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Sunday, May 19
The Indiana Daily Student

sports wrestling

‘I think we can get it done': Indiana alumni Nate Jackson's bid for an Olympic Berth in 2024

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Nate Jackson wrestled his final match wearing the cream and crimson at the 2017 NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Missouri.  

Jackson capped off a storied career for the Hoosiers by defeating Illinois’ Emory Parker in the consolation Round of 12 to seal himself as an All-American. Since Jackson’s 2017 run, no Hoosier has been able to climb the podium at the NCAA Championships and call themselves an All-American.  

His tenure at Indiana University was filled with personal accomplishments and championships, but what he has obtained is greater than just the wins. He learned profound lessons from Duane Goldman, the former head coach of Indiana wrestling.  

“He's an incredible human being, like a really good person,” Jackson told the Indiana Daily Student on Feb. 26 via Zoom. “The biggest thing that I learned from him was ‘wherever you are, be there.’” 

This lesson from Goldman emphasized being fully present in every situation, an initially puzzling concept for Jackson. Over time, he interpreted it as a directive to find purpose in every aspect of his life, ensuring his presence contributed positively to any environment. This meant embodying his true self consistently, whether at work or in personal relationships. 

Since Jackson’s days in Indiana, he has leveraged the skills and lessons gained as a Hoosier to become one of the United States’ premiere wrestlers on the international stage. He moved to New Jersey to train and has competed at the highest level of the sport, including the 2022 World Cup, where he secured a pivotal victory in Team USA’s win over Iran.  

Most recently, Jackson won a Gold Medal and was named Outstanding Wrestler at the Pan American Championships in Acapulco, Mexico. He posted four victories over his opponents, registering two tech falls and two falls to prevail as champion.  

“I was super grateful for USA Wrestling just giving me the opportunity to compete with the team,” Jackson said. “To be able to represent our country and be on that stage was pretty awesome”  

For him, this tournament is just a steppingstone towards his future goals for this year. In winning the Pan American Championships he qualified for the Olympic Trials where he will try to earn the right to represent the United States once more. This time at the 2024 Olympic Games. 

“My goal is to win an Olympic gold medal this year,” Jackson said. “I set that goal maybe a couple years ago, and it's been something I've been working toward, I feel like I'm really close. This is a qualifier, and I can't win the Olympic gold if I'm not the USA team rep. We have some of the best wrestlers in US history that are going to be in my bracket. So, it's going to be super competitive. But I feel like God has given me the tools and I just have to trust in my preparation and trust in my team. And I think we can get it done.” 

Transitioning from collegiate wrestling to the international stage is a formidable challenge, one that requires athletes to adapt to new styles, competition formats and opponents. For Jackson, this transition has been a journey of self-discovery, marked by victories and defeats. 

Jackson fell agonizingly short of the opportunity to be the United States representative for the 2022 World Championships when he fell in a best-of-three series against 2-time world champion J’den Cox. Although Jackson won the second bout, Cox cemented himself as the World Team member by defeating Jackson in the third and final bout.  

“You have to find ways to enjoy the climb and find meaning in the heartbreaks,” Jackson said. “I am competing all over the world and have a chance to explore the globe and learn how wrestling is represented in a multitude of cultures. The victories and defeats feel similar, but the learning environment is much expanded.” 

Now, Jackson turns his attention towards the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. He plans to move up weight classes into the highly competitive 97 kg group. 

Jackson, formerly a 92 kg wrestler, knows he faces a plethora of highly decorated foreign and domestic foes with the likes of 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder, bronze medalist J’den Cox of the United States and returning 2020 Olympic gold medalist Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia. 

Jackson is excited with these potential opportunities to face wrestling legends like Sadulaev, Cox and Snyder. However, his immediate focus lies on the upcoming trials, where he aims to prepare diligently, taking each day as it comes, while maintaining faith in his abilities and trusting in the process. 

“I look at it like every match in practice is the biggest match of my career,” said Jackson. “I'm trying to be an Olympic champion in the room every day, I'm trying to be an Olympic champ at home, I'm trying to be an Olympic champ ... if I'm going out for a walk.” 

Most athletes competing at the highest level, like Jackson, have high levels of motivation and discipline. However, Jackson points to one unique reason that keeps him motivated despite the arduous path ahead.  

“When I go out there and compete, it's not just my win — it's really not,” Jackson said. “It's our win, it's my communities win, it's me and my families win, it's me and my coaches win, me and my teammates win. It gives you a little bit more motivation to pick it up when you start to let your foot off the gas when you have more weight.” 

