Faith, family and freestyle is what keeps Olympic hopeful Kyven Gadson going forward

By Viviane Fracasso, USA Wrestling | Jan. 12, 2018, 5:51 p.m. (ET)
For Kyven Gadson, wrestling didn’t just happen by chance. He was first influenced by the sport through his father, Willie Gadson, who was a two time All-American at Iowa State University and a Div. I wrestling coach at Eastern Michigan.

“I started wrestling at six years old in my living room with my dad in Iowa City,” Gadson said. “We started working on stand ups. I actually didn’t listen very well. At the end of our first practice, I remember him saying ‘we got long ways to go buddy but we’ll get there.’”

Like his father, Kyven went on to wrestle for Iowa State. During his time there, he became a three-time All-American including a 2015 NCAA champion his senior year under head coach Kevin Jackson, who now serves as USA Wrestling’s Freestyle Developmental Coach. Gadson became Jackson’s first official recruit as the head coach of Iowa State.

“Coach Jackson took a chance on me,” Gadson said. “When I got to college, I was dealing with a lot of injuries. He stuck with me through that whole time. He allowed me to blossom and grow as a man. I’ve known him since I was 16 after he came into my living room and gave me the opportunity to wrestle at Iowa State. He is like another father to me. Growing up, ironically, he was very influential to me within the sport. I remember my brother having a poster of the 1992 Barcelona gold medalist in his room. Little did I know, he would end up becoming my college coach, which is just crazy.”

The Cyclone suffered three shoulder injuries within a two-and-a-half-year span, but that wasn’t the only obstacle in Kyven’s way during the first few year of his college wrestling career. At the end of Kyven’s freshmen year, he discovered his father was battling stage IV cancer.

“When I found out my dad was sick, I called him and told him I was scared. Waiting at a bus stop, I vividly remembered him saying ‘I am ready to tie up my wrestling shoes but for a much tougher battle,’” Gadson recalled.

Toward the end of Kyven’s sophomore year, shortly after winning the Big 12 Championships, Willie Gadson passed away. It was just a week prior to the 2013 NCAA Championships. Strong willed, Gadson still finished sixth that year. Gadson’s junior year was no walk in the park. Many times, he reconsidered wrestling but remembered to stay true to his roots and never quit.

“Going into my junior year, there was a lot of pressure for me to win the NCAAs for my dad after he passed away my sophomore year. I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t engaged. I let it get to me. I placed fourth that year at the NCAA,” Gadson said.

Gadson’s senior year is one that will never be forgotten.

The defining moment in his college career came his senior year, when he pinned Ohio State freshman and Junior World champion Kyle Snyder in the second period of the NCAA championship bout. Gadson came out fearlessly ready to battle.

“At the NCAA Tournament, I wrote myself a letter as to the reasons why I would become the 2015 197-pound NCAA Champion,” Gadson said.

In the letter that Kyven still holds close to his heart, the ending reads:

I will relax, breathe, and wrestle.
I will trust my instincts and my training
I will have fun, score points, and BE GREAT

10:30 a.m. March 18th, 2015.
Kyven Gadson

“Kyven was forced to mature with his father’s passing and everything that he had to go through with his three shoulder injuries and surgeries,” Jackson said. “He is a special young man. I knew his dad for many years. His maturity level increased significantly through trials and tribulations. From not being able to wrestle his freshmen year to then being a national champion his senior year is unbelievable.”

Since transitioning onto the Senior level, Gadson is wrestling at 97kg/213 lbs. His performance has improved quickly. He placed third at the U.S. Open in 2016, won the U.S. Open in 2017 and came in second at the U.S. Men’s Freestyle World Team Trials in 2017.

“One of the biggest things that has changed me personally over the last several years is balancing between being great at wrestling while still balancing being a great father and a great husband. Faith. Family. Freestyle. The three most important things in my life,” Gadson said.

You might have to add another F to the list. Fearless. Gadson was beaten in the 2017 World Team Trials final series by Snyder, now an Olympic and two-time World Champion. Gadson takes on that challenge head-on, knowing he may have to beat Snyder again to realize his Olympic dream.

“I know he is working hard. I know it’s an ongoing process for Kyven,” Jackson said. “He has gotten a lot better in the last couple of years since transitioning from folkstyle to freestyle. He struggled a little right off the bat but he is now the No. 2 guy in the country. He wrestles with a lot of energy and intensity. His heart is in the right place and right now he is trying to figure out what It takes to be truly great at the next level. The biggest challenge is coming within him. He is such an incredible guy, who is so personable. Kyven is one of my favorite people in the world.”