BREWER, Maine — The strategic side of wrestling often leads to competitors shifting weight classes to avoid various opponents or skipping regular-season or even conference championship meets to remain as physically fresh as possible in their quest for state championship glory.
Brewer High School senior Victor Irwin, the reigning Class A state champion at 195 pounds and undefeated in 43 matches so far this season, wants no part of such shortcuts.
His love of the sport is a 12-month-a-year passion.
“I won states last year and I didn’t expect that to happen, but I didn’t stop training,” said Irwin, who last weekend won the Eastern A crown in the 220-pound division and will compete for a second straight state title on Feb. 16 at Sanford High School. “I kept training like I wasn’t a state champion because for me it’s more for the sport and not really for the accomplishment. Winning is great, but a lot of wrestlers during the season won’t fight many matches because they feel like they need to save their bodies because it will make them better for states.
“For me, when I sign up for a sport I want to compete as much as I can because that’s what I care about, and from talking with Olympians and college coaches and other wrestlers the best thing you can do is compete and that will help you better yourself because by either winning or losing you will know what you need to work on.”
Irwin’s dedication to the sport was cemented in great part during the offseason, specifically during the summer after his sophomore year when he attended the prestigious J. Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp in Edinboro, Pa.
The 14-day camp proved grueling — 15 campers quit during the first week alone — but Irwin found self-confidence in surviving that experience.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve gone through in my life, but it changed me mentally and at that point I came back for my junior year and I was fresh,” said Irwin. “I was working out all the time, I was winning all my matches and I felt like I couldn’t be stopped. Before I knew it I just kept climbing and climbing and my feeling became to take it or leave it — to take the win or leave everything on the mat trying.”
Irwin, who was motivated to attend the Robinson camp after losing his first two matches at the 2011 state wrestling championships, came all the way back the following winter, avenging a loss in the Eastern Maine finals to Christian Coons of Windham by pinning his rival in 4 minutes, 9 seconds to win his Class A state championship match.
Irwin’s most recent offseason was highlighted by his participation on Team Maine last summer in the annual Maine-Nebraska Friendship Series, where he became the first Maine wrestler to go undefeated (5-0) against Cornhusker State competition since the event began in the mid-1980s.
This winter he rarely has been challenged while remaining undefeated — pinning all seven of his opponents while winning the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Eastern A titles.
“He’s a kid who just loves wrestling and continues to do it all year round,” said Brewer wrestling coach Patrick Ahmann. “From the time we ended our season last February he hasn’t stopped wrestling, and that’s tough.
“The toll it takes on your body and also the mental part of it is grueling, so for someone to be able to put himself through a season like we do for three months and then continue to train throughout the year takes a huge commitment and that’s why he’s had the success he’s had. He reaps the benefits of working hard.”
That hard work also has resulted in some technical improvements.
“If you talk to anyone in wrestling they know Victor is a head-and-arm guy, an upper-body wrestler and a very good upper-body wrestler,” said Ahmann. “But you’ve got to be able to develop leg shots, and he’s developed a very good leg shot in the last 12 months and that just comes from him wrestling all the time.”
Irwin plans to spend next year as a postgraduate at the Hyde School in Bath, then hopes to attend the University of Southern Maine to continue his wrestling career as well as pursue a criminal justice degree, with an eye toward using some of the tools he’s gained from wrestling to become a lawyer one day.
“At first wrestling was an outlet for me and I didn’t really understand the sport,” he said, “but wrestling has become a tool of life for me, because it’s not something I’m going to do for the rest of my life but it has taught me so many things. The No. 1 tool is that what you put into something is what you’re going to get back later in life. Maybe I can use wrestling to get a scholarship, and then later in life all the people that have helped me in wrestling, I’m going to help back.”
In Irwin’s immediate future is his pursuit of another state championship — albeit delayed a week, because Saturday’s scheduled meet was postponed in anticipation of a snowstorm expected to hit the region beginning Friday.
Irwin said the state championships should provide him plenty of competition, particularly from defending 220-pound Class A state champion Josh Andrews of Massabesic in Waterboro, who went on to finish fifth at the 2012 New England championships and won the 2013 Western A crown last weekend.
“I’m just going to go out, wrestle and have a good time,” he said, “but in terms of winning I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But I’m not afraid because I love the sport, and I really want to do the best I can.”