All it took was a few minutes.
Liam Cronin wore an expressionless mask on his face. His chest quickly rose and fell repeatedly as he gasped for air, stretching the crimson singlet across his body.
He felt the referee clutch his right arm, but Cronin already knew what was coming. Everyone in the arena did.
Cronin’s arm stayed glued to his side. Across from him, his competitor Brady Koontz’s elbow was hoisted into the air.
This wasn’t what Cronin wanted.
The junior wrestler competed for a spot on the U23 Greco-Roman World Team this past summer. He breezed through his early matches in Akron, Ohio, winning many by technical falls, on his way to a U.S. Tournament Championship. But he still had to get through Ohio State wrestler Koontz in a best two-of-three wrestle-off. The champion would have a chance to wrestle in the world competition in Budapest, Hungary, in the fall.
Cronin spent all summer grinding for the tournament. He traveled to California where he practiced with some of the best Greco wrestlers in the world. He pushed himself through the learning curve of Greco-style wrestling, which is almost strictly upper body throws. Cronin worked out twice a day and sharpened his technique with IU wrestling coach Angel Escobedo.
The referee turned around, pulling Cronin with him so the wrestlers could be seen by the whole gym.
Koontz had punched his ticket to Budapest.
All it took was a few minutes.
Cronin could have pouted. He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have doubted himself and his abilities.
But it doesn’t matter what he could have done. It only matters what he did.
All it took was a few minutes for Cronin to move on from the loss, to regroup and regain his positive mindset.
In no way is it because he doesn’t care. His hard work proved the contrary.
But it’s because that’s how Cronin is built. That’s how his mind works. It was an attitude instilled by his parents, his brother and his coaches. He looks for the positives in these situations.
Cronin thinks about this match just like he does every other: What did I do well? How can I get better?
“I take a loss as a learning lesson, so I either win or I learn,” Cronin said. “It hurts to lose. I don’t forget about the losses, but it definitely motivates me to get better. It’s exciting to look and see what I need to improve because I’m never going to be perfect, nobody is ever going to be a perfect wrestler.”
Finishing runner-up twice in his high school state tournament didn’t slow his progress. One loss certainly won’t hold Cronin down.
Cronin’s focused on using the experience he gained over the summer to fuel his success in the upcoming season.
“He’s hungry,” Escobedo said. “I wanted to see whether he would take a step back and be crushed or use it as motivation. He used it as motivation. He’s in there everyday working harder and harder.”
He has his sights on a national championship this year and to improve on his previous year record of 17-13.
“The process along the way, whether you accomplish it or not, is what really matters,” Cronin said. “It’s the training that you put in, the setbacks and the learning that really defines you.”
This season, it may only take a few minutes for Cronin to have his arm raised.