Kyven Gadson shoulders setbacks, eyes return to mat


Wrestler Kyven Gadson takes part in his first day of live wrestling on Monday, Nov. 5, at the Lied Recreation Athletic Center. Gadson has had shoulder problems since his senior year of high school.

Jake Calhoun

All Kyven Gadson wants to do is wrestle.

The redshirt sophomore at Iowa State has not wrestled consistently since his 2010 undefeated state title run as a senior at Waterloo East High School.

Kyven is nearly healthy for this season since tearing his labrum at the FILA junior nationals in April 2011, but the road to recovery would not have been as smooth had it not been for the support from his father, Willie.

“He’s had shoulder problems for 2 1/2 years,” Willie said of Kyven. “We felt he’d be fully recovered and doing what he does, you know? But obviously that hasn’t been the case.”

Willie, who was a two-time 177-pound All-American at Iowa State in 1975 and 1976, has been going through a hardship of his own. In March, he was diagnosed with bone cancer that has since spread to his lungs and liver.

The news of Willie’s cancer has been hard on Kyven, but they both have fed off each other for support through their adversities.

“I called him because I was kind of feeling down, so I wanted to talk to him and see if he could lift my spirits,” Kyven said. “He said, ‘Son, I feel all right. I’m going through this fight and I’m ready to tie up my wrestling shoes for a much tougher match.’

“‘I’ve just got to see my baby boy win an NCAA title.’ … That was all the motivation I needed to get through everything.”

As the wrestling coach at Waterloo East, Willie played an integral role in guiding Kyven to two undefeated seasons that were capped off by state titles at 171 pounds as a junior and 189 as a senior.

Even though Willie had high expectations for all his wrestlers, circumstances were different with Kyven.

“I was probably tougher on my own kid because expectations were so much higher,” Willie said. “It’s been this way all his life, that’s what he wanted to do.”

Willie said he had to be careful with how hard he pushed Kyven, but still challenged him in every way he could.

To an extent, Kyven said he didn’t like having his father as his coach. But his attitude changed during his sophomore year when he lost in the 145-pound state title match by major decision at the hands of Iowa City West’s Derek St. John, who is now a two-time All-American at Iowa.

It was after that loss that the lightbulb switched on for Kyven.

“[Kyven] said that would never happen to him again,” Willie said of getting beaten by major decision. “So far, it still hasn’t happened.”

It was thanks to this epiphany that Kyven was led to the path of wrestling at the highest level, which he said would not have been possible had it not been for Willie.

“[Our] bond grew, not just from a coach-wrestler standpoint but from a father-son standpoint,” Kyven said. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without him being in my life and being my coach.”

From there, Kyven went undefeated his junior and senior seasons to draw the interest of numerous Division I schools. Since Willie is an ISU alumnus, Iowa State was at the top of Kyven’s list for college choices.

Willie said he tried to get Kyven to visit other schools before making a decision. But Kyven was insistent on attending Iowa State and opted to only tour Iowa State despite receiving numerous offers from other schools.

While ISU coach Kevin Jackson said he was not surprised Kyven chose Iowa State having been born a Cyclone, he recognized another facet of the choice.

“He chose to go to the place where he believes he could get the proper training to accomplish his wrestling goals,” Jackson said. “I think those things go hand-in-hand.”

Kyven received surgery on Dec. 20, 2011, to repair his labrum after wrestling one match — a 6-1 injury-aggravating loss to Oklahoma’s Keldrick Hall — in the Cyclones’ 2011-12 season.

Since then, Kyven has been preparing for a highly anticipated return to the mat. Jackson said Kyven and fellow 197-pounder Cole Shafer will have a wrestle-off to decide who will start in the Cyclones’ upcoming dual against Old Dominion.

As for Willie, while he is as excited as “a kid in a candy store” — as he described it — for the wrestling season as both a coach and a supporter, he said there’s still one aspect of his life that will always be the most important to him.

“I’d rather be a good father than a good coach,” Willie said. “A lot of guys get that all crossed up, but I’d rather be a good father than a good coach.”