GREAT FALLS — Nothing about wrestling comes easy, and no one knows that better than Great Falls’ own Mike Zadick, a four-time state champion, a college all-American at Iowa, and a 2008 Olympian.
“We talk about struggle here, overcoming struggle,” said Zadick. “We want to struggle, just to overcome it. To make ourselves a better person.”
That’s the message he delivers to campers at the annual wrestling clinic he hosts with his brother, Bill, and it’s the one that resonated with 10-year-old Tucker Stygles of Havre.
“It’s a tough sport,” said Stygles. “You technically have to be tough in your life to get through stuff.”
Stygles has been through his share of struggle: He was born with his cervical vertebrae fused, leaving him without a neck, which led to many more medical complications.
“He has a fused neck, a cleft palette, ended up having a feeding tube for like a year and half of life,” said Tucker’s mom, Mallory Stygles. “He has had over 50 surgeries — ear tubes, palette surgeries, stomach tied to his esophagus. He struggled for a long time.”
Wrestling is important to the Stygles family. Tucker’s father Tyrel is the coach of the Havre wrestling club, and the family travels around the region regularly for tournaments. But doctors told them that Tucker would never be able to wrestle.
“It was huge for us, because we are a very active family and Tyrel, his dad, is huge into wrestling, his brother is into wrestling,” Mallory said. “Tristan was three years older than Tucker, so he started and we were already in it and his dad is the coach and we were there. And then to hear that he couldn’t wrestle was horrible.”
No matter how hard they tried, the Stygle family couldn’t keep Tucker off the mat. That’s where people like Mike Zadick come in.
“When we first met Mike, Tucker was little and he wasn’t even going to the camp yet, and Mike just took him on the mat and said, ‘You need to get your shoes and come out here,'” Mallory said. “From then on, it stuck.”
Once he got on the mat, that was it, Tucker was a wrestler, and a pretty good one at that. He regularly wins or places at youth tournaments, and he has lofty career goals.
“Getting into the Olympics and being a four-timer,” Tucker said confidently.
He’s an inspiration to everyone who watches him wrestle, including his older brother.
“He deserves it because he’s had to fight all of his life,” said Tristan. “He’s had to fight through the surgeries, he’s had to fight through everything, and wrestling is just another step. He’s been through harder stuff than wrestling, so he knows how to fight.”
That brings us back to the Zadick brothers camp. Recently Tucker had to pick someone who inspired him for a school project. You can probably guess who he named.
“I picked (Mike) because he was a really good wrestler and really good athlete, and we both like each other,” Tucker said. “I like how he comes to the tournaments and we get to see him.”
“Since he was coming here, he was the cutest kid and I always hugged him and picked him up,” Zadick responded when told of Tucker’s choice. “And you don’t realize what a hug does to a kid. He writes a report and a biography, and his mom sent me a message stating, ‘You don’t know what those hugs have done for him over the years.'”
Part of the project saw Tucker craft a styrofoam replica of Mike, signature beard and all.
“I came up yesterday and said, ‘Hey, I saw that little dummy you made yesterday, that’s an ugly guy. That does not look like me, I’m way prettier than that dummy,'” Zadick laughed. “He just laughed at it, he got a kick out of it.”
The fact that Tucker Stygles is even on the mat is a miracle, and through struggle, dedication and positive role models, he’s not just competing, but thriving.
“This was not supposed to happen,” Mallory said. “He was not supposed to be this kid. And it’s awesome that there are so many people out there recognizing him. We’ve gone to tournaments and everybody knows who Tucker is. Getting into a sport where he has to work hard, be there every day, show up, it makes him tougher.”
Wrestling is tough, but there’s nothing too tough for Tucker.