Hard Labor - Senior Wrestler Ryan Lewis

Go Gophers!
Go Gophers!

Go Gophers!
It's 5 a.m. in Vernal, a small community in eastern Utah. The sun won't peek over the Blue Mountain for a while yet. In this parched desert, the temperature is just above 50 degrees at this early-morning hour. It's sure to reach 85 or 90 today, though. Nine-year-old Ryan Lewis and his dad, Charlie, jump in the truck for the hour-long trek south of town to the worksite. In the truck are all the tools and parts needed today for Charlie's oil field construction business.

Ryan and his father reach the oil field and get to work. It's not long before the sun is beating down on the Lewises as they install a large pump unit, a metal frame on an oil jack. Little Ryan, the gofer (or is it gopher?) of the crane company, is climbing up and down pump units, working with concrete, carrying heavy tools, holding himself high up on the frame. He's working up a sweat in the dry heat of the desert. Before the long day is through, Ryan will have helped put up three frames, while the competing companies toil to install one frame in three days.

It's here, on the oil fields in eastern Utah, where senior wrestler Ryan Lewis developed his unnatural strength. "Everything I ever did at work was heavy, so I gained strength through that," Lewis said.

It's here, in the Great Basin Desert, where the 133-pound All- American's unwavering work ethic was infused. "There was a work ethic instilled in me out on the oil fields through my parents," Lewis said. "I've seen my dad go from nothing to having a successful company."

It's here, on the parched landscape, working long hours with his dad, where the essence of Ryan Lewis was cultivated.

RYAN LEWIS can make anyone feel lazy. If James Brown is the hardest working man in show business, then Ryan Lewis is the hardest working man in college wrestling. His willingness, nay affinity, to hard work stems from his parents, Charlie and Denise. Growing up in Vernal and working in the family business laid the foundation for Lewis' steadfast belief that working hard is the key to success.

Minnesota has seen Lewis go from a virtual unknown to having an extremely successful college wrestling career. A two-time Utah state champion in high school, Lewis became a Division II All-American at North Dakota State in his freshman season. From there, he made the jump to the big leagues at Minnesota and toiled in obscurity as a back-up behind three-year starter and 2001 All-American Brett Lawrence. But Lewis made his mark on the national wrestling scene last season, compiling a 32- 1 record, winning a Big Ten title and finishing second in a controversial NCAA championship match to Oklahoma State's Johnny Thompson.

Lewis will be the first to tell you that his rise to the top of the college wrestling world is a direct correlation to the time and effort he has put into working on his conditioning, technique, strength and overall ability. Although he's a sport studies major, one might believe Lewis is studying the laws of physics, for he is of the belief that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." In his eyes, not one workout has been wasted.

"Working out, it's what you make it every time," Lewis said. "You're going to get out of it what you put into it. I try to work hard and do everything as hard as I can for as long as I'm doing it."

Lewis is not a prideful or boastful person. He won't go on and on about his accomplishments on the mat. He becomes sheepish and modest when asked to talk about his successes. But there is one characteristic of himself of which he is unabashedly proud.

"I'm really proud of my work ethic and my intensity level. Every time I do something, any workout, I'm trying to win. If it's a sprint, I'm trying to win. If it's 15 minutes running, I want to be the one in the lead. I want to lap people. I'm always trying to do something to gain, because it doesn't do you any good to do something if you don't get any gain out of it. There's just no sense in it. That's been my philosophy - working hard and keeping a high intensity level."

Working hard to a normal person means a totally different thing to Lewis. A normal person's "high intensity level" may not even rank on Lewis' intensity meter. Lewis exists on an otherworldly plane when it comes to work and intensity. An easy workout for him might translate into a cardiovascular catastrophe for the average person. It's entirely possible to get physically tired just watching Lewis work out. Maybe four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said it best, "Everyday, I need to suffer a little bit."

