In the event you click on pause on the cut up second proper after redshirt sophomore Actual Woods pins his opponent down, proper earlier than he springs as much as pound his chest in victory, you may be capable to see the tattoo on his higher again peeking out of his Cardinal singlet. It’s a W, symbolizing Woods, the household identify, struck by by two linked diamond shapes, representing sacrifice.
“We’re all gonna do it,” Woods mentioned about getting the tattoo. “All of the boys within the household.”
For Woods, household is all the things, and sacrifice is the norm. To get to Stanford, he had to surrender 4 years along with his household for an opportunity to wrestle in opposition to elite competitors, forego carefree highschool afternoons for tireless hours within the fitness center and go away his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the unfamiliar metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. Briefly, Woods is well-acquainted with giving up nearly all the things with a purpose to obtain his targets. However when he learn in July that Stanford was planning to discontinue its wrestling program following the 2021 season, Woods felt like there was nowhere to go.
“There is no such thing as a phrase that would clarify actually what it felt like,” Woods mentioned. “It was one thing I had by no means skilled earlier than. It was nearly like shedding somebody near you, somebody you’re keen on.”
It was not the lack of two extra years of Stanford wrestling that damage probably the most, however the lack of the dream that he has sacrificed a lot for since he was an undersized child with a fireplace in his coronary heart, Woods mentioned. Woods began wrestling on the age of six, when his father’s buddy, a wrestling coach who Woods calls his uncle, launched him to the game.
“My dad was a soccer coach,” Woods mentioned. “However I used to be by no means the largest child, so we knew that wasn’t going to be a lot of an possibility. So my uncle requested my dad if he may throw me into wrestling and see how that went. And immediately it simply got here naturally to me.”
Inside his first two years of wrestling, Woods had received native event after event, defeating youngsters older and greater than him.
“He was like a distant management since day one,” Woods’ father, Ray Woods, mentioned in “The Real Story,” a latest documentary made by Keep Stanford Wrestling that follows Actual Woods’ journey to Stanford. “You’d yell out ‘do that,’ and there he can be, doing the identical factor on the rattling mat.” Actual Woods all the time had one thing to show, he mentioned. Whereas his father ran faculty soccer practices, Woods would camp out for hours on the sidelines or within the weight room, attempting to point out that he may compete.
“They might be doing exercises and I’d simply exhibit,” Woods mentioned. “I used to be a tough employee, you understand? I may do some loopy issues and I’d attempt to compete with these faculty athletes once I was seven, eight years outdated. I’m aggressive, I’ve all the time been aggressive, and that’s one of many largest issues that has helped me succeed. My dad taught me that, he taught me learn how to love development.”
Quick ahead a number of years and a 14-year-old Woods is making the choice whether or not to go away his household and the life he knew in New Mexico to attend highschool in Chicago. The person accountable for the transfer was Israel Martinez, a wrestling coach who ran coaching applications for the highest wrestlers within the nation.
Years earlier, Martinez had invited a bunch of native New Mexico wrestlers to attend one in every of his coaching applications. Woods was the one wrestler who stood out, Martinez mentioned.
“The golden ticket was the unheard factor that I didn’t announce publicly,” Martinez mentioned within the documentary. “I used to be searching for a younger man who I may convey to Chicago and reap the benefits of the chance … and after the second day, I knew Actual was the man.”
The 2 shortly fashioned an in depth relationship, with Woods taking over more and more superior competitors in New Mexico and Martinez pushing him each step of the best way. However after years of working with Woods, the time to maneuver to Chicago had arrived, and the Woods household needed to decide.
“Once I was discussing schools with the Woods household, you form of point out some huge identify colleges since you’re from the midwest,” Martinez mentioned. “Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State after which the highest educational colleges, Northwestern, Michigan and none of that was getting Jen Woods off the sofa, none of that was getting Ray Woods off the seat of his pants. However Stanford Wrestling was what acquired Mama Woods off the sofa, hugging me and actually taking a look at ‘wow this may very well be the objective, the mecca of training and wrestling.’”
Quickly after, a pink Stanford “S” appeared, printed and taped to Woods’ bed room door.
“Each time I awoke within the morning, each time I used to be doing homework at 2 a.m. with my door closed, seeing that printed Stanford emblem, it was only a reminder that I couldn’t cease,” Woods mentioned.
On the different facet of his room was a blackboard. On it, Woods drew the Stanford emblem, scrawling motivational quotes on both facet, studying them again to himself when he was uncertain the place to go subsequent.
“There was a time for 2 or three years once I actually needed to give up,” Woods mentioned. “Being a younger child, as you begin to develop up you begin to cope with issues that transcend simply wrestling on the mat. However I finally realized that feeling that approach was the very best factor for me. Wrestling teaches me that willpower and dedication that you could have for the sacrifice, and after two or three years of actually not liking the game, I fell in love with it.”
So when Woods left New Mexico, moved in with a number household in Illinois and enrolled in Montini Catholic Excessive College, a preparatory college with a status for turning out prime wrestlers, he knew what he was doing it for. Nonetheless, leaving his household for the primary time in his life was a heartbreaking sacrifice for Woods.
“I’m a mama’s boy, I like my mother a lot, and I all the time needed to make my dad proud in something I did,” Woods mentioned. “When that second 12 months hit, I couldn’t be there for them, I couldn’t be there for my little brothers. I simply needed to take them to wrestling practices and decide them up from college, get ice cream with them. And I simply didn’t have these alternatives. I wasn’t in a position to be there like I needed to be there as a giant brother. I’d hear my mother cry over the telephone that I used to be gone for therefore lengthy and it simply all began turning into slightly overwhelming.”
