Jon Reader working hard now, paying it forward later

By Chris Casper | Jan. 28, 2014, 12:43 p.m. (ET)
Action photos of Jon Reader by Larry Slater.

For Jon Reader, 2011 NCAA champion and three-time All-American for Iowa State, “pay it forward” is more than a clever slogan. When he steps on the mat this weekend at the 2014 Dave Schultz Memorial International, he will be taking one step closer to his immediate goal: to be a World and Olympic Freestyle champion at 189 pounds.

Reader also has a long-term goal, to help other young wrestlers reach their full potential through coaching. He never loses sight of how his coaches have helped him realize his dream, and he wants to do the same for young athletes in the future.

Reader’s blueprint for success is pretty simple: work hard and stay positive.

“I pride myself on how hard I work. That’s one way I try and separate myself. I wake up and I’m a very positive person, always looking for ways to strive and be better.” Reader said.

His system seems to be working. Since his college career ended, Reader has racked up an impressive number of titles. In 2013 he was champion of both the 2013 Dave Schultz Memorial International and the Dan Kolov International in Bulgaria. In 2012 Reader was the Hari Ram Grand Prix champion in India.

With all of his post-college success, Reader goes back to his college days to choose his most memorable match.

“It has to be my NCAA tournament, my NCAA finals match. Winning an NCAA title was a great feeling and one I’ll never forget,” Reader remembered.

Reader attributes much of his college success to his coach at Iowa State during his senior year, 1992 Olympic champion Kevin Jackson.

“I loved being under Coach Jackson, he was phenomenal coach, on and off the mat,” Reader said.

His relationship with Coach Jackson made leaving Iowa State to go to the U.S. Olympic Training Center a thoughtful decision, but one that he views as a logical development going forward.

“It wasn’t that anything was changing at Iowa State, it was just something I felt I needed to pursue… it was good opportunity for me to look at a different location and see what they had to offer,” Reader said.

“I absolutely love Colorado Springs, I love being outdoors, I like being in the mountains and I like fishing if I’m not in the wrestling room,” Reader said. “But I love Iowa State as well. I recommend that any college athlete looking to go to a Division 1 school go to Iowa State. They have a special thing going on and Coach Jackson is a phenomenal coach. He’s the reason why I was a NCAA Champion.”

Reader has wrestled for three Olympic champions, in recent years, Cael Sanderson and Kevin Jackson at Iowa State and currently Brandon Slay at the OTC. Reader is very aware of how unique this opportunity is.

“It has been an unbelievable experience. I felt like I have had the opportunity to be molded and mentored by three of the best athletes that ever stepped on a mat in the U.S. Picking their brains, finding out what works for you…it has been a great experience and I love every one of them,” Reader said.

Training at the Olympic Training Center offers other new opportunities and challenges.

“It’s a whole different level. Wrestling in college, you’ve got your average guys, and your above-average guys. You get to this level and everybody’s above average—it becomes the small details that separate you from the pack.” Reader said.

Increased competition also offers increased opportunities for learning, and Reader is grateful for the chance to work with these world-class athletes.

“It’s great. You get to this level and you get around a whole bunch of guys who are the best in their sport, best in their weight class,” Reader said. “Just to be around them, just to be able to work with each other and help each other reach our goals is awesome.”

Reader also appreciates the chance to travel with the team and looks forward to more in the future. He cherishes the chance to represent his country around the world.

“I’ve been overseas a few times. One fun place I went to last year was Bulgaria and I’m looking forward to going to Cuba this year for the first time. You get to experience the world, not only to wrestle in a different country but to represent your own country. To put that USA singlet on is truly an honor,” Reader said.

What will Reader think when he steps on the mat this weekend at the 2014 Dave Schultz Memorial International? The pressure is on—he was a 2013 Schultz champ. What gets him ready? Will there be nerves?

“I’m a big country guy – I like listening to country,” Reader said. “I like Garth Brooks. You throw a little Garth Brooks on, I’ll get the blood flowing.”

“If you care about the sport you’re going to have your nerves. Everybody does, but you find you pull your confidence from your training, your everyday processes and what you put in daily,” Reader said.

The 2016 Olympics and Reader’s most pressing goal, an Olympic Championship, is on the horizon. What comes after 2016?

“Right now my full focus is on being the best I can be in the sport. But after I am done wrestling in 2016, I want to merge back into coaching. I love coaching,” Reader said. “I spent two years under Coach Jackson and he has been an unbelievable mentor to me. I love Division I level coaching and that is something I look forward to.”

For now, the plan for Reader is simple.

“I love to wrestle, I love to compete. I want to be the best I can and realize my full potential. I want to do something I’ve never done before, and that’s being the Olympic Champ. I love life and I love what I’m doing – I love the sport, man, I love it,” Reader said.