Lewis agrees with the world-class cyclist. "I think that's a really good quote because if you're not suffering, you're not gaining anything," Lewis said. "If you don't take yourself to that next level everyday, you're not only not going to gain something, you're going to lose something. I think everyday you do something half-way or you don't get your body tired or you're not sore, then you're not gaining anything. You're not moving forward, you're moving backward."

Moving forward is something Lewis had to do after the 2002 NCAA Championships. Seeded first and undefeated on the season, he stormed through the bracket to the title bout. There, in the humble opinion of a good number of people, Lewis was robbed of the national title by Thompson. The Cowboy eked out a 5-4 win in contentious fashion. For Lewis, that loss was a disappointment for sure, but also a definitive motivator.

"There hasn't been a day where I haven't thought about that match or had someone remind me about that match," Lewis said. "It's something that's always on everyone's mind because it was a controversial match. Granted, things happen, but I just try to take a positive out of it. It doesn't do me any good to sit and dwell on it. I try to use it to motivate myself. On those days that I don't want to get up to work out, it's something I can think about and be up in no time. I'll get my gear on and know that I have to improve that day."

That motivation has led Lewis to take part in hellish workouts in and out of the Minnesota wrestling room. He's known in practice for his non-stop engine. He never seems to get tired. Lewis treats no opponent gently and takes no workout lightly. He's there to get better, and in his mind, the only way to do that is to punish yourself. His fellow wrestlers recognize and appreciate Lewis for what he is - a glutton for punishment.

"He's relentless," senior Luke Becker said.

"It isn't fun wrestling Lewis," redshirt freshman Tommy Owen admitted. "He never stops. He's the worst guy to wrestle. It's not that he's mean; he's not. He just never stops coming at you. You're in a scramble, you get to your feet and he's right back at you. You learn a lot wrestling Lewis. He teaches a lot. It's definitely rewarding."

Lewis' work ethic and relentlessness has also reached a fanatical level. He refuses to take water breaks, even during Minnesota's storied lengthy, punishing practices in the sweltering wrestling room.

"Drinks are for the weak," Assistant Coach Joe Russell said, mocking Lewis' philosophy on water breaks.

"I don't take water breaks. I think it's a mental toughness thing," Lewis explained. "I don't mind rinsing my mouth out and stuff, but I won't take a water break. It's something I've done since junior high. I had an old- school coach who said `You don't need a water break. It's only a two-hour practice.' I don't think there's anything wrong with water breaks, but I've just never done it."

His lack of liquid refreshment during practice is just another example of the incomparable intensity level and work ethic in which Lewis takes so much pride. If turning down water, even when sweating buckets, is going to make him mentally tougher, then hydrating will need to wait until after practice. Lewis is fully aware that what he does in the wrestling room is watched, especially by the younger wrestlers. Therefore, he embraces his role on and off the mat as someone his peers can look to for leadership.

"I'm not a real vocal person in the wrestling room. I won't yell at guys," Lewis said. "I try to lead by example. I feel like if I can do everything and everyone sees me doing it hard all the time, they will realize that they can do it."

THE ESSENCE of Ryan Lewis - working extremely hard, outlasting his opponent, keeping a high intensity level, leading by example - began on the oil fields in eastern Utah. It began with the pint-sized Lewis pouring concrete and hauling heavy tools around the desert with his dad. It all led to Lewis attaining the tools to become the hardest working man in college wrestling.

The parallels to his time on the oil fields and on the wrestling mat are not lost on Lewis.

"When I get out on the mat, it's a release for me," Lewis said. "It's something I can do and it's physical and it's hard-nosed. Growing up in a blue- collar family, we're hard labor type of people. That's the type of sport wrestling is - blue-collar. I enjoy the fight. If there's any satisfaction out of wrestling, it's getting out there and fighting. I don't mind getting hit and beat on. I like to be sore. I just like everything about wrestling."

Ryan Lewis. He can make anyone feel lazy.

