Life On The Road

Feb. 16, 2007


It seemed easy enough: two matches in under 48 hours on the weekend of Jan. 19-21. The weekend started with a match against Oklahoma State Friday night, then a two-hour flight to Chicago Saturday morning, then a match with Northwestern at 2 pm Sunday afternoon.

However mother nature had something to say about those plans. Sleet and snow forced most flights out of Oklahoma City, OK, to be cancelled, including the plane the Iowa wrestling team was supposed to be on.

On to Plan B, which involved renting a van and three sport utility vehicles, all to be driven by Iowa coaches. Eight hundred miles and a two-hour stop in St. Louis later, the Hawkeyes arrived in Evanston, 12 hours behind schedule. Piece of cake, right?

Welcome to the road life of being a Hawkeye wrestler, a balancing act of focusing on wrestling while always keeping on eye on the weather.

“You’ve got to keep an eye on it,” said Head Coach Tom Brands. “You keep looking at the developments and make decisions as it happens. You can keep ahead of it as you’re educated. What happened with Oklahoma State and Northwestern, five days before that we were tracking it.”

Luckily for the Hawkeyes, Brands is experienced in watching the weather. He was prepared for the ice storm and the cancellations that came with it.

“You adjust on the move. Things come up and you educate yourself as they come up and make decision. You talk to the staff. There’s no manual for it, and you are ready for it. You don’t drag your feet, and you don’t wait to see a whole lot. When you see the cancellations, you go to plan B,” Brands said.

Even though the weather doesn’t change travel plans that often, it’s something that’s always on the back of Brand’s mind. When the schedule comes out, he starts making travel plans right away.

“You look at it way in advance. You keep an eye on airfare, especially when you’re flying. You make adjustments as it goes. You want to make arrangements, the sooner the better, but you don’t just make the first arrangements,” said Brands.

For shorter road trips, the team rents buses and vans. Several Iowa teams, such as football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, charter flights when traveling long distances. However Hawkeye wrestlers rely on commercial flights. Brands said chartering flights isn’t in the budget and commercial flights are sufficient.

The longer road trips do have some advantages. It gives the athletes time to focus on their competition as well as get their school work done.

“You must get your work done. The first thing when you’re on the road is to get ready for competition. With down time, you get school work done,” Brands said.

Being in a confined area can also help build team chemistry, Brands believes.

“It’s good for you. You get in a tight environment for longer periods of time,” he said.

Longer trips also require both athletes and coaches to be flexible and patient. Even though Brands said he hasn’t experienced many cases where the weather greatly interrupted travel plans, he’s learned to deal with it as it comes.

When he was a wrestler at Iowa in the late 80s and early 90s, Brands encountered travel adjustments on a trip to Minnesota. The team flew to Minneapolis together, but rough weather forced them to split the team, with half the squad flying back and the other half driving in vans. The weather was so bad the plane carrying half the team had a hard time getting clearance to land. Brands said the vans made it back to Iowa City before the plane.

While some may think traveling long distances can have adverse affects on muscles, Brands said that wasn’t so. During the 800 mile trek to Northwestern, the team stopped several times to stretch their legs and even found a fitness club to work out in St. Louis.

“It’s not like we get there as quick as possible,” Brands said. “We stop for work outs and stop for meals. We’re not lollygagging by any stretch, but it’s not just go, go, go.”

Jennifer Bissell, Iowa Sports Information