Medal of Courage: MIKE POWELL

By National Wrestling Hall of Fame | June 04, 2015, 5:50 p.m. (ET)
If courage is the ability to overcome obstacles in the face of adversity, then Michael J. Powell serves as its perfect example.

An accomplished wrestler, Powell was a 1994 state champion for Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) in Illinois. He continued his competitive career at Indiana University, earning All-America honors in 1996, before completing his collegiate career three years later with an overall record of 68-21.

After graduation, Powell served as an assistant coach at his home high school from 1999-2004 before taking over as head coach for the 2005 season. In a decade of coaching, he led the Huskies to two dual team state championships, a dual team runner-up finish, a total of six appearances in the dual team state finals tournament, and top team scores at the individual state wrestling tournament four times. Powell coached 10 individual state champions and 31 all-state wrestlers. His overall dual meet record was 213-44.

In 2009, Powell was diagnosed with polymyositis. This chronic inflammation of the muscles is a progressive autoimmune disease that affected the physical aspects of his coaching duties. The disease forces the body’s immune system to attack rather than protect. Doctors don’t know what causes it or how to cure it, but Powell persevered in spite of the greatest physical challenge of his life.

Since the diagnosis, Powell has inspired thousands with his courageous attitude toward the disease. In 2012, ESPN released an E:60 feature presentation entitled “In Relentless Pursuit: Mike Powell’s Fight.” Sports Illustrated ran a feature-length story called “Man in Full” by Chris Ballard. Both stories brought positive recognition to the sport and awareness to the challenges that Powell faced as the head wrestling coach of a high school program.

Although Powell stepped down as head wrestling coach in 2014, he plans to remain involved in the program as an assistant. He continues to be recognized by his peers and by his athletes as one of the most dedicated and passionate coaches in the sport of wrestling. Powell’s ability to teach and mentor students of varying abilities and backgrounds remains a core part of his lasting legacy.

Regardless of his circumstances, Mike Powell will always remain courageous. He doesn’t know any other way.