Written by Assistant Director of Media Relations Kevin Kurtt It's 5 a.m. in Vernal, a small community in eastern Utah. The sun won't peek over the Blue Mountain for a while yet. In this parched desert, the temperature is just above 50 degrees at this early-morning hour. It's sure to reach 85 or 90 today, though. Nine-year-old Ryan Lewis and his dad, Charlie, jump in the truck for the hour-long trek south of town to the worksite. In the truck are all the tools and parts needed today for Charlie's oil field construction business.

Ryan and his father reach the oil field and get to work. It's not long before the sun is beating down on the Lewises as they install a large pump unit, a metal frame on an oil jack. Little Ryan, the gofer (or is it gopher?) of the crane company, is climbing up and down pump units, working with concrete, carrying heavy tools, holding himself high up on the frame. He's working up a sweat in the dry heat of the desert. Before the long day is through, Ryan will have helped put up three frames, while the competing companies toil to install one frame in three days.

It's here, on the oil fields in eastern Utah, where senior wrestler Ryan Lewis developed his unnatural strength. "Everything I ever did at work was heavy, so I gained strength through that," Lewis said.

It's here, in the Great Basin Desert, where the 133-pound All- American's unwavering work ethic was infused. "There was a work ethic instilled in me out on the oil fields through my parents," Lewis said. "I've seen my dad go from nothing to having a successful company."

It's here, on the parched landscape, working long hours with his dad, where the essence of Ryan Lewis was cultivated.

RYAN LEWIS can make anyone feel lazy. If James Brown is the hardest working man in show business, then Ryan Lewis is the hardest working man in college wrestling. His willingness, nay affinity, to hard work stems from his parents, Charlie and Denise. Growing up in Vernal and working in the family business laid the foundation for Lewis' steadfast belief that working hard is the key to success.

Minnesota has seen Lewis go from a virtual unknown to having an extremely successful college wrestling career. A two-time Utah state champion in high school, Lewis became a Division II All-American at North Dakota State in his freshman season. From there, he made the jump to the big leagues at Minnesota and toiled in obscurity as a back-up behind three-year starter and 2001 All-American Brett Lawrence. But Lewis made his mark on the national wrestling scene last season, compiling a 32- 1 record, winning a Big Ten title and finishing second in a controversial NCAA championship match to Oklahoma State's Johnny Thompson.

Lewis will be the first to tell you that his rise to the top of the college wrestling world is a direct correlation to the time and effort he has put into working on his conditioning, technique, strength and overall ability. Although he's a sport studies major, one might believe Lewis is studying the laws of physics, for he is of the belief that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." In his eyes, not one workout has been wasted.

"Working out, it's what you make it every time," Lewis said. "You're going to get out of it what you put into it. I try to work hard and do everything as hard as I can for as long as I'm doing it."

Lewis is not a prideful or boastful person. He won't go on and on about his accomplishments on the mat. He becomes sheepish and modest when asked to talk about his successes. But there is one characteristic of himself of which he is unabashedly proud.

"I'm really proud of my work ethic and my intensity level. Every time I do something, any workout, I'm trying to win. If it's a sprint, I'm trying to win. If it's 15 minutes running, I want to be the one in the lead. I want to lap people. I'm always trying to do something to gain, because it doesn't do you any good to do something if you don't get any gain out of it. There's just no sense in it. That's been my philosophy - working hard and keeping a high intensity level."

Working hard to a normal person means a totally different thing to Lewis. A normal person's "high intensity level" may not even rank on Lewis' intensity meter. Lewis exists on an otherworldly plane when it comes to work and intensity. An easy workout for him might translate into a cardiovascular catastrophe for the average person. It's entirely possible to get physically tired just watching Lewis work out. Maybe four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said it best, "Everyday, I need to suffer a little bit."

