GREAT FALLS — Every year Great Falls wrestling legends Mike and Bill Zadick dive into their endless network of top-level experts to bring some of the biggest names in the sport to Montana.
For their 2018 Zadick Bros Camp they welcomed in Kyle Snyder, arguably the greatest active wrestler in the world.
“He’s just the biggest name in the sport right now,” Mike Zadick said. “He’s young, he’s up and coming and probably the most credentialed athlete in the world for his age. John Smith is the most decorated athlete in our sport, hands down. But Kyle’s already breaking his records and on track to be the best ever. He’s pound for pound the toughest guy in the country.”
The 22-year-old Snyder is known to casual sports fans for his incredible achievements on the mat. He’s a three-time NCAA champion at Ohio State and is the youngest-ever American wrestler to win both a world championship and an Olympic Gold medal. He has a 73-8 record on the USA senior men’s national freestyle team, including 30 consecutive wins.
But most fans, including most attending the camp, don’t know that Snyder actually lived in Great Falls as a kid.
“My dad works for the government in customs and border patrol,” Snyder said. “We moved out here when I was 2, lived here for a couple years and visited a couple times. My little brother was born out here. We love Montana, it’s beautiful. It’s cool being able to come back to a place that I once lived and hopefully I can continue to come back and spend more time here.”
Those formative years in Great Falls are not Snyder’s only connection to the Treasure State. Before he soared to stardom on the mats, Snyder was just a talented high school athlete in Maryland. That’s where he first caught the attention of Bill Zadick, then the USA Wrestling National Freestyle Development Coach, who built a relationship with Snyder and his family before recruiting him to train full-time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“He was a standout performer, a top-tier kid that was still pretty green,” Bill Zadick recalled of his impressions of Snyder as a sophomore in high school. “So I gave him the opportunity to come out to the training center for a week, get him involved in the Cadet World Team Trial. It grew from there.”
But did Zadick have any idea how good this kid would be? He laughed.
“Coaches are eternal optimists. I knew he was going to be very good, you could just see it,” he recalled. “He certainly had the physical gifts, but more importantly he had the mental capacity and the maturity. You saw what could be possible, and he’s just realized every dream that you imagine.”
For Snyder’s part, he credits Zadick’s coaching and guidance with his rise to the top of the sport.
“He’s had a huge impact on my career,” Snyder said. “He taught me a lot of lessons that you usually aren’t taught in the sport, like the correct way to peak for competition. Technique-wise, he taught me things that I’m still using today. Mentally, he taught me lessons that I don’t think other coaches would have taught me, and he put me in training environments and competition environments that just refined me and made me a much better athlete at a way quicker pace.”
And that leads us to this week in Great Falls. Zadick asked Snyder to be the guest clinician at his annual wrestling camp, and the reigning world champion jumped at the chance. Snyder is teaching campers championship-level techniques and, just as importantly, life lessons.
“First of all, I have to tell them to love what they’re doing,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t have to be wrestling, but find something you love and pursue it and become the best you can possibly be at it. Surround yourself with good people. Be consistent in the way that you work and the way that you think.”
Those are lessons that will stick with the campers in attendance this week, both big and small.
“The biggest thing these kids are going to take away from this, is that they touched him, they shook his hand, and now they go back and they watch what he’s done,” added Mike Zadick, now an assistant at Iowa State. “And they research him, and they follow him. And they want to follow that kind of same direction. They’re rubbing elbows with greatness and now they want to become something like that.”
Take it from 9-year-old Madden Jensen. In 2017 he and his father, Great Falls CMR wrestling coach Aaron Jensen, attended the NCAA Championships where Snyder won his second national title. After the match, Madden received a green wristband from the referee who officiated the match. It’s been hanging prominently in his room every night since.
On Wednesday Snyder signed the wrist band and Madden sat there – staring at it, eyes wide after the clinic.
“He’s my hero,” said the young grappler. “I learned how to do a lot of new wrestling moves today, and I can’t wait to watch Kyle wrestle for the world team. He’s so nice.”