Growing up in Iowa, wrestling culture (Ed. note: real wrestling) was strong – especially in the 80s. The legendary Dan Gable was in the midst of 9 consecutive national titles and 25 consecutive Big Ten titles with the Hawkeyes. Ed. note: Not a typo. I wrestled for two years; I was not good or driven but I joined the team because my friends were there. The truth is, dedicating myself like that wasn’t who I was then.

When he was young, Spencer Lee threw a 2nd place medal in the trash;
his father dug it out. The next day, Lee asked for it back and
hung it on the door of his room, so every time he opened the door he would
hear the medal bounce and be reminded of the way he felt that day.

When you are truly committed to something, you do whatever it takes to make it happen. Whether it’s a failure that drives you or something else, you put in the work because it matters to you. Some days, though, the drive isn’t there. In reality, no one stays peak motivated all the time. The difference for elite athletes and high performers is that their down days are still more productive than the average person.


During his senior year in high school, Lee tore his right ACL. He continued to
wrestle, getting to 35-0 that season and 144-0 for his career before losing in the
championship on an iffy takedown as time expired. At one point, seeing the pain
he was dealing with, his father told him he should shut it down – he had nothing
to prove. Lee told him he knew he would regret forever not trying, not seeing
if he could pull it off on one leg.

Challenges and how we respond to them are what shapes us. You can look at them as setbacks, or insurmountable, or you can attack them head on. In the end, you can find a way to succeed if you keep working. You may not win the crown, but you can damn sure try.

On March 20, 2021, Lee won his third NCAA title and led Iowa to a team crown,
their first in 11 years. There were murmurs about injury as he “only” outscored
his opponents 60-8. Limping noticeably, he didn’t look like vintage Spencer. Later he
revealed he had torn his left ACL 8 days earlier, and in fact had re-torn his right ACL
in the 2019 NCAA final but never had it repaired.

Spencer Lee is one of the best, if not the very best, wrestler of his generation. He’s insanely talented, to be sure. But he is also driven and determined, getting every ounce from the talent he has. He only accepts the absolute best from himself. I’m no Spencer Lee, but I can give everything I have to reach my goals – I can control that much.

“I’m wrestling with no ACLs. Whatever man. I didn’t want to tell anyone.
Because eff excuses. Excuses are for wusses.”

Spencer Lee

Team = Tribe

Wrestling can be very solitary. Teammates and coaches support you but in the end you are on the mat with your opponent, one on one. That mirrors life in some ways: your friends, family, and co-workers support you, but it comes down to you facing your fears and obstacles one on one. No one else can do that for you, and you can’t do it for them.

“We suffer together, we love together, we fight together. No matter what, we’re
going to get through it… you have to believe in those around you… and
you can do anything.”

Spencer Lee, talking about his teammates

There’s a reason people, especially in high-stress jobs, tend to hang with the same. Who else can really understand what you are feeling? After all, having that tribe you can rely on, who can relate to you, makes you stronger. The shared experiences can pull you closer together. In the end, though, you are the one on the mat. Take their support, add in your own drive, and turn it into your answer. Be the very best you.

After all, excuses are for wusses.

Cover photo courtesy of I hold no rights on Spencer Lee – no one could.