Woods wouldn’t let the ache get in the best way of his athletic success, nonetheless. As a freshman in highschool, Woods received the Illinois state championship, garnering headlines in native newspapers, however extra importantly, consideration from Stanford recruiters. Within the spring of 2015, Stanford affiliate wrestling coach Ray Blake ’06 acquired a name from Martinez asking him to check out Woods.
“We have been having a random dialog, and on the finish, he mentioned, ‘hey, you understand, Ray, I gotta put somebody in your radar, I gotta inform you about this child Actual Woods,’” Blake mentioned. “He informed me about his background, how he met him and what he considered him, all of the sacrifices that Actual needed to make to get the place he was. He informed me that Stanford was the top objective.”
To have an opportunity at Stanford, nonetheless, Blake informed Woods that he must make some modifications to his teachers. Collectively, Blake, Martinez and Woods labored to create a plan the place Woods would take extra honors and superior placement lessons over the subsequent few years. Woods was greater than prepared to tackle the brand new problem, he mentioned. Every single day, Woods awoke at 6 a.m., drove to morning follow, went to high school, attended research corridor, wrestled, ate dinner, studied till 2 a.m. and went to sleep. By the top of eleventh grade, he held a considerably larger GPA and two extra state championships.
In July 2017, Woods dedicated to wrestle at Stanford, reaching the dream he had sacrificed a lot for.
“It was my largest objective,” Woods mentioned. “And I had completed it, but when I may get into Stanford and be content material with simply that, I wouldn’t be a lot. So then it’s on to the subsequent objective. My subsequent largest objective was to graduate at Stanford. After which to be a nationwide champion. After which to be an Olympic champion. After which proceed on after which get admitted into med college and be a psychiatrist. You all the time must preserve going, you possibly can by no means let up.”
The transition to school was swift and simple, Woods mentioned. He had already constructed a robust basis in prime wrestling, a place that many wrestlers wrestle with when adjusting to collegiate wrestling. Woods redshirted his freshman 12 months, however nonetheless blew by the competitors on his technique to a 22-1 season. In the identical season, the workforce took the highest spot on the Pac-12 championship. In 2020, coming off the convention championship and eying a nationwide one, the workforce got here out firing. Woods’ first and solely loss that 12 months got here to the top-ranked wrestler within the nation, Luke Pletcher, out of Ohio State.
“There have been 5,000 individuals there, and perhaps 100,000 individuals watching on-line,” Blake mentioned. “Lots of people, frankly, didn’t actually know the way good Actual was earlier than that match. This was his first huge check in entrance of that kind of viewers. And he was prepared. I imply, actually, going into the match, I assumed he was going to win.”
Woods got here inside a hair’s breadth of taking Pletcher down, in line with the announcers.
“I count on to win,” Woods mentioned. “Each time I wrestle, I count on to win, so it was robust. However one factor about failures is that it may be the largest trainer and the best alternative. It reveals you, proper in your face, what you could do to win, to get higher, to attain your targets. So I bounced again.”
After that loss, Woods went on a tear. He completed the shortened season with a 19-1 file within the 141-pound weight class and have become simply the sixth freshman in Stanford historical past to win the Pac-12 Championship.
Nonetheless, simply days earlier than the NCAA Championships, at which he was ranked because the No. 3 seed, the event was canceled attributable to COVID-19. So, the workforce set its sights on subsequent season, Blake mentioned. However in July, when the College introduced that it might discontinue the game following the 2021 season, bouncing again appeared like an excessive amount of of a hurdle.
“These are my largest goals, and all of them have been taken away, simply ripped away from me like that,” Woods mentioned. “They usually have been simply gone. It was like my goals didn’t exist anymore.”
Woods was at residence in Albuquerque when he heard the information. Straight away, he went to his mother and father to speak concerning the choice and what it meant for him and his household.
“You must take a look at your basis, who you might be,” Woods mentioned. “Wrestling is a part of who I’m, but it surely isn’t all I’m. Every part has been taken away from me. My goals and my targets have been taken away from me, however I do know that I’ve myself, I do know who I’m. It’s not the targets and goals that make me who I’m, it’s me who makes me who I’m.”
Nonetheless, Woods mentioned he has to maintain preventing for his goals and for the goals of so many different highschool and collegiate wrestlers. When Ryan Blake, Ray Blake’s brother, approached Woods in October about making a documentary with FloWrestling showcasing his journey to Stanford, Woods jumped on board immediately.
“I believe that lots of people can see that influence and hopefully be touched by the influence that wrestling has had for me and my household and my coaches and everybody round me who helps me,” Woods mentioned. “I simply actually hope that it helps.”
Blake mentioned that he and his brother needed individuals to see what Stanford wrestling can do for teenagers who could not have had the identical alternatives as others. Woods grew up in Albuquerque, the place highschool commencement charges are among the many lowest within the U.S. and crime rates are among the many highest, however the objective of Stanford wrestling gave him the drive he wanted to chase the long run he needed. Now, Woods is working towards a Stanford diploma, planning to attend medical college and pursue a profession as a psychiatrist.
As for wrestling, Woods stays unsure about collaborating within the upcoming 2021 season because of the elevated educational workload that he would wish to tackle with a purpose to retain eligibility on account of the July announcement. If Woods can graduate from Stanford early and enter a grasp’s program at one other college, he would be capable to wrestle for 2 extra years in line with the NCAA guidelines.
However although Woods is continually trying to the long run and looking for methods to bounce again, he refuses to overlook the W, a everlasting reminder of his household, on his higher again. When requested whether or not the W may additionally imply successful, Woods laughed.
“I suppose it may, if you wish to put it that approach,” he mentioned. “I like successful, however that isn’t actually what it’s about. Every part is for my household. It doesn’t matter what it’s all the time going to be for them.”
Contact Tammer Bagdasarian at tbag ‘at’ stanford.edu.