Hanging up the headgear: Concussions spell end to Deitchler's remarkable run

by Jason Olson
Sports Editor

Deciding when the right time to retire is something no one wants to deal with.

Anoka graduate, Olympic and Gophers red shirt sophomore wrestler Jake Deitchler has decided to end his wrestling career after concussion symptoms wouldn’t go away, according to a press release from the University of Minnesota Jan. 4.

Anoka graduate Jake Deitchler, right, became the winningest wrestler in program history with 201 wins and three state titles. He also represented the US in the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, China before wrestling for the University of Minnesota. File photo

The 2008 U.S. Olympian and fifth Anoka-native to represent the Stars and Stripes in Greco-Roman wrestling said he was at peace with his decision.

“It’s been quite a while now,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with concussion issues for the last three years now, but it goes back to when I was seven years old. I’m quite at peace with the decision now.

“I’m just happy to have my health, family and my support system so it doesn’t hurt so bad. I’ve got my family, girlfriend, great teammates and coaches all helping me out.”

Longtime coach and fellow Anoka/Olympian/Gophers wrestler Brandon Paulson said Deitchler’s decision was coming for a long time.

“Since November he started realizing his head wasn’t right,” Paulson, a silver medalist in the 1996 Olympic Games and owner of Pinnacle Wrestling School.

He said Deitchler was still having problems this summer. “I’d work him out cross training not wrestling and he stayed off the mat until mid-August, early September,” Paulson said.

They worked on maintaining strength and getting tired, according to Paulson. “When he got on the mat he seemed fine, but then the symptoms came back,” Paulson said. “It’s been a hard stretch for him.”

Deitchler, a three-time state champion who had a 201-38 prep career, including a 125-1 mark over the last three seasons, tried to mount a comeback to the mat this fall, ending an 18-month leave from competition.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” he said. “I was having short-term memory issues and headaches. Something was off and I was looking for answers. It is what it is. I love to wrestle.

“I know it sounds kind of bad, but whose career really ends in a perfect way. A lot of times it doesn’t end in a good way. At least I can say I won my last match.”

That was a win over No. 9 ranked Dylan Alton as the fourth-ranked Gophers upset defending NCAA National Champion Penn State. That match came after Deitchler returned to competition Nov. 12 and promptly won the 157-pound title at the Bison Open in Fargo, N.D.

“It felt just like every other time I’ve gotten out there on the mat,” he said about the match in Pennsylvania. “What I learned was that I love the process almost more than the actual event. I love being on the road with the guys, going through all the training and practices that go into preparing. Those are the things you learn to love about the sport.”

Dealing with the symptoms like headaches and short-term memory loss were overwhelming for Deitchler at times.

“We have guys on the team now dealing with issues of concussions but no there wasn’t anyone to really relate to,” Deitchler said. “I was calling my mom and dad at times wanting to be done with it all. There were definitely times where I wanted to quit and give in. But that’s also why I have no regrets. I’ve been waiting for two, two-and-a-half years and now I know it’s not going to work out because I gave all I had. It just wasn’t in the cards and when God closes one door He opens another.”

Looking back on all he’s accomplished from a teenager to a young man, Deitchler still feels blessed. “It’s really cool!,” he said. “I was OK with being done. A lot of people are mad they didn’t accomplish this or that, but things really turned out for me in 2008 and I was able to wrestle in seven different countries after the Olympics. [smooth=id:468]

“It was fun to fly some 40 hours to wrestle somewhere overseas and those are the things you’ll never forget like wrestling the No. 2-ranked guy in the world in Cuba. I lost, but it was still a lot of fun.”

Deitchler returned to Anoka High School once college finals were over to see how this year’s team looked and to see a few familiar faces again, like Paulson, Jake Begin and Anoka coach Todd Springer. “They have some good stuff going on and I always love going back and helping out,” Deitchler said.

Another key to the process was another trip with Gophers coach J Robinson to renowned concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins at the University of Pittsburgh to discuss his situation.

His third trip to see Collins came to the conclusion not to wrestle anymore.

During an earlier trip to see Collins, more testing took place and Collins waited for positive test results to return before giving Deitchler the OK to resume wrestling activities.

Dr. Collins is the same specialist who is working with Sidney Crosby and Justin Morneau to help resolve their issues as well.

“You’re just seeing more and more brain injuries now and when a guy like Sidney Crosby goes down for as long as he has or you see Justin Morneau having problems as well and you don’t have an idea when they’ll be able to get back either,” he said.

Crosby was seeing Collins at the same time as he was, Deitchler said.

Morneau visited Collins two days before Deitchler’s second visit. “I was fortunate to see the best guy and get the right answers,” Deitchler said.

Even though he won’t be strapping on the maroon and gold headgear, Deitchler hopes to remain involved with the program in whatever capacity Robinson and the coaching staff want while he finishes working on his bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in American Indian studies. He still has 18 months before graduating.

“It’s been a weird time, trying to figure it all out,” Deitchler said. “But I’d love to coach and help out with Brandon Paulson. I’ve worked with Chad Erickson and helped him around his gym too, but I’ll always be around the team and the guys.”

Paulson began coaching Deitchler after losing an epic three-overtime match during the 2004 Olympic trials.

A July 11, 2008 New York Times story by Greg Bishop explained their connection and Deitchler’s rise from prep star to Olympian,

“After the loss, Paulson told reporters everything happened for a reason. When he returned to Minnesota, he found the Anoka High wrestling coach, Todd Springer, waiting in his driveway. He wanted to discuss a ninth grader named Jake Deitchler,” the story states.

“Soon, Paulson and Deitchler began working out. Paulson gave Deitchler his telephone number and told him to call anytime. Big mistake.”

“I started working with him a little bit his freshman year and he told me that he wanted to be the best so we started training heavily,” Paulson said.

Deitchler was the 2007 NHSCA Junior National Champion at 145 pounds and went on to represent the United States at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, at 66 kg./145.5 pounds in the Greco-Roman division, becoming the first high schooler to make the U.S. Olympic team since Mike Farina in 1976. To reach the Olympic team he defeated 2006 World Bronze medalist Harry Lester in the semifinals and 32-year-old Faruk Sahin in Las Vegas at the 2008 Olympic Trials.