Lewis agrees with the world-class cyclist. "I think that's a really good quote because if you're not suffering, you're not gaining anything," Lewis said. "If you don't take yourself to that next level everyday, you're not only not going to gain something, you're going to lose something. I think everyday you do something half-way or you don't get your body tired or you're not sore, then you're not gaining anything. You're not moving forward, you're moving backward."

Moving forward is something Lewis had to do after the 2002 NCAA Championships. Seeded first and undefeated on the season, he stormed through the bracket to the title bout. There, in the humble opinion of a good number of people, Lewis was robbed of the national title by Thompson. The Cowboy eked out a 5-4 win in contentious fashion. For Lewis, that loss was a disappointment for sure, but also a definitive motivator.

"There hasn't been a day where I haven't thought about that match or had someone remind me about that match," Lewis said. "It's something that's always on everyone's mind because it was a controversial match. Granted, things happen, but I just try to take a positive out of it. It doesn't do me any good to sit and dwell on it. I try to use it to motivate myself. On those days that I don't want to get up to work out, it's something I can think about and be up in no time. I'll get my gear on and know that I have to improve that day."

That motivation has led Lewis to take part in hellish workouts in and out of the Minnesota wrestling room. He's known in practice for his non-stop engine. He never seems to get tired. Lewis treats no opponent gently and takes no workout lightly. He's there to get better, and in his mind, the only way to do that is to punish yourself. His fellow wrestlers recognize and appreciate Lewis for what he is - a glutton for punishment.

"He's relentless," senior Luke Becker said.

"It isn't fun wrestling Lewis," redshirt freshman Tommy Owen admitted. "He never stops. He's the worst guy to wrestle. It's not that he's mean; he's not. He just never stops coming at you. You're in a scramble, you get to your feet and he's right back at you. You learn a lot wrestling Lewis. He teaches a lot. It's definitely rewarding."

Lewis' work ethic and relentlessness has also reached a fanatical level. He refuses to take water breaks, even during Minnesota's storied lengthy, punishing practices in the sweltering wrestling room.

"Drinks are for the weak," Assistant Coach Joe Russell said, mocking Lewis' philosophy on water breaks.

"I don't take water breaks. I think it's a mental toughness thing," Lewis explained. "I don't mind rinsing my mouth out and stuff, but I won't take a water break. It's something I've done since junior high. I had an old- school coach who said `You don't need a water break. It's only a two-hour practice.' I don't think there's anything wrong with water breaks, but I've just never done it."

His lack of liquid refreshment during practice is just another example of the incomparable intensity level and work ethic in which Lewis takes so much pride. If turning down water, even when sweating buckets, is going to make him mentally tougher, then hydrating will need to wait until after practice. Lewis is fully aware that what he does in the wrestling room is watched, especially by the younger wrestlers. Therefore, he embraces his role on and off the mat as someone his peers can look to for leadership.

"I'm not a real vocal person in the wrestling room. I won't yell at guys," Lewis said. "I try to lead by example. I feel like if I can do everything and everyone sees me doing it hard all the time, they will realize that they can do it."

THE ESSENCE of Ryan Lewis - working extremely hard, outlasting his opponent, keeping a high intensity level, leading by example - began on the oil fields in eastern Utah. It began with the pint-sized Lewis pouring concrete and hauling heavy tools around the desert with his dad. It all led to Lewis attaining the tools to become the hardest working man in college wrestling.

The parallels to his time on the oil fields and on the wrestling mat are not lost on Lewis.

"When I get out on the mat, it's a release for me," Lewis said. "It's something I can do and it's physical and it's hard-nosed. Growing up in a blue- collar family, we're hard labor type of people. That's the type of sport wrestling is - blue-collar. I enjoy the fight. If there's any satisfaction out of wrestling, it's getting out there and fighting. I don't mind getting hit and beat on. I like to be sore. I just like everything about wrestling."

Ryan Lewis. He can make anyone feel lazy.

Written by Assistant Director of Media Relations Kevin Kurtt

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