Jude Swisher claims 100th wrestling win, commits to Penn
According to the NCAA, there are 77 NCAA member institutions that sponsor Division I wrestling and are eligible to compete in the National Championship. All 77 programs support about 2,400 wrestling student-athletes across the country, of which 330 compete at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Next College Student Athlete, or NCSA, estimates that among all reported high school wrestlers in the country, only 1 percent will compete at the DI level. Jude Swisher, a Bellefonte Area School District senior who studies through the Bellefonte eLearning Academy, is one of them, after committing to the University of Pennsylvania.
Claiming his 100th win as high school wrestler in December after pinning Bald Eagle Area’s Mason Reese, the district’s director of public relations was able to catch up with Swisher about his passion for the sport, and all the things that make him who he is as a student, athlete, son, brother, friend, child of God and more.
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Question: You’re a BeLA student, and have been with the program for a while. Explain the advantages of virtual learning as it pertains to academics, while also working around your very-busy wrestling schedule.
Answer: I was homeschooled from sixth-grade through ninth-grade under a cooperative program called Classical Conversations, and I loved it. But I also knew I wanted to be a Division I athlete that has a very strict set of requirements. At one time I found that I’d only have half the credits I’d need to be on pace to graduate, despite working through what I thought would be enough, and I said, “mama this ain’t working. We need to find classes that get the boxes checked to get this done.” We ended up moving into the Bellefonte Area School District (from State College) and found that online school was an easy decision. It was the best of all the worlds. I can make my own schedule; I can choose my classes, while still getting the benefits of the high school and achieve my goals. Plus, I get the support needed from someone like (BeLA Coordinator) Ms. (Rebecca) Leitzell who is super helpful.
Q: Take me through your wrestling schedule.
A: It’s like a fulltime job. But again, it’s all stemming from the flexibility of BeLA. I lift three times a week, practice twice daily, have several matches a week – on top of school, church and family commitments. Monday is my big day – I go to wrestling for nine-to-10 hours.
Q: Outside of wrestling for Bellefonte Area, where do you train?
A: M2 Training Center in Pleasant Gap, headed by Olympic goal medalist David Taylor. He’s something special and is there two or three days a week. There are other coaches, as well, but the M2 Training Center is what I believe took me to the next level in my wrestling. I’m there at every single practice, and that’s all year long.
*To learn more about Taylor, visit this link: David Taylor. Photo provided by Penn State.
Q: To put in that kind of work must also come with a lot of passion for the sport. Is that an accurate assumption?
A: That’s the purest form of it – caring about something so much and so deeply that you’re willing to sacrifice all of your time and energy. Every waking hour I spend thinking about wrestling and I sacrifice a lot for it. A big thing I think holds people back is not being liked or having friends or being cool, but as it turns out, I know the people who care about me now are going to care about me regardless, and the friends I made are the closest I ever had, so I stay winning in all aspects.
Q: You also seem to have a really positive mindset. How much of your hard work and success is about having a good attitude?
A: It’s everything. If you’re negative, then you’re wasting your time and energy, and you can’t make the most of your opportunities. I believe my positive mindset is one of my greatest assets, because without it I wouldn’t be me and true to myself, and I’d be cutting myself short.
Q: You’ve achieved a lot of success so far with the sport. What’s your end goal?
A: To just be the best wrestler I can ever be and be the best person I can ever be. In the end you can always be better, so that’s what I strive for. Sure, there’s benchmarks that come with it, but it’s not the end-all be-all. In the short term, I’m aiming to be a state champion and believe I will be. Something I reflect a lot about is the love of the sport and my purpose. Why do I do this? Why do I put so much time and effort into something that rarely pays off? It’s difficult, but to commit yourself to something that difficult is a little bit of a gamble. I’ve just helped put myself in the best situation possible to succeed and try my best.
Q: Let’s talk about how you got into wrestling. Were you young when you started?
A: My dad grew up wrestling in Maryland, and was a good wrestler getting third in states as a senior and wrestled at the Division III level. He then was an inner-city coach in Chicago where I was born. When I turned 6, my dad, who knew how important wrestling was for developing character, pushed me right into it. It’s a special sport because it teaches you about this direct relationship between effort and success. So my dad said, “my boys are going to wrestle.” By this time we moved to State College where he took me to Little Lions wrestling, and I hated it. I cried on the way there, I cried during practice and cried on the way home. I actually remember my first competition. I was so nervous I would just sit and cry. I don’t know the turning point, but my dad, who is a really great dad, put realistic expectations on me to a standard he knew I could achieve, and what he did always expect was me to be tough. By 9, I qualified for the state tournament, at 10 was a state medalist, at 11 qualified again and the same thing at 12. In eighth-grade I got interested in the M2 Training Center. I was like, “I want to go,” but we have a big family and couldn’t really afford it, however, the first practice was free, and I came home and was like, “dad, we got to make it work.” I don’t even remember why I wanted to get better, but I knew there was something there and if I wanted to get better, then that’s where I had to be. So, we worked out a deal that I would help pay for it and used all my lawnmowing money to do it.
