Nahshon Garrett is the Cornell Daily Sun’s Men’s Athlete of the Year for 2015-16
Getting ready for the last wrestling match of his collegiate career, fighting for his first NCAA national title, Nahshon Garrett already knew he was a champion. Waiting to face off against Cory Clark, the No. 2 seed from Iowa at 133 pounds, the Cornell senior, the No. 1 seed in the weight class, felt like the trophy, the championship, was already in his grasp.
Ready for that moment to come somewhere in the basement of Madison Square Garden, Garrett broke down into tears. “I had already known I was going to win,” Garrett said. “It was just a matter of time catching up to reality.” Just a year after he was upset as the presumptive favorite for a national championship, Garrett again found himself in a position to take, what he said he believed, was rightfully his.
“Thank you God for giving me this championship,” Garrett said. “You’re the best.”
With the Garden of Eden filled to capacity, Garrett went out and wrestled Clark, handily taking home a 7-6 victory over the Hawkeye junior. The championship was finally his. The tears he expected to have were already shed.
And when the last whistle blew, all he could do was lift up his arms in victory, his right bicep — which looks sculpted by the hands of Michelangelo — featuring a Cornell “C” embroidered with a cross and three drops of blood dribbling down from the crucifix.
The Mindset Shift
Garrett had no room for error coming into the season. After finishing as the national runner-up at 125 pounds his sophomore year, Garrett finished in fifth place in 2015 at the weight class. The loss sent him into a depression as dealt with falling significantly short of the title, something many pundits expected him to pull out.
“It was weird and it came out of nowhere and slapped me in the face,” Garrett said. “I just didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t know how much of my identity was in wrestling, not only in wrestling, but in winning and being someone who was good at it and it was just like a life check.”
Garrett fought a big mental battle with himself as he struggled to recoup pride following his fifth-place finish. “I believed what I did defined who I was,” Garrett said. “If I won, I’m a winner and if I lost, I’m a loser. Anything in between was always me showing myself or showing other people that I am good or that I’m the best.”
The self-inflicted pressure lowered stress onto Garrett’s shoulders. What should have been fun, the process, no longer felt enjoyable.
“It made me miserable because I was trying to be someone in my own strength, someone who I already was,” Garrett said.
Garrett felt he needed a mental makeover and so he went back to his foundation, his roots in Christianity. Growing up in the household with a single mother with a father locked up in jail, Garrett grew up with a strong religious background in Chico, Calif. Suddenly, just as important as putting in the energy to move up a weight class — from 125 pounds to 133 pounds — was putting in the work to reset his mental mindset.
The change was subtle shift in Garrett’s mind. Instead of working hard to become a champion, he said he was already a champion, and therefore worked hard.
“I’m a champion so therefore I do sprints instead of doing sprints to become something,” Garrett said. “Then all of a sudden, you position your mind in a way that leads to success instead of a way that’s dependent on failure and you establish who you are and who God has sent you.”
Growing up in Chico, Garrett said he didn’t even think about college as an option. He started on the mat in eighth grade, which was late for someone who’s competed at such a high level collegiately.
“My mom didn’t let me do it for a while because she was afraid that I was going to get a disease or mat herpes or something, which I do have,” Garrett said. “But it’s not that serious I guess.”
Soon, Garrett’s natural athleticism, his cheetah-like quickness, his Adonis-like strength, took over and he became one of the best wrestlers in the state. When he was recruited to Cornell, he had no idea what he was getting into.
“It should’ve been one of those, woah Cornell University, but I was like, ‘What? Where is that?’” Garrett said. “That’s how ignorant I was of college.”
Now, those four years are over. Garrett walks out of Ithaca with 149 career wins, the second on the school’s all-time list, and Cornell’s 13th wrestling national championship. With his college career now in the rearview mirror, Garrett now redirects his energy again towards a bigger goal: making an Olympic team. And while he won’t represent the United States in Rio this summer, it would be a mistake to bet against Garrett donning that U.S. singlet down the road.
“My wrestling, the desire that God’s given me to wrestle and the ability and the strength and the mobility and the mental capacity, the strength, the ligaments, the muscles, the extra long fingers and everything that I have, I was created for this and he’s given me the desire,” Garrett said. “It’s in me to do.”