Dec. 11 was the end of Preston Weigel’s wrestling career.
That is what the Oklahoma State wrestling coaches thought. Weigel made his season debut Dec. 9 against Oklahoma when he defeated Ruston Duke by technical fall. Two days later, he tore his left quadricep in practice.
“Right when he tore his quad, we thought he was done,” Associate Head Coach Zack Esposito said. “We really thought he was done. We started shifting around our lineup to try and create something that was gonna give us the best chance at a trophy and competing at dual meets.”
Weigel’s torn quad was one in a long list of injuries he suffered while at OSU. Weigel said he tore his lateral collateral ligament three times in his right knee and once in his left knee. His sophomore year, Weigel said he wrestled the last day of the national tournament with a torn left labrum in his shoulder. Despite the injury, he finished sixth and was an All-American. His junior year, Weigel tore the meniscus in his right knee in the first match of the national tournament, sidelining him for the rest of the event.
Esposito said sometime in mid-January, the training staff told the coaches Weigel might be able to return this season. To rehab his quad injury, Weigel did acupuncture treatments paired with stem cell therapy once a week.
Weigel said he felt healthy enough to compete during the week of practice before the Air Force dual on Feb. 8. He defeated Anthony McLaughlin 2-0 and said he felt good.
However, the Tuesday after the Air Force dual, Weigel felt a pop in his quad.
“I was just like, you know what, I’m just going to have to wrestle through it,” Weigel said.
Weigel said his quad was uncomfortable at first, but kept getting better.
Coach John Smith said when Weigel tore his quad after Bedlam, the coaching staff thought his career was finished.
“I think when you know that maybe you’ve lost something, it gives you a new look at how much you really value what you’re doing,” Smith said. “Maybe Preston thought at one time that it was over… Somewhere in there he realized, ‘I’m not ready to be done.’
“I think he willed himself to health. I think his injury was serious enough it could’ve took three months to heal and mentally, I think he willed himself to health. I believe that.”
Weigel returned from the quad injury and won his third Big 12 championship at 197 pounds. He finished third at the national tournament, earning All-American honors for the second time. With the season over, Weigel has had time to reflect.
“Last night, I was just sitting there thinking about everything I’ve been through,” Weigel said. “It’s just like wow, how I stuck it out. I could’ve easily gone the easy way out and given up. I loved the sport too much to quit. It’s hard to quit. It’s hard to quit anything. My dad raised me like that. He said you always gotta finish it out if you start something.”
When talking about Weigel, his coaches brought up two traits: toughness and resiliency. These traits can be traced to Weigel’s upbringing on his family farm in Russell, Kansas. Joe Weigel, Preston’s father, said Weigel’s upbringing taught him many life lessons.
"Growing up on a farm, you gotta learn how to take care of things so well,” Joe Weigel said. “Managing things, you gotta take care of animals. Can't really let anything slide. You have to try and do everything the best you can out there so everything will survive.
“It's kinda the same thing in life, I guess. Wrestling to me is one of the best sports because of the ups and downs. You can be winning 10-0 and in three seconds you're put on your back and it's over. That's life. It's like a roller coaster. It's a great sport for kids, I think. Some people might think it's a little rough, but life can be rough."
Weigel’s time at OSU got off to a rocky start. He came to Stillwater and started training the summer after he graduated from high school. Tammie Weigel, Weigel’s mother, said Weigel wasn’t sure whether he wanted to stick it out and was homesick. She said one time Weigel had a tough summer practice. After the practice, he packed his bags and headed home.
"I got a call from Coach Esposito at the time and he said, 'I think Preston's headed home,’” Tammie Weigel said. “He said, 'Let him stay through the weekend and then send him back.'"
Before Preston made it home, Tammie Weigel got a call from Smith.
"I told him, 'We'll discuss things when Preston gets home and decide what he wants to do,” Tammy Weigel said. “He said, 'No, there's no deciding. You give him that tough love and send him back to us.'"
Tammy Weigel said Smith told her he had seen this happen with men from the Midwest a lot because of tight bonds families from the Midwest typically have. Tammy Weigel said the first summer Weigel was in Stillwater, he came home every weekend.
She said the goodbyes were difficult, but they got easier. She always told Weigel he would regret it if he didn’t stick it out.
Between being the recruiting coordinator for two years and training for international competition before that, Tyler Caldwell has been around for Weigel’s career. Caldwell is from Wichita. Although he and Weigel didn’t know each other before OSU, their bond grew throughout Weigel’s career.
"Kansas guys stick together I guess,” Caldwell said. “We've been real close throughout his career, good friends. I've spent a lot of time with Preston. Really got to know him and his family. There's a relationship there that will continue on past college and past wrestling."
Caldwell said the type of person Weigel is can be attributed to his family and his upbringing. Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, Caldwell said his grandpa had one and he would spend his weekends there.
“I always say my kids are definitely gonna be working the farm in the summer if they'll grow up like that kid,” Caldwell said.
Tammy Weigel said through all the trails Preston endured, one thing stayed strong: his faith. She said he continued to go to church and pray rather than getting down on himself about the trials he faced.
Faith is something Caldwell said Weigel never wavered on.
"Preston may not speak about it a lot but he's very faithful,” Caldwell said. “Through his injuries, he went back to prayer a lot and just kinda had a belief that he had to get through this and that there's a bigger plan."
Esposito said everyone can learn something from Weigel’s wrestling career, including other wrestlers. He said the biggest thing he’ll remember about Weigel is his patience in times of adversity.
“I’m telling you, just from experience, injuries can really mess with the mind,” Esposito said. “They can really mess with the mind.
“Just because you get hurt it’s not the end. He always gave himself a chance.”
Weigel will graduate with a degree in agriculture business. He said he originally planned to go home and help on the farm but is keeping his options open and seeing what opportunities come along. He is getting married in September to his fiancé, Madysen Frantz.
It wasn’t always the smoothest ride, but now that his collegiate wrestling career is over, Weigel said he is thankful for his time at OSU.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Weigel said. “The people that I’ve met, all my friends, everybody here and all the buddies I’ve met and become friends with, all the good stories.
“It was fun. I enjoyed the heck out of it. I give all the glory to God for being able to perform the way I did.”