When I was 16 I met a gal named Corina. She was from Seward, NE and I was from Chapman, KS. I had just finished up my Junior year of high school and was only a 2nd year varsity wrestler with 1 win in 2 not so glorious seasons on the mat. I was however pretty solid as a musician and had surprisingly good footwork for my size, so I attended a Showchoir Camp where I met Corina. That summer and the following I really got to know her and I would send her letters in the long 12 months in between the old fashioned way, then summer ended in 1998 and we went our separate ways. It was a month or 2 later I was in a crowded room at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, a place I had settled on just a few weeks prior after no calls came through to wrestle even though I was a match away from state tournament. Then across the room...I saw CORINA!!! For the next 2 years we danced and sang together and as our sophomore year came to an end...she convinced me to follow my dreams of wrestling at the college level. I gave Corina the other half of a necklace that stated "Watch between me and thee while we are absent from each other" which comes from Gen 31:49.
Corina would go on to Emporia State and would garner the lead in school musicals and flourish with great poise and talent...meanwhile, I wound up on the bad end of repeated beatings by the hands of my newly acquired teammates at the University of Central Oklahoma. That first year I didn't even get a takedown in the room, and to add to my humiliation I went 0-2 at every tournament entered and was greatly outgunned....the 2 year layoff had hurt...but I loved it. My team took 3rd in DII that year, and I decided I would be back for 2001-02 season.
That 2002 season would see vast improvement and would also finally see Corina saying yes to go on a date with me after knowing here for what seemed like an eternity. My wrestling was going great (probably floating on cloud 9 after the date) I not only got takedowns in the room, but I found myself winning, in fact I won 2 matches in a row at the CMSU Open including a victory over a Nationally ranked D3 wrestler...I was on top of the world...then POP! Tore my acl in practice and I was done on the season just as soon as I had started. It was a rough Fall....9/11 had occurred just a few months prior too, and everything just seemed so out of place. I kept thinking about when Corina visited me at UCO before the injury and had the other half of the necklace hanging from her rearview mirror, and that look on her face when she blew a kiss and drove off...and that kept me motivated. A week went by and it was Dec. 22, 2001...I was being carted around the mall by my mom and dad and I had talked to Corina a few days prior and knew at somepoint she would come visit me in Kansas for the Christmas Holliday, I kept thinking I should get her something...but I never did. December 23rd came along and I was awaken to my mother telling me my friend Shauna (a Butler alumn that was in the same group with Corina and I) was on the phone. Shauna lived 30 minutes down the road from me so I was guessing she was calling to say she was swinging by or wanted to see if I was up to doing something...but then she lowered a boom. Corina was heading home, hit ice and a semi took her from us. I was devastated...I let out a howl of a cry...I was instantly sick and just destroyed and asked why why why!?! Her rosary was that night. Funeral was Christmas Eve...and I wasn't very merry to say the least for the holiday season.
January rolled around and I got back to school later then most of the guys due to rehab, but I still had a lot on my mind, so January 22nd I decided a good way to keep my mind distracted would be to sign up for the USAWKS forums (not knowing how addicting it would become, and how many great connections I would make through the site). March eventually came and UCO won the National Title and the huge ring I got cheered me some, but a void was still there.... April came around and I was walking with a bit of a limp, but decided I would pay tribute to my lost friend by competing in the Mr. Central Oklahoma contest against 12 other individuals....after interviews, talent and then a pop quiz interview question the verdict came out...and I was declared MR. UCO 2002 (a fitting tribute to my old friend). Several months went by and then I was back at UCO in the fall of 2002. September 11th was a year removed and the nation was held captive again in all the remembering ceremonies....then October came as I sat in the cafeteria just after picking up my mail from the dormitory, I realized a letter had come from the Krieser family in Seward. The letter was short and had a folded corner which struck me as odd. I began reading, "Dear Aaron, We went to the site where our beloved Corina was tragically taken from us 9 months ago...and it is hard to believe she is not with us, however there is something you should know. As we went to place a cross down at the roadside, we noticed something was different. We shuffled our feet to get composure and then we spotted this speck of dirt glistening in the sunlight...so we went to pick it up....needless to say, I think this may be very meaningful to you." Love, Clark and Diane Krieser.
