UKIAH — Nicolas Iversen has always been a heavyweight.
“I was two weeks late,” Iversen said this week in a classroom across the hall from the Ukiah High School gym. “I was born on Feb. 28th, and my mom had to have a C-section because I had a 16½-inch head. I was 10 pounds, 8 ounces, and I think I was 23½ inches long. So I was a big kid.”
Once, during a lesson on gravitation pull, every student in Iversen’s class was weighed. He tipped the scale at right around 150 pounds. He was in third grade.
Now a senior, Iversen stands 6-2 and weighs 285 pounds, or at least he will this morning when he weighs in for the CIF State Boys Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield. Iversen is one of eight Redwood Empire athletes who qualified to wrestle at Rabobank Arena this weekend, along with Maria Carrillo’s Cameron Casey, Cardinal Newman’s Gunnar Hayman and a quintet of Windsor athletes: Beau Colombini, Dominic DuCharme, Anthony Spallino, Perez Perez and Joe Valdes.
Iversen is still a heavyweight, though he doesn’t necessarily look it. He’s big, but there just isn’t a lot of jiggle to this guy. He holds the Ukiah High bench press record at 395 pounds, and is extremely agile for a person his size.
“His lateral movement’s amazing. He’s one of the fastest guys on our team,” said his coach, Thomas Fragoza. “He’s finishing in the top five in all of our sprints and conditioning exercises that we do. And he’s the biggest guy in the room.”
Iversen’s fast-twitch muscle allows him to compete like a wrestler at a much lower weight. Single- and double-leg takedowns and high-c snatches — these are normally the tools of the 150-pounder.
“Nic can do all that stuff, and he can do it against guys his size,” Fragoza said. “And they just don’t know what to do with that. Some of these guys that will place at state will literally not have a takedown or a shot to the legs that they use.”
Iversen, who has worked closely with long-time coach Adam Aikman at Ukiah, had all the physical skills to frustrate opponents as a junior last year. What he lacked, he says, was mental resilience. If he lost a match, Iversen would simmer in the failure. It would affect his performance in other matches.
Fragoza said the turnaround began not in a sweaty wrestling room, but on the trails of the Emigrant Wilderness in Stanislaus National Forest. Fragoza is a big believer in mental and spiritual growth. Each year, he takes a half-dozen or so wrestlers on a backpacking trip. Iversen was part of last year’s excursion. They left right after school ended last June.
“I don’t make it easy on the kids,” Fragoza said. “They’re really excited and they think, ‘Oh, camping!’ And then we get on Mile 10 going uphill and they’re like, ‘Uhh, what did I get myself into?’ ”
They hiked 25 miles in, 25 miles out, with five days of moving and one rest day in the middle. Along the route they talked about everything but wrestling. Often it was contemplative.
“When you’re walking for eight hours straight, you think about life a lot,” Fragoza said. “And I tune kids into that before we leave. I say, ‘Hey, I want you to think about stuff.’ And next thing you know, they’re like, ‘Wow, what am I doing with myself?’ ”