In five years at Princeton, 149-pound graduate senior Chris Perez picked up 41 wins and made an NCAA Championship appearance his junior season.
With all this success came adversity. Three major knee injuries during those years caused the current Hoosier to miss more than two seasons of wrestling in total.
All of these injuries taught Perez, 23 years old, how to find ways to win, despite not always being fully healthy.
“You have to be used to not being 100 percent,” Perez said. “You have to find ways to win. When you are out there, and your knee shifts, and you are buckling up, it’s really easy to quit on yourself and make excuses.”
Perez said his maturity has grown through these injuries and helped him learn to pick his shots carefully, understand he is not 100 percent and find a way to make it work because he won’t get any matches back.
That gained maturity is something he brought with him at IU while pursuing an MBA from the Kelley School of Business.
IU Coach Duane Goldman knows Perez’s Princeton coach well, which made Perez’s desire to get an MBA and continue wrestling fit perfectly.
Goldman said Joe Dubuque, the Princeton coach, was a two-time national champion for him at IU, which helped Goldman find Perez and Perez find IU to continue his academic and athletic career.
When Perez got to Bloomington, he was amazed at the difference in the size of the schools.
“The biggest difference is IU is nine times the size of it,” Perez said. “I graduated with 1,400 or 1,500 kids, and there are 45,000 kids here. That’s the biggest difference in just walking around. By the time it was my senior year I knew everybody, and now I am like just a snowflake.”
Perez might be a snowflake among the rest of the students at IU, but in the wrestling room, he brings the maturity and perspective needed to become a leader on the Hoosier wrestling team.
“I think coming from a different program, an Ivy League program, and having been through a senior season there, he brought a lot of maturity and good perspective to our team,” Goldman said. “He fit in to our team without missing a beat. He is very personable; that was able to ingrain himself with the guys. It’s like he has been here for four or five years.”
In fitting in with the team, Perez has built a bond with 184-pound fellow senior No. 6 Nate Jackson thanks to their desires to be true students of the sport.
Perez said they both have taken the younger guys under their wings and watched a lot of wrestling together to learn, realize what they are doing right and tweak their future performance to help themselves and the rest of the team get better while becoming better students of the sport.
Taking guys under his wing is something Perez said he enjoys doing and wants to be remembered for the positive attitude he brings to practice and matches everyday.
Perez said he always comes in with a smile because wrestling is a brutal and tough sport.
The New York native said showing guys how to dig deep through adversity is something he wants the team to remember him for as well.
As Perez’s final season at IU and his wrestling career come to an end, he will get to wrestle his last match in the University Gym with his mom watching. Last season at Princeton, Perez was hurt and unable to wrestle in his senior night.
“It will be fun to strap on the singlet one more time at home in front of IU’s fans,” Perez said. “It’ll be good, my mom is coming out to see me wrestle. It’s been an interesting adjustment, going from senior to super senior, but the new guy. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic.”
With the adjustment, one Perez has taken in full stride, Perez will finish his career when he probably shouldn’t be on the mat anymore, reminding the guys to take advantage of their time on the mat.
“I have gone through a lot of injuries and probably shouldn’t be wrestling, but I am still kicking,” Perez said. “When guys get down on themselves I would like them to reflect and think about why they are out there, to really enjoy their short time on the mat because it’s been six years now and it’s flying by. Before you know it, it goes away. It goes quick.”