A dream realizedWrestler with Osakis ties earns his spot in the Summer Olympics
By: Eric Morken, The Osakis Review
Osakis’ Nona Betts is like a lot of proud grandparents, which is why she gets a little choked up talking about her grandson’s latest accomplishment.
Nona has plenty of pictures chronicling Chas Betts’ wrestling career from the time it started in first grade. She watched him develop a passion for the sport and set goals. It just so happens that those goals were set higher than almost every other kid.
Chas said he first thought of making an Olympic roster when he started experiencing success in Greco style wrestling. That was in middle school. Now at age 26, Betts has seen countless hours working toward that goal pay off after he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team by winning his 84KG weight class at the U.S. Team Trials on April 21.
“Like I told him and several others,” Nona said. “He’s probably the only person I’ll ever know that’s totally living his dream. He’s done so well, and we’re so proud of him. I get very emotional.”
Chas based a lot of important decisions in his life on what it would take to get to this point. After winning a state title at 160 pounds during his senior year at St. Michael-Albertville, he chose Northern Michigan University because it offered an opportunity to get an education and train Greco fulltime as a member of the U.S. Olympic Education Center program.
“You move there when you’re 18 and start training,” he said from Nona’s house in Osakis last Wednesday. “The task seems so daunting to wrestle these 30-year-old guys, or even older than that a lot of them, to make the team. In the beginning, it seemed so out of reach. As the years go by, you steadily improve a little more, a little more, and finally you get there.”
Betts graduated from NMU in 2010 before facing another decision on where to go next. He chose Colorado Springs, Colorado because it offered him a chance to work with a lot of other Greco wrestlers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Betts dealt with injuries his first year out there that affected his performances on the mat. He opted for surgery in early 2011 before coming back and wrestling in the U.S. World Team Trials in June. He finished third at the trials and didn’t qualify for the team in his weight class.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to think outside the box when it came to his training last summer. Betts went to Europe from the end of July to the middle of September to immerse himself in a culture that craved wrestling. He spent time in Romania and Hungary before ending in Istanbul, where he trained with the national team from Turkey, a perennial power in Greco style.
“I said to myself, this is the Olympic year,” he said. “You have to get a little crazy in an Olympic year to try and make it happen. I figured if I was going to try to give myself an advantage that would be probably the biggest way I could do it, so I just decided to go with it.”
Those six weeks overseas allowed him to watch how some of the world’s best wrestlers prepared for a big tournament. A tournament exactly like the one he found himself in at the U.S. Trials less than two weeks ago.
Betts matched up with Northfield native Jordan Holm in the best-of-three championship series in Iowa City, Iowa. He took the first round against Holm 1-0, 0-3, 2-0 before wrapping up an Olympic berth with a 2-0, 2-0 win in round two.
Betts’ emotions took over after the final seconds ticked away. He threw his hands in the air and immediately searched for his family and friends in the crowd. A goal that had seemed so unreachable at times was finally realized.
“Really high highs and really low lows,” he said of his journey to get to this point. “It’s heartbreaking. We work out 10 times a week every week and then sometimes the tournaments don’t go how you want and you lose. You start questioning yourself and asking, ‘Is it worth it? Is it going to be worth it?’ People say it all the time, but it just takes finally getting past the end to realize it is, it’s all worth it. It always was.”
Betts was allowed two weeks to let his body rest before diving into preparation for the games. His schedule includes two month-long training camps in Colorado Springs and a dual meet in Chicago against a national team from Georgia in southeastern Europe. He and his teammates leave for London on July 23.
“I’ve been telling a few people,” he said, “in all these years and all this buildup, I finally make the team and now the hard work starts.”
Betts didn’t put in all this work to be content with just making a roster. As he dreamed of this moment as a kid, it always ended with him standing on a podium.
“Gold medal,” Betts said of his goals in London. “It has to be. That can be the only goal. I think leading up to all this, people think the goal may be to just make the team, but that can’t be the goal. The goal has to be to win a medal. That’s the special thing. Being on the team is awesome, but it’s not going to mean a ton to me if I come home empty handed.”