I opened the corner...fingers unsteady and unsure what I would find...then it happend. Corina's half...reunited with mine. I was an emotional wreck, but I knew that was her way of saying...I'm alright....I will watch over you!
That next fall I would finish up my degree and the roller coaster of emotions were still there but I was moving on as well as I could...I moved home in late December and recalled the previous year with the torn ACL and my disdain for that....then January came...and I started throwing up for no reason (probably just a bug) then night sweats...finally after losing nearly 40lbs...I went to the doctor and waited for the news (bad thing is the xrays were lost and for 3 agonizing weeks, we had no clue what was going on). Finally a call came in and we were told to be in the Doctor's office on a Saturday of all things...that's when we saw it the next morning (fist sized in the right, and football sized in the left....tumors!) I officially had late stages of Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I went through a myriad of tests, poking, proding, chemo, radiation and even signed my life over to a funeral home....then the biggest surprise (REMISSION 5/5/2005!) A year after treatments started. That year while battling some may remember at the USAWKS Kid’s State when a 6 man Tag event was staged, and we paid tribute to Tyler Graebner a 6 and under champion who I was fortunate to meet in his short time on earth. At that event I made many friends, one of whom was Curtis Chenoweth who was fresh off and abrupt final when he lost the state title in the 1st period to Ross Taplin. Ross would go on to have a great career at Nebraska-Omaha being a multi time All American for the Mavs (would love to see him throw their Athletic Director in a headlock right now for the record)…..and Curtis would have an amazing run to the NAIA 174 title as a true freshman for Newman University, before eventually having some setbacks with injuries and ending his career at Newberry (DII).
I was weak and didn't work til February of 2006 and stayed at the same job in a Chocolate factory til 2007 in early August when I took a huge pay cut to go work at Neosho County Community College as an assistant wrestling coach (following my dreams). I went from making nearly $2500 a month to $650 a month but I was doing what I loved. That fall I met a local gal on Oct 19th and almost a year later on the 18th we would get married in 2008. I would continue coaching for 2 more years at Neosho and as my wife prepaired to give birth to our son (Lucas) Neosho wasn’t doing as successful as planned for wrestling, so Coach Petterson thought it would be best to part ways…although I was confused at the time, I look back at it as a great moment in learning now and am thankful that Coach Pete was the person to give me my break into coaching in the first place!I helped coach 18 National Qualifiers and 6 All Americans in 3 years at NCCC, and shortly before my son was born and right after I was let informed my contract wouldn’t be renewed, I decided to give up drinking (been sober now since March of 2010).
Bills wound up becoming tough and I couldn't keep up with the old cancer bills to the point that even my son's savings account got swiped by creditors. I juggled multiple jobs and then a call came from Columbus, KS and Todd and Eric Napier reached out to me and gave me hope so much so that I drove an hour and a half daily to coach at the high school level. Although I would only be there for a season, the respect in the community and room was phenomenal and I was blessed to coach 4 state qualifiers, 1 of whom would finish 2nd. Next thing I knew I had an offer closer to Chanute as a head coach in Iola, but that would turn out to be a bad situation in the long run as my athletic director tried to keep me from kicking a kid that was a nuisance off the team because, “he’s a state qualifier”. Iola would start off 5-0 that year and finish with 9 dual wins...I give a ton of credit to Rick Horton (now at Erie) for having those guys ready for battle. I would give up on coaching although I would have 2 more state qualifiers before stepping away at the end of the 2011.
