Why Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s Michaela Beck skipped college to chase her wrestling dreams
This is the third of a five-part series profiling the Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s women’s freestyle wrestlers. Featured here is Michaela Beck, a 2018 U.S. Open runner-up and 2016 Junior national champion.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Most 19-year-olds here are readying themselves for the end of the spring semester. Finals week is fast approaching, and summer break is on the other side.
But Michaela Beck is not like most 19-year-olds.
Instead of studies and syllabi, she’s focused on morning and afternoon practices inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. She's keyed into gut-wrenches and leg-laces, rather than tests and papers. In lieu of a vacation, she’ll continue training to be the best in the world.
“I like competing, and I like winning,” Beck says. “I think when your mind’s right and you’re on track, you can beat anyone.”
Beck is one of five women’s freestyle wrestlers who train with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. She is the youngest of the group, but is one of the country’s brightest up-and-comers. She won’t be competing at this week’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas, but is instead preparing for next month's UWW Junior world team trials in Irving, Texas.
A couple things stand out about Beck when compared with her Hawkeye Wrestling Club teammates.
First, she only started wrestling in eighth grade — or, about five years ago. The New York City native was introduced to the sport through Beat The Streets, a nonprofit that helps youths through wrestling around the country. In 2016, she won a Junior freestyle national title. As a high school senior, she was ranked No. 1 in the country at 127 pounds.
And that takes us to the second separating factor about Beck: When it came time for a college decision, she opted to skip the college experience entirely, choosing instead to join the Hawkeye Wrestling Club full-time.
“I just want to train and compete,” Beck says. “Some people might think that’s weird. Both of my parents went to college, and I plan on going to college, too.
“But right now, it’s my prime years to train, and I want to put everything I have into it.”
Beck’s success attracted the attention of many of the top programs in the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association, which has become an exceptional proving ground for many of the nation’s best women’s wrestlers. The other four Hawkeye Wrestling Club women’s freestyle wrestlers, for example, were all multiple-time WCWA All-Americans.
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But Beck chose a different path in the hopes of expediting her development. She’s only been wrestling for a short time compared with some of her opponents, but her goals are just as lofty.
“There’s no doubt she’s a bright young talent,” says Terry Steiner, the United States’ women’s national team coach and a former Iowa wrestler. “Michaela is a tough girl with a lot of ability. She’s a tireless worker. If you ask her to run through a wall, she’s going to run through a wall.
“The biggest focus for her this year is making the Junior world team and winning a Junior world medal. I’m sure she’d like to qualify for the Senior world team, too.”
Beck’s competitive nature was built through years of taekwondo. She gravitated toward mixed martial arts in middle school. Her father, Scott, wrestled at Harvard and works at Beat The Streets in New York, and explained to her that the best fighters are often former wrestlers.
She went with her dad to practice, and — well, it could have gone better.
“It was terrible,” Beck recalls. “I gassed in the warm-up. It was so difficult. It was hell for me.
“But there was something about it that made me want to come back.”
Wrestling consumed her. Scott took her to Columbia-Harvard duals. She read books, such as “A Season On The Mat,” which chronicles Iowa’s 1996-97 campaign. She spent hours watching old videos of Iowa coach Tom Brands. She spent countless days on the mat, honing her own technique.
Beck caught on quickly. She reached the Junior national finals in 2015, then won in 2016. She reached the U.S. Open finals last year at 57 kilograms (125 pounds) as a senior in high school, competing against collegians and post-grads. She took bronze at the 2018 Senior Pan-American Championships, and then silver at the Junior Pan-Ams.
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Beck has two more years to compete for a Junior world title, but has plans to wrestle at many Senior-level events, too. If she wins the Junior world team trials next month, she’ll qualify to compete for the Senior world team as well. She feels like the Hawkeye Wrestling Club can help her achieve her goals.
“My first practice here, I wrestled (head coach) Mark Perry, and he just snapped me down the whole practice,” Beck says. “He made us run sprints and do rope climbs at the end. I was sweaty, and I just fell in love.”
Added Scott: “She really just wanted to focus on wrestling. It takes a special breed of competitor to be in that room. But if that’s what you are and you are focused on what you want, there is no better place.”
Beck has talked with her parents about going to college later. Scott brought up the idea of coaching while also taking classes. By then, he hopes women’s wrestling will be a Division I sport, something for which Brands has voiced his support.
For now, Beck is focused on becoming one of the nation's best wrestlers. Her sights are set on a Junior world title this summer. The Olympic Trials are a year away, too, and Beck smiles at the thought of reaching the sport’s pinnacle.
“I knew all about the Olympics, and I knew that Iowa had a lot of Olympians and Olympic champs,” Beck says. “There’s no easy day here. At some places, you can hide or take an easy day. But our coaches here notice everything.
“In the moment, that’s hard, but that’s what makes you better.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
OTHER HAWKEYE WRESTLING CLUB WOMEN'S WRESTLERS STORIES
Michaela Beck Résumé
- 2018 U.S. Open runner-up
- 2018 Senior World Team Trials runner-up
- 2018 Junior World Team Trials runner-up
- 2018 Pan-American bronze medalist
- 2018 Junior Pan-American silver medalist
- 2016 Junior nationals champion