in Florida and have fun with it.
“It’s pretty weird going from wrestling two legs to one,” Chandler said. “It’s going to be all technique and I love it. Learning how to shoot and defend my one leg is pretty hard. Defending on one, I have only one leg to worry about. They’re only going to attack my one leg, so it’s a bonus in a lot of different ways.”
It’s easy to see why Chandler is attracted to Frayer. Their personalities are positive and infectious. Despite each other’s limitations at home or on the mat, they’ve overcome every obstacle.
The Olympic obstacle is the last for Frayer. He’s going into his second year as an assistant coach at Oklahoma and said he looks forward to getting back to recruiting. After all his travels and relocations due to wrestling, he is finally at home back in his college town.
“I was there for six years right out of high school,” Frayer said. “There are so many people around the program that I’m so close with. There’s nothing like flying into TIA (Tampa International Airport) and going back home. But, definitely, Norman, Oklahoma, is my second home and a place I feel really comfortable in.”
The underdog role is another thing Frayer finds comfort in. When he competes on Sunday, likely in his last Olympic Games, it’s exactly the situation Frayer will find himself in.
“I’ve done my best wrestling when I wasn’t supposed to win,” Frayer said. “I don’t think there’s a journalist or a wrestling historian that gives me a shot and that’s exciting to me.”