February 5, 2009

Hammond Fights Through Pain

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Toughness comes with the territory in wrestling. Collegiate wrestlers endure grueling workouts, excruciating practices and violent matches. Part of the strategy in matches is to put an opponent in so much pain that it limits his effectiveness. Any individual who tolerates the constant aches associated with wrestling is demonstrating serious dedication to the craft, often at the expense of one’s body. As tough as most wrestlers are, few can compare with senior Zach Hammond.
Hammond is in his fifth year as a member of the Red wrestling squad. The first four all ended with serious injuries.
In 2005, midway through his freshman season, Hammond tore multiple ligaments in his right knee. He was forced to leave school for a semester to tend to the injury, which was so serious that he spent over a month in a wheelchair. He was granted a medical redshirt for that season. He came back in 2006 only to re-injure the same knee. The knee required a second surgery at the conclusion of that season.
2007 was a relatively healthy season by Hammond’s standards. He had ailments that would sideline many people for months, if not permanently. Hammond reacted differently.
“I broke both my thumbs, but I just taped them up every day and never missed any wrestling that year,” said Hammond.[img_assist|nid=34763|title=5% pleasure, 50% pain…|desc=Senior Zach Hammond takes down a Penn State opponent at Newman Arena.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Wrestling with two broken thumbs, Hammond was a finalist at the EIWA Championships. In the championship match, he tore two ligaments in his knee. Despite the injuries, he did his best at the NCAA tournament. The injuries limited his capabilities there, however, and he lost early.
Last season, Hammond appeared to finally be healthy. He began the season 18-6 and had several wins against highly-ranked opponents.
“I was doing pretty well, I was ranked pretty high [11th],” he said. “In the middle of a match, I broke my elbow in two spots. It was a season-ending injury. I couldn’t even move my arm.”
This season, Hammond has already missed a month due to an injury in his previously-healthy left knee.
“I have a torn PCL and MCL, but I’m wrestling through that,” he said. “I’m actually just starting to feel better. I just got a cortisone shot, which is helping.”
“A lot of people –– when they get those kinds of injuries time after time –– hang up the shoes and call it quits,” said teammate Steve Anceravage. “Zach’s been really good about toughing them out, continuing to compete and trying to help the team. It says something about his character.”
When healthy enough to compete, Hammond has been a terror on the mat. Last season, he defeated Kent State’s Jermail Porter –– currently the fourth-ranked heavyweight –– to capture the heavyweight title at the Body Bar Invitational. Hammond also prevailed against Porter at last season’s Southern Scuffle. Porter exacted some revenge on Hammond this season, when the two met during Hammond’s first weekend of matches after injuring his left knee.
Hammond also defeated Wisconsin’s Kyle Massey last season. Massey finished the season as an All-American.
While he was not victorious, one of Hammond’s most impressive matches came last season against Missouri’s Mark Ellis, currently the top-ranked heavyweight in the nation. The two engaged in a hard fought battle that featured three overtime sessions. Ellis eventually prevailed, 2-1, but the match proved that Hammond can compete with the best wrestlers in the country.
There is little question about what Hammond can accomplish this year if he stays relatively healthy.
“I expect him to be on the podium,” said Anceravage. “I expect him to be an All-American. He’s got the ability. As long as his body holds up, he’ll be there.”
While Hammond remains bullish about his chances this season, the injuries have taken a toll on the senior.
“I had to change my wrestling style a lot once I got that first major knee surgery,” he said. “I look back and I see how I used to wrestle, and it’s really frustrating because I can’t do a lot of the things that I used to do.”
Through all of the injuries, Hammond has remained focused on achieving his goals.
“I want to have something to show for all the injuries and all the hard work my whole life. I want to have something to hang my hat on,” Hammond said. “I want to be an All-American. As a team, we can win a national title. I know I need to accomplish my goals for the team to reach our goals.”