Dress it up however you like, but Iowa’s Spencer Lee summed up the combat sports mentality perfectly at the 2021 NCAA National Championship: “Excuses are for wusses.”
Eight days before he locked down a third National Championship, Lee tore his second of two ACLs. With close to no time to make a decision Lee knew that if he would be competing in the state he was in he would have to dig every ounce of heart, motivation and pride out of his soul.
Don’t let the stoic confidence and demeanor fool you, Lee knew he would have his work cut out for him like never before.
“I wasn’t 100% sure I could compete,” Lee said. “I was pretty banged up and I did a lot of physical therapy. There was a lot of biking and keeping in shape; I didn’t wrestle at all. They put a brace on my left knee and taped my right and I wrestled at the NCAA tournament. Those were the circumstances I was put through and I had to get through it.”
Although expectations were higher than “the last time Lee tore his ACL,” being thrust into the same position before brought an eerie comfort to Lee. While the NCAA’s best wrestlers were still in front of him, Lee was somehow one step ahead mentally. He knew he could wrestle at the highest level with no ACL.
“In my mind if you think that you can do something then do it,” Lee said. “I knew that I could wrestle with it torn, I had done it in the past twice. I tore it the first time in high school and had surgery and re-tore it again. I’ve had experience wrestling with it torn, I know what it felt like. I knew I could do it and I knew I would live a life of regret not trying, regardless of winning or losing.”
Even with limited mobility, Lee went into the National Championship with the expectations of winning. He emphasized that not wrestling at all or wrestling and not finding a way to win would have led to a life of regret. But what if he did lose?
How would the college wrestling fans and media view a second place Spencer Lee with a valid excuse of a torn ACL? According to Lee, they would have never known.
“I would have said nothing,” Lee said. “Maybe years from now in an interview it may have come out or something. I mean, listen, I won a National Title two years ago with a torn ACL and no one knew. I didn’t go around telling the whole world.”
Almost anybody can train their body to be in “competition shape,” but to be an NCAA champ…on zero ACLs…you have to be a mental giant. If you truly believe “excuses are for wusses” whether win or lose and have nothing but the fullest confidence in yourself no matter how compromised you are, you’re destined for greatness.
Could we one day see Spencer Lee in the UFC? He’s not ruling it out. He knows he’d be a smaller flyweight, but when has a physical disadvantage stopped him before?
“Even if I’m at 50% I think I can beat anyone in the world,” Lee said. “Why would you have doubt? I think when you have self-doubt creep into your mind, I think that’s just the worst thing in the world. It’s just negative and it’s useless. There’s no point in being negative. Even if I did lose, I wouldn’t have been like, ‘If I was healthy it would have been ok. Now I have to take third.’ It’s always the next best thing and that’s the way we’re coached at the University of Iowa and that’s the way I live my life.”
(Hero image provided by Darren Miller/Iowa Athletics)