Thirteen years, 149 pounds and a lot of hard work has earned Buena Vista University junior Aaron Cook the No. 10 spot in wrestling's national rankings. Cook, a Waconia, Minn., native, has been making waves this year after sitting out last season due to a staphylococcus infection.
"I realized (wrestling) is not always going to be there," Cook said. "It just made me want to work more and accomplish my goals. It took a year away from me."
Cook has come a long way from the hospital bed and IVs of last year, as he won the Dakota Wesleyan Open on Nov. 10 and placed third at the Simpson Invitational on Dec. 1 en route to his 11 wins and two losses of the season through Dec. 14. Cook started the season weighing about 170 pounds, but has dropped down to just below 150 since the beginning of November.
"I work out a lot. I spend a lot of time wrestling, almost too much sometimes," Cook said. "Making weight is hard to do but it's part of wrestling. You've got to expect it's not going to be the easiest thing to do, but the rewards are worth it in the long run."
Cook started wrestling in second grade after watching his older brother, and knows what it means to commit to the sport. Besides the approximately four hours of practice and working out each day, wrestling plays a mental tug-of-war with Cook.
"Mentally he's a great competitor, that's his biggest asset," BVU coach Mark Schwab said. "He thinks a lot. But sometimes when he gets to thinking, it works against him."
Cook has also improved his technical skills immensely from his first year of college grappling. This summer, he worked at wrestling camps at the University of Minnesota and had a chance to hone his skills with the Division I athletes. His teammates and coach recognize the hard work and dedication he has put in to come back strong.
"His technique has gotten more advanced and his strength and quickness have improved immensely," junior teammate Joey Verschoor said.
"You could see he was the type of guy who was going to make it, he was going to emerge," Schwab said. "If there is one word to describe Aaron Cook, it's 'tough.' "
Cook's year-long hiatus from wrestling last year simply strengthened his resolve to give his all to the program. He is a team player who regrets missing time on the mat and wants to see his teammates succeed as much as have individual success.
"It bothers him to sit out. He cares about the team and what happens to this program," Schwab said. "He's a great leader by example. He doesn't say a lot but he doesn't need to."
The BVU wrestling program has been growing and improving since Cook's first year of college competition, and will continue to build on the determination and passion of wrestlers like him. Senior Jestin Hulegaard and first-year wrestler Mike Miille have also found spots on the national list, and more BVU names will likely be added in the upcoming months.
"In wrestling, you don't have to be better than other guys, they can have better moves," Cook said. "But if you want to win bad enough, you can beat anyone."
Cook will build on his current successes throughout the rest of this season and has hopes of an eventual All-American title.
"I don't have a medal now, but this shows I'm going in the right direction," Cook said.