Jackson’s attributes his commitment to preserving relationships as a major factor in his success. His coaches and training partners continue to give Jackson confidence, purpose and sharpen his technical abilities on the mat. 

Jackson has been trained by the finest coaches in the country and has an excellent selection of training partners with similar goals. Jackson has trained with the likes of World Team member Chance Marsteller, Bellator contender Corey Anderson and the Princeton wrestling team. It would be remiss not to mention Reece Humphrey, who serves as Jackson’s primary coach and was named 2019 USA Wrestling Coach of the Year. 

“He can push me mentally,” Jackson said of Humphrey. “He’s been in great places: He was a three-time world team member. He’s not afraid to drop his ego when he’s wrong and say, ‘hey I think I'm wrong here, let's figure this out together,’ and the collaborative aspect of his coaching has made him the best freestyle wrestling coach, I think, in the world.” 

Jackson has been in this game a long time, and even with the help of a team behind him, the road has not always been easy. He has had to deal with injury, undergoing significant setbacks that tested both physical resilience and mental fortitude. 

In Nov. 2022, just weeks before the World Cup, Jackson sustained a debilitating injury during practice. Despite sensing the severity of the injury, he pushed through, driven by the opportunity to compete for Team USA and potentially earn a world title. 

However, it was only after competing in a World Ranking Series event in Egypt, and defeating a wrestler who later became the 2023 World Champion, he discovered he had two labral tears in his shoulder. 

This injury not only sidelined him from competition but also required surgery in July 2023. Jackson faced a challenging road to recovery, unsure if he would be ready in time for the Olympic trials. 

Through the unwavering support of his team in New Jersey, Jackson exceeded his initial recovery expectations. His journey to recovery is a testament to the resilience required to pursue excellence in the world of wrestling and underscores the harsh reality of the physical toll competitive wrestling can exact on athletes. 

Beyond physical challenges, Jackson also grappled with the delicate balance between his wrestling aspirations and his role as a family man. 

“Balance has always been a struggle for me,” Jackson said. “I believe the word ‘balance’ may be better replaced with ‘prioritization.’” 

Jackson previously attempted to juggle personal aspirations with family responsibilities, often finding himself overwhelmed. However, through introspection and faith, he found clarity in his priorities.  

“My priority is my relationship with God,” Jackson said. “My family follows. Then, my service to others ... at the end of the day, we can't really do it on our own. There's nobody who's doing everything on their own. I need those support systems. I need those relationships.” 

Despite Jackson’s move to New Jersey, he continues to foster relationships and deep connections with wrestlers from the state of Indiana. Notably, he surrounds himself with individuals like Indiana alum Joe Dubuque — a two-time national champion for the Hoosiers who now serves as the head coach for Princeton University — and Humphrey, the current head NJRTC coach who was born in Indiana and won three IHSAA state championships for Lawrence North High School. 

These connections between the Indiana and Princeton programs have led to an exciting yearly dual between the teams for two consecutive seasons.  

“Joe Dubuque coached Angel; Angel is doing a fantastic job; Joe’s at the helm now at Princeton. I don't see any reason why this dual won't happen for years to come,” Jackson said. “We're used to, as wrestlers, transitioning from being friends, and then fighting.” 

The strong leadership of Indiana head coach Angel Escobedo, who led the Hoosiers to a 7-5 dual record this season, includes multiple wins over ranked teams and victories over Princeton in their two previous duals. 

“I think Coach Escobedo has done a great job at the helm,” Jackson said. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed as a fan is the uniformity in the team’s preparation for big matches. They seem consistently ready to compete hard, win or lose. That strikes me as evidence for a strong team culture dynamic.” 

Jackson will continue to sharpen and build his skills as the 2024 Olympic Team Trials on April 19 and 20 approach. Reflecting on his training regimen and mental preparation for these upcoming challenges, Jackson emphasizes the crucial elements that underpin his approach to wrestling.  

“The aspects of my training that are of most importance are focus, discipline and confidence,” Jackson said. “Each thing I do with my time, each thing I consume will have to go through the filter of, ’is this something that pushes me away from or draws me closer to my goal?’ Confidence is the name of the game. No matter how much you train and how prepared for the moment you are, if the moment shrinks your confidence, your probability for success falters.” 

With focus, discipline and confidence as his guiding principles, Jackson is poised to tackle the challenges ahead and continue his pursuit of Olympic glory.

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