The Bison matmen attended the annual Eternal Warrior Wrestling Camp, a faith-based camp held each July in Trego, Montana. The McCook contingent included Skylar Kalinski, Jake Fahrenbruch, Jesus Gauna, Kyle Groshong, Keldon Osterman, and Rusty Sullivant.
The camp is billed as "the toughest wrestling camp in America." Participants endure 15 straight days of wrestling and wilderness training featuring their own personal wooden logs that are part of the training regimen.
The camp is located in Trego, a small community in the extreme northwest corner of Montana on the west edge of Glacier National Park and just a few miles from the Canadian border. Trego is an approximate 19-hour drive from McCook.
"Trego is a small little town out in the middle of nowhere," said McCook head wrestling coach Nick Umscheid. "I think they have a little convenience store there, and a school. That's where they do most of the wrestling."
The daily camp schedule is very challenging. The young men got up before 6 a.m. and faced three daily wrestling sessions plus grueling wilderness runs -- up and down very steep hills through rocky terrain. Their days ended with lights out at 11 p.m.
Camp participants also received individualized instruction from several former NCAA Division I national champion and Olympic wrestlers, mixed with other outdoor activities such as canoeing and swimming and Bible-based devotional studies.
The elite camp allows no more than 40 campers each summer.
When campers checked in on the first day of camp July 7, they are each fitted with a personal log cut on site. The logs are about six feet long and approximately one-third of each individual wrestler's weight. The logs are used as part of the training, as the young men carried the logs on their shoulders during training runs at the camp.
McCook senior Kyle Groshong attended his first Eternal Warrior Camp last month.
"When I got there, Jesus (Gauna) told them to put 'newbie' on my log," Kyle said. "You weigh in and send you over to get a log. If you can hold it straight out and lock your arms, it's pretty much too light. At the beginning of the camp I couldn't even hold it straight out. At the end I could hold it completely out there."
Nate Morgan, former McCook standout wrestler, was the first Bison to attend the tough Montana camp. Morgan is currently a freshman on the Penn State University wrestling team. Nate won the Class B state championship at 119 pounds last season in his senior year at McCook.
To graduate from the Eternal Warrior Camp, participants have to compete a triathlon event on the final day of camp. Morgan attended the camp five straight years, and he graduated each time.
"Nate Morgan went as an eighth grader," Coach Umscheid said. "He's the only guy who ever made it through all five years of all the guys they've had through. He's the only one who's been a five-timer."
The Bison coach described the camp as 15 days of work, sun-up to sundown, like a "boot camp" with three sessions of wrestling mixed in each day.
Coach Umscheid is proud of the performance of his McCook matmen at the rugged camp.
"It started with Nate, and the numbers have grown over the years, because of the success of the guys that go," he said. "They come back with a different mentality. They know what hard work is; they've been through the grind. They use that experience and that mentality in their wrestling during the wrestling season. I think it's paid off for them -- that's why it seems more and more of our guys are going."
The McCook wrestlers described some of the grueling tests they participated in during the camp. The day started with a 2 1/2-mile run through the rough terrain with their personal logs riding on their shoulders. Groshong said he learned through experience the best way for him to carry his log.
"I used to carry it across my neck, but that wasn't working for me," Kyle said. "So I started carrying it on shoulder to shoulder -- one shoulder would get sore, then you'd switch around. The next day you'd just kill because it would be all bruised and stuff."
Groshong said he weighs about 130 pounds, and his 'newbie' log weighed about 45 pounds.
Tough uphill runs
Kalinski, a McCook junior and two-time state qualifier, said the log workouts were probably the toughest part of the camp. Kalinski said the campers ran about 3 1/2 miles to Dickey Lake near Trego on a trail through steep terrain.
"You had to grab onto some tree limbs to help pull yourself up (while carrying the log)," Skylar said. "It's difficult."
This year was Kalinski's third time at the camp. He plans to go back again next summer.
"It gets easier because you know what's coming," Skylar said.
Jesus Gauna won a medal at the Class B state wrestling meet last winter as a 112-pound sophomore. Gauna attended his second camp in Montana this summer. He said perhaps the toughest part of the camp this year came before he arrived.
"Probably the beginning, the drive up there, knowing what I was getting into again," he said.
Gauna said the small community is really isolated.
"Trego, there's not even a high school, there's like a middle school," he said. "There's a post office and gas station, there's like four buildings in this town."
Guana said the campers slept in the school gymnasium.
"The (wrestling) mats on gym floor, we just put our sleeping bags on the mats and just slept there," Jesus said.
Gauna was asked what lessons he brought home from the tough experience.
"You can push through a lot of stuff; it builds character," he said.
"You learn a lot of good life lessons, a lot of good lessons about God, how to be a better kid and in school, how to be more responsible," Kyle said. "It builds responsibility like crazy. It builds character."
Sullivant talked about the final-day triathlon, where the campers competed in a mile swim in Dickey Lake, followed by an approximate 16-mile run through the rugged, hilly terrain, followed by a 13-mile run with each camper carrying their personal logs on their shoulders. They had about six hours to complete the triathlon in order to graduate from the camp and earn an "Eternal Warrior graduate T-shirt.
"You kind of want to pace yourself," Sullivant said. "You have to save all your energy carrying the log. Once you pick up your log, you're like, 'Ohh, I'm not going to make it.' "
Sullivant said one hill on the run seemed like it was never going to end.
"Then you pick up your log and run another 13 miles," he said. "You run around a stop sign -- I hate that stop sign! Back up the hill, really steep -- seriously, you have to grab using your hands the whole way up, trying to hold onto your log. Finally you get to the top, and you say you're a three-timer (for the number of times you have completed the run), and then throw down your log and you say, 'I'm, an Eternal Warrior.' "
Fahrenbruch said one tough part of the camp was being away from home for the long stretch. But he said he wants to go back next summer, as do all the other McCook campers.
Coach Umscheid drove to Montana to pick up his wrestlers at the completion of this year's camp. Umscheid said he has been invited to the camp next year as an instructor.
Strong state representatives
The McCook said wrestlers come from all over the U.S. to participate in the tough test. He said the camp staff told the McCook wrestlers that Nebraska is the only state that has graduated all its camp representatives through the history of the camp.
"Over 15 days they accumulate so many points, then graduate. They take a lot of pride in that T-shirt because they have to work pretty hard for it," Umscheid said. "They (camp staff) told our guys that they love the Nebraska guys, which means McCook, because McCook is the only (Nebraska) guys that have been sent up there. All our guys have always graduated when they went up there. That's pretty impressive -- that says our guys here in McCook, they have a pretty good work ethic."