Q: How does it feel to put in the work and see it come to fruition?
A: It’s rewarding, but you don’t dwell on it. I still have things I’m trying to do like be state champion, and take care of business at college and be a national champion. I take it day-by-day, so I focus on what’s happening right now. So, it means a lot to see it come to fruition, but the goals are not the end-all be-all (nor) the thing that necessarily drives me. I believe when my hand is raised in the state finals, I will still be the same person I was before I got my hand raised. I’m still going to practice and lift, and go to church and spend time with my family, and be me – just with a gold metal. But in 10-15 years, will anyone even care like it does now in the moment? I don’t know. It fades. What doesn’t go away is your legacy, and if I can be the best person I can be and help the people in my life, then that’s what really matters, and I believe I’m on the right path. I know that because it’s not easy.
Q: What does that also say about your leadership? You put in the work, get the results and others appear to look up to that.
A: God has blessed me with some talents that helped me be who I am and also continue to find strength in my faith. It’s one of the largest parts because it’s such a spiritual sport. Leadership means nothing if I don’t practice it and don’t act with it and develop it. God has put me in a position to set me up for that, and I say “practice leadership” as in practicing wrestling. How can I go into every practice with the intent of being a leader? God blessed me with five, soon-to-be six, brothers and sisters, and gave me a great opportunity to be a leader at home, which I hope translates outside of there, as well. But what I believe sets me apart from others is being a good leader and believing in the practice I need to do to develop those skills, including leadership, going forward.
Q: How has wrestling helped you grow as a person?
A: A lot, especially in my gratefulness and outlook on life. It just comes back to the reason why I have a good outlook on life, and how to use resources, and spend time and energy, and just being grateful for the things I have in life, and appreciate what wrestling has done to help my work ethic and providing me with this opportunity.
Q: What tips do you have for wrestlers – any kind of student of the sport, from those just starting out to kids at your level trying to be successful in the sport they love?
A: How you frame what you do in the grand scheme is everything. If you believe that things suck, then it is going to be the worst and you won’t enjoy it. But if you frame your attitude to be like, “what I’m doing is helping me achieve goals and bringing me closer to what I want to achieve” then it will be a better experience, so I believe having a positive outlook, and being grateful for the opportunity you’re given and the people in your life, then it’s the only way you can achieve success. But the truth is not everyone is going to succeed. It’s more about what you can control like the work you put in and how you respond to things that come at you. Trying and failing is one of the best things you can learn from. You’re not going to like yourself at times, but through failure you can get back up, and do your best to learn from it and excel. So, to the young kids, I say be grateful and positive, take advantage of the opportunities and have fun.
Q: Congrats again on your commitment to the University of Pennsylvania. I’m sure you had a lot of different offers. How did you set on Penn?
A: I was clear with what I wanted for myself and what I wanted to be, and not settle for anything less. Once I whittled down the schools I wanted and broke down things that matter the most to me – family, faith, wrestling, academics, affordability – and looked at which school fit all of it; there was one school – Penn. When I went to Philly and when I stepped on campus at Locust Walk, I thought, “this is where I belong.” Family is really important to me and I knew I wasn’t going to California. I felt the 3,000 miles between me and my family when I visited. They would have never got to come watch me wrestle. So, Penn is close to my family and it’s a top NCAA program with ranked athletes, and will continue to rise. I believe I’ll achieve my goals there. Plus, I haven’t seen a culture of faith as well developed as I did there and that is the most important to me.
Q: Is there anything you’re looking forward to most while you’re there?
A: Everything. It’s going to be an interesting dynamic at a school such as Penn. What I experienced the most in the short time I’ve been with my fellow recruits is that they’re kids like me, which I find rare – very intently focused on their school work and also intently focused on their sport. It’s possible to excel in both. Committing to anything requires you to look in the mirror and assess yourself, and believe you’re doing everything it takes to be the best I can.
*Swisher was also accepted to study at Penn’s Wharton School, which was ranked the No. 1 business school in the world by U.S. News & World Report and No. 2 by Financial Times.