Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson was in Las Vegas this weekend to be on hand for the U.S. Senior Nationals, with spots in April's U.S. Olympic team trials on the line. Nine Minnesota alums were among the hopefuls, but before Robinson even took off from Minneapolis/-St. Paul International Airport another former wrestler had his attention.
"I get on the plane and hear, 'Hey, J Rob!' " Robinson recalled. "I turn around, and it's Chad Kraft in his pilot's uniform. I immediately said, 'I'm getting off this thing right now.' "
Robinson, of course, was kidding. In 30 years as Gophers coach he has groomed 63 All-Americas, 31 Big Ten champions and 14 national champions. But Kraft, a four-time All-America with the Gophers in the 1990s, is the first former wrestler to be at the controls on one of his commercial flights.
Robinson was more than happy to be a passenger.
"I bump into guys all the time, so many of them stick around the area," Robinson said. "But here's this qualified flight guy that you know — with all the flights going in and out the chances are so small. Of all the people you run into on flights and in airports, and this time it's him."
The pleasure, though, was all in the front of the aircraft.
"He is a big part of my success and to have the opportunity to fly him, something I do every day now, was definitely an honor," said Kraft, who started flight training after his wrestling career ended in 1999 and has been a commercial pilot since 2007. "What a great way to catch up."
Robinson said he complimented Kraft after the flight landed smoothly in Vegas.
"I gave him a B-plus or A-minus for this one. I don't want to make it too good," Robinson said, laughing. "I think he felt some pressure with his old boss in back."
Once both were off the aircraft Robinson had a flight attendant snap a photo to mark the moment.
Robinson, 69, isn't exactly a social media whiz. But for this experience, he quickly sent out a tweet.
"I don't tweet very often but this was just a classic," Robinson said.
So would he welcome another trip with Kraft at the helm?
"Sure," Robinson said. "But I expected him to be funnier over the mic."
All these years later and Robinson still is nitpicking one of his finest athletes.
"J doesn't hand out A's so I'm surprised with what I got," Kraft said. "That's a gentleman that keeps you on your toes, and will give you a swat on the shoulder to let you know you've done well."