In 2012 took a new job at an alternative school, and refereed JV matches and youth level. No Coaching...needed that break after dealing with the headaches of a school that didn’t care for wrestling in my opinion. Then things somehow didn't start clicking as well as I thought....I was fighting to save a marriage where my kids never got to see my family and I felt unloved. I finally called my wife out on that and she kicked me out of the house (if you have ever seen Fireproof…it was like that scene where he yells). My buddy Curtis Chenoweth (who happens to be Lucas’ Godfather), thankfully coached at the college I got my coaching start at (Neosho), and him and his girlfriend were kind enough and had a spare room which they opened it up to me and an air matress. My son Lucas was a 2 1/2 year old excited to see me and then popped the matress...so I spent a few weeks on the floor...then a sheriff came and I found out that I was being served divorce papers (2 weeks after they were filed). I was furious..pissed and just crazed at that moment. I was also going through bankruptcy at that moment so I felt as it was a cheap shot, knowing I couldn't afford a lawyer to help me, and I was technically by all purposes homeless (this all happened in October of 2012). I was the only one that showed emotion at the divorce hearing...I later went to the Catholic Church where my wife grew up and met with the father of the church and chewed him out for the church not helping to save our marriage. I felt betrayed...I was always willing to go to her church, but she shunned me away in our marriage...now I felt alone...so I started going back to my Methodist church. I battled through pain, and tears, and heartaches....when things seemed ok it got worse. My car totally died, my niece went missing in South Carolina and we feared that she was dead (however she was found some 30 hours later). I lost 50 lbs because I wouldn't eat and I was walking anywhere from 3-8 hours a day (I walked 30 miles one day!) The depression had gotten to me, but walking was my vice. I was juggling any odds and ends job I could. 3 jobs all at once...only to have $379 taken from me each pay period for child support and leave me with nothing to support my children (my daughter Celia was born in early 2012 with my wife) .
I had nobody in a community that was hers...I was around people that were happy being complacent, in a part of the state that has some of the highest poverty, then July came and Eric Napier the good who took me under his wing as an assistant for a year at the high school level told me to come work fireworks stand in Topeka with him again as I had the previous summer...make a bit of money and get my mind at ease. I agreed. As I got off the phone with him, a buddy of mine that coached my first year at Neosho (back in 2007-08) with me sent me a message like he always does saying: Hey Swayz....it's Jed. Why don't you apply for this job? (usually I take my sweet time looking or say, I am not interested...It would take a miracle to get me back into the sport as a coach) Then he asked, "Where exactly is Seward, NE?"
I clicked super fast and then boom....Concordia University of Nebraska seeks Grad Assistant. That was June (late June). It was on Intermat, but hadn't even been posted on the Concordia site yet, however by the time it was...I had all my paperwork in within 24hours!
I went to Topeka and sat in the hot sun and sold fireworks...sweaty, unsure of what was coming, but knowing McDonalds (one of my side jobs) would be where I was back at in a few days...then the call came…Dana Vote (head at Concordia) and Devin Smith (Athletic Director At Concordia) called and told me my references were amazing and that they wanted to offer me the job. I accepted with tears in my eyes and within 3 weeks I was fully packed. I told my ex 5 days before the move which was July 31st and I kissed and hugged my babies before moving for the last time the day prior.
I was on my way up to Seward and then A call came again....AARON, This is Diane Krieser, just thought we would let you know that the Heartfelt Children's Memorial has finally found a home, and it will be at Concordia University on Hillcrest and Kolterman (I live on Kolterman and Hillcrest is where my office is). It was a sign...I am here where my friend Corina called home, and in a long roundabout way I believe she guided me up this way so both her parents and I can lean on each other, and also so I could hold true to my word of wanting to give back to her community through my wrestling talents.
God does have a purpose….it is still a work in process, and we shouldn’t try to over analyze it. I had no intention of Public Health as a Master’s Degree, but school pays my tuition, and I had a chairperson for the Public Health program step up after hearing of my story and has loaned me books free of charge. People come in and out of our lives, we don’t know if they change it for ever…but in many cases, even if we may not realize it they change it for the good (some people we don’t realize it til way later).
