Hayden’s Zimmerman finds renewed focus, less pressure with father’s improving health
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It would have been easy for Dylan Zimmerman not to take this wrestling season seriously. He could have just skated by, accepted the shortened season for what it was and turned his attention to his senior year next winter.
But Dylan has wanted to be a state champion as long as he can remember and taking a year off does not a state champion make.
The Hayden High School junior is as dedicated as ever and could very well make that goal happen this year, which would be arguably more difficult than doing so in a “normal” year.
This season, only eight 2A wrestlers will make it to state in each weight class, half the normal number. When qualifiers arrive, it’s with fewer matches on record since tournaments are not allowed this year. They’re also fewer wrestlers, since travel is limited. With all of that in mind, Dylan is still confident he can win.
The task may be more difficult, but he’s been working harder. The 138-pound wrestler opted not to play football this year, spending more time at offseason tournaments and eliminating one way he could get injured and end his season or career.
“Throughout my whole wrestling career, my biggest goal is to be a state champion,” Dylan said. “I was just thinking of extra ways to maybe make that goal come true.”
‘Do it for him’
Dylan is used to success. All through his youth wrestling career he was unbeaten and didn’t even allow a point through middle school, according to Dylan’s mother Gayle.
His high school career started strong with a third-place finish at the 2019 state tournament.
Last year was Dylan’s hardest season yet. He qualified for state but fell short of placing last year.
“A lot of it was mental with his dad going through cancer,” Gayle said. “I don’t think he was quite as focused last year as he was his freshman year, because he was worried about his dad and that whole deal. I think he was a little bit off of his game.”
Dylan’s father Mark was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 2017, but 2019 was the hardest year for the family as the cancer spread and escalated.
“Last year was super hard for me with wrestling just because of everything he was going through,” Dylan said. “I think, last year, I was putting so much pressure on myself to do good for him that it just kind of ended up backfiring on myself.”
His father hasn’t been declared cancer-free or in remission, but his past two PET scans have been clear. Mark is back to work and back to helping coach the Tigers team. When Hayden’s school went into quarantine, the Zimmermans busted out an old club mat from when they founded Moffat County Youth Wrestling, and Dylan got to work on that while practices were on hold.
“It’s been a huge help for me,” Dylan said of having his father back in action. “He’s been my main coach since I was in kindergarten, so having him still with me as a junior in high school just means the world to me — that he can still be with me, and I can still do it for him.”
With no large tournaments this year, Dylan hasn’t been as challenged on the high school wrestling team as he has been the past two years. He’s had to push himself in matches, working his moves and racking up points rather than pinning opponents in an instant. He’s had to go as hard as he can at practices, which head coach Matt Linsacum has made as rough as possible to get his wrestlers ready for regionals and state.
Dylan also has traveled unaffiliated to see more opponents and wrestle more often. In early January, he attended the Tournament of Champions in Utah where he finished third. He got down to 132 pounds to wrestle in what he thought to be the toughest bracket.
He’s been wrestling above his weight often as well. At Soroco High School on Friday, he didn’t have many matches, so he wrestled a 160-pound grappler from Norwood to push himself. The match wasn’t official, so the eventual loss isn’t on his record for the year, but it served as a challenge for Dylan — something he hasn’ t had much of this winter.
He’s just trying to make the most of every match and every practice and believes that will be enough to earn a championship.
“Our practices we’ve been having in Hayden are really good because our coach knows that with the short season and the way the season is planned out, we won’t be getting much competition,” Dylan said. “He’s been making the practices really hard for us to get us ready for regionals and state. That’s probably my favorite thing. I really love hard practices.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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