Jake Deitchler enjoyed a relaxing day off from school Wednesday, hanging out in Brainerd while on break from his studies at the University of Minnesota. Late in the afternoon, it seemed strange not to have a wrestling practice to attend, but he felt fully at peace.
The 2008 Olympian and Gophers wrestler announced Wednesday that he was retiring from the sport because of the lingering effects of multiple concussions. Deitchler, 22, had resumed his Gophers career this fall after missing nearly two years of training and competition. But he continued to experience headaches and fogginess from the nine to 11 concussions he estimated he has sustained, leading his physician to recommend that Deitchler retire immediately.
Deitchler had been ranked as high as No. 8 this season and won the 157-pound title at the Bison Open. He split two matches in dual meets, losing to top-ranked Kyle Dake of Cornell and defeating No. 9 Dylan Alton of Penn State in his final match on Nov. 20.
"It finally became that time,'' said Deitchler, who won three state titles at Anoka High School. "I prayed about it a lot, and I'm fortunate to have a great support system in my family, my girlfriend, my teammates and my coaches.
"I reached the Olympics and peaked in my sport at 18 years old, when guys usually peak around 30. I grew up really fast. I'm at peace with what I've done. Without your health, you have nothing."
Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson supported Deitchler's decision, as much as it saddened him. "You can deal with your losses," he said. "But when something is taken away from you and you don't get a choice in the game, it's a little harder to swallow. In a way, you know it's coming. But on the other hand, it's not what you want to hear."
Deitchler stunned the Greco-Roman wrestling world in 2008 when he won an Olympic berth in the 145.5-pound weight class, becoming the first high school wrestler in 32 years to make the U.S. Olympic team in his sport. He finished 12th at the Beijing Games, which led him to defer his Gophers career in order to compete internationally. While training with the U.S. Greco-Roman team in Colorado Springs, he traveled the globe, wrestling against the world's best in places such as Turkey, China, Russia and Sweden.
In 2009, Deitchler came home to the U and went 8-2 while wrestling in open meets. But the concussion symptoms he had felt on and off during his career began to grow more serious, causing him to miss the entire 2010-11 season. Deitchler got his first concussion at age 7, when he flipped over on a dirt bike and was knocked out. He believes he sustained several more over the next 15 years, which led to headaches, short-term memory problems and mental fogginess.
Deitchler began seeing Dr. Michael Collins at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Medicine Program. Collins, one of the country's foremost experts on concussions, has treated the Twins' Justin Morneau and NHL star Sidney Crosby. After a year and a half of inactivity, Deitchler said, Collins cleared him to resume training in September.
He still did not feel right, and after tests during a return visit to Pittsburgh last month, Collins urged him to bow out of the sport.
"Even when I was wrestling, I was having problems," Deitchler said. "My girlfriend would notice things, and I'd come back after practice feeling out of it. When I talked to the doctor last week, he said he didn't know how I made it through school."
Deitchler said he has about a year and a half to go to get his degree in communications and American Indian studies, and he plans to finish school. He is coaching young wrestlers alongside his mentor and coach, Brandon Paulson, and former Gophers wrestler Chad Erikson.
Staff writer Michael Rand contributed to this report.