I have so many people I could thank, but I would miss out on a lot of names, but I will mention a few people:
I will say Mike Furches housed me up at Mosaic in Wichita where him and his wife Mary-Jane Furches operate a great organization that brings in the homeless and gets them back on their feet, and even though I was just there for a short time as a homeless person traveling through, I was blessed to feel like family there. By the way, one of the folks in the house is a former DI wrestler that was at Idaho State in the mid 80’s when they dropped the program….I encourage you folks in the Wichita area to go check out the Mosaic at some point…they do good work.
Chief Renegade along with Todd and Eric Napier (and families) and old Ivan from Columbus….these men helped me take a breath…they would talk to me about wrestling, life, or whatever…they were ears, and they lead by great examples of following the Lord. They may not always be at ease, but I could tell they were very full of good things because the Lord was and continues to be a great part of their lives.
An special friend of mine who has 2 children of her own and is battling custody right now while trying to also land a teaching job. Our friendship is based on great respect and admiration for each other and we have been able to lean on each other for therapy over the phone. She is about 8 hours away from me and recently found someone and hasn’t let that make her abandon our friendship (although…lol, if she were to get married to someone else, I would probably object because she is just that awesome of a gal, and heck…I want the best this time, not the next best thing).
To my brother: Thank you for the Mustang when my car died.
To my parents and my aunt: Thanks for driving from Pennsylvania with a trailer full of yard sale finds…all I had was clothing on my back when I moved….they made sure I had more than just that.
To Richard D. Salyer: Thought about you the other day… I was driving about 60 mph on a rural highway here in Nebraska…car comes up and just won’t get off my tail, then it finally passed me and shot way out in front of me, just then I laughed…not even making this up, the plate said: SALYER. You passed me long ago on these forums and I stepped away….you are way out in front of me and some people may label you a myriad of words, but one thing I will say, Love you or hate you…you do a lot of things for wrestling which is a huge reason my heartbeats, so I thank you!
To the folks that want DI wrestling in Kansas: Support what you have first financially (this means go to a dual, tournament or whatever, or send $. With the talent in Kansas, there should be no reason that any team at the collegiate level in the Sunflower state shouldn’t have an All American each year (note I said A.A. not just a National Qualifier…I believe in the talent….but $$$ helps get it).
Finally to Curtis Chenoweth: I was homeless…you opened your door and created a place for me to call home. I was depressed , but you helped me find a way to stay involved with wrestling (announcing at home duals and helping out when I could). You helped feed my children when I struggled to make the finances to barely take care of myself. It’s been a long road and we have been on some crazy shenanigan type road trips, but this journey through hell for me in 2012-13 was made calmer by being able to have you there keep my head up. By the way December 4th Trivia for Kansas Wrestling fans: Curtis Chenoweth and Ross Taplin who met in the State Finals in 2005 (last year in Wichita)…Share this day as a Birthday. Happy Bday Curtis…love you man!
As for all the other people I may have missed, from Goodland to Atchison and Marysville down to Ark City and all points inside the border of the Sunflower State…Thank you for helping me to get on the path I am today.
Now……………to liven things up, support Concordia University (ranked #23 by Intermat) as we take on #18 York College on Thursday, December 5th at 7:30pm. Come celebrate this milestone post by driving up to Seward and packing the stands or by watching from home at www.cune.edu/athletics.
Both teams are NAIA, so you will see these squads at Nationals in Topeka and it would be great to familiarize yourself with some of the talent beforehand. York is assisted by Greg Smith (Concordia, KS alumn). On our Concordia University team we have 3 guys from Kansas with one of them being our starting 184lber and a former Basehor-Bobcat Champ/ State Runner up in Noel Richardson (Chapman, KS). Bryan Ayala (Topeka West) and Justin Dyer (Shawnee Heights) are depth guys for us.
Feel free to contact me, my information is on the Concordia website. Cell phone (620) 717-5721 as well.
Good to be back on the forums….#Swayz5000