A wrestling match takes only seven minutes. Yet in those seven minutes, so much can go wrong.
It’s another afternoon practice for the 34 members of the Mercyhurst wrestling team; a practice that is sure to leave some hunched over trying to catch their breath. As the wrestlers huddle up before practice, it is evident that something isn’t quite right; someone is missing.
Redshirt Senior Eric Fulmer is sidelined to start the season due to injuries.
“It’s awful not to be out there on the mat. It’s especially tough because I am one of the captains. How am I supposed to lead by example when I can’t even go out on the mat?” Fulmer said.
With one year to go in his college wrestling career, Fulmer will have to make the best out of the situation.
“Even though I can’t wrestle right now, I still want to be there for my teammates. If that means going to every practice and standing off to the side, I am fine with that,” Fulmer said.
But to understand how Fulmer got to this point, it is necessary to know how last year’s season ended.
Tough way to end the season
It happened at Mercyhurst’s last match of the 2010-11 season. They were taking on their rivals West Liberty University. Following a loss at 174 pounds., Mercyhurst was relying on a big win from the 184-pounder Fulmer. He was the second-ranked wrestler in the region and had already knocked off the fifth ranked wrestler in the country and a former All-American.
On this night he was up against Derrick Williams, a good wrestler in his own right.
The match started slowly, with both wrestlers waiting to see who would make the first move.
Before anyone knew, it the two were down on the mat, and it was in that moment, in that seven minute span, that all that hard work would be lost.
“I basically went to break him down and throw my hips in, which required me to straighten my leg out, and as soon as I straightened my leg out, it popped. I didn’t think I was in trouble; it was a position I had been in a thousand times. But as soon as I heard my knee pop, I said there goes my season,” Fulmer. said.
The injuries pile up
Fulmer’s injuries included a tear in his posterior cruciate ligament and posterior lateral complex that would require reconstructive surgery.
His recovery was anything but fun.
He had to keep his knee in a brace for four months, unable to straighten his leg. He spent another five months on crutches, and he continues to go through extensive therapy to get his knee back into wrestling shape. Injuries have become a common theme in Fulmer’s wrestling career.
He has not wrestled a full season since his freshman year at St. Andrews University in North Carolina. After taking a redshirt in his first year at Mercyhurst, Fulmer expected to make a big impact by cracking the starting line-up. But prior to the season he noticed that something wasn’t right.
One side of his back was bigger than the other, and at times he would feel a burning sensation, while also frequently losing his grip strength.
After a visit to the doctor, Fulmer learned that he had four bulging discs in his neck, and his season was over before it even got started.
That wouldn’t even be the worst of the news.
After visiting a total of three neurologists, Fulmer’s dreams had taken another major blow, as they all told him that it was very likely that he would never wrestle again.
Fulmer had two choices; he could call it quits and give up on the sport that he had dedicated his life to since he was five, or he could wrestle through the injury and make one last run at the title that had eluded him. It didn’t take long for him to make his decision. He wasn’t going to let an injury end his wrestling career.
“It was a tough decision to make, but I couldn’t worry about the consequences. I had to do what I felt was best for me,” Fulmer said.
At first, everything was going as planned.
Fulmer had become one of the top wrestlers in the country, and it looked as if this was his year to make a run at a national championship. At least until the West Liberty match last year.
The long road to recovery
Every time he steps on the mat, he knows that it could be his last.One mistake and his college wrestling career is over.
Fulmer says that he tries not to dwell on that.
“I don’t think about that. It just motivates me more, and I go out and work as hard as I can. You can’t think like that, because you will go out not to lose, instead of going out and trying to win,” Fulmer said.
He continues to work out on a daily basis, waiting for that doctor’s appointment this month when he will find out if he will be able to wrestle this year.
“I know that I don’t have any control over the situation, but I believe that if I continue to work hard that everything will work out in the end,” Fulmer said.
If he is cleared by his doctors he will be back in time for the national duals and will have a little more than half a season to prepare for the national tournament.
Fulmer knows that there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to wrestle, but he doesn’t like to let thoughts like that creep into his mind. He instead believes that he has to stay positive and keep on working as if he were going to wrestle tomorrow.
If all goes well and Fulmer is able to step back on the mat, he will have one thing going in his favor.
“I have been through an injury likes this. I’ve missed a whole year already and came back and wrestled to my potential. I think it will make it a bit easier.” Fulmer said.
Fulmer says that there is only one thing that motivates him to get back on the mat.
“When I envision myself with my hand raised on that mat in Colorado, being a national champion and realizing all my hard work has finally paid off. Once that happens I’ll be able to rest easy.”