Early in the fall, Steve Bosaks right wrist started to swell up.
Like any wrestler especially a defending NCAA champion of Bosaks caliber the State College high school graduate figured hed suck it up and keep training. Afterall, the college wrestling season was rapidly approaching and Bosak had his 184-pound title to defend.
But the swelling worsened and eventually required a visit to a doctor who, after lancing the boil-like potrusion, diagnosed Bosak with a staph infection picked up most likely from wrestling. Hed need surgery to curtail the infections spread.
Suddenly, Bosaks chance to repeat as national champion in his final season for Cornell was an afterthought. In that moment Bosak realized, his right arm the one he used to take down childhood friend Quentin Wright to seal his national championship win in sudden victory last season was at stake.
Worst-case scenario? The staph could spread to his heart. He could die.
I had it twice, was hospitalized with it twice. I know how serious it can be, Cornell wrestling coach Rob Koll said. Thats pretty scary stuff. I didnt want to scare Steve, obviously, but I was definitely concerned. You dont want to lose a hand and you definitely dont want to lose your life.
Immediately, Bosak had surgery to drain his swollen wrist and cleanse the infected area. He was fitted with an IV that ran from a fanny-pack mounted bag into his right arm. It snaked its way through his body and stopped at his heart.
For five weeks, the IV pumped antibiotics directly into Bosaks heart at four-hour intervals.
The main concern immediately after finding out was, we had to take care of this because if its not taken care of properly it could be a life or death situation, Bosak said. Even though that was very distant and unlikely, if it wasnt taken care of properly it could have been. We wanted to go the extra step to make sure this infection wouldnt come back and it wouldnt effect me later on in the season.
Although the staph infection brought Bosaks preseason training to a halt, the surgery and resulting treatments were effective. After multiple check-ups and blood tests confirmed the staph had been eliminated, Bosak was cleared to return to action in late November. Bosak said he plans to get more blood work done as the season progresses te to make sure the staph hasnt returned.
Two days before Cornell embarked on a cross-country trip to Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 30, Bosak asked Koll if he could enter the tournament.
I was like, OK, Steve youve had two days of training. I dont think youre going to be ready for Vegas, Koll said.
Bosaks wait was extended. He finally made his return last week at Grapple At The Garden, the first time a college wrestling event was held at New York Citys famed Madison Square Garden.
Although No. 8 Cornell lost to No. 7 Missouri 22-12 and then dropped its next dual to No. 2 Oklahoma State 21-16, Bosak, ranked No. 2 at 184 pounds, beat both of his opponents. He won a 4-0 decision against No. 8 Mike Larson and then beat Oklahoma States No. 13 Chris Chionuma 5-3.
Bosak wasnt thrilled with his performances. Considering he only had a little over two weeks of full training at that point, Bosak said he felt a little behind the curve when he stepped on the mats at the Garden.
When I had that IV in my arm I wasnt able to do anything, wasnt able to bike, wasnt able to run, Bosak said.
His doctors instructions were simple enough but crushing to an athlete at the same time: Dont exert yourself. Lifting weights was a no-no. Wrestling was out of the question.
Instead, Bosak could only watch his teammates inside the Cornell wrestling room. Sometimes hed sit on an exercise bike and pedal at a walking pace. Most of the time, hed close his eyes and visualize himself in the room with his teammates.
Whether it was hitting shots, sprawling, downblocking, re-shooting, staying in my stance, getting up from bottom, turning somebody I just would visually focus and mentally think about what I do when I wrestle and that kind of helped me keep fresh, Bosak said.
In reality, Koll wasnt worried Bosak would have trouble returning to championship form.
He has nearly three months until the NCAA tournament with nine dual meets, the National Duals and the EIWA championships in between.
If youve been through it enough times, you know youre going to get back in to shape, Koll said. If youve kept your body in great shape as long as he has done it for years, 10 or 15 years, you dont just fall out of shape and your body also recovers very quickly. He popped back pretty quickly.
After he was cleared to wrestle, Bosak put in extra time in the room. When most of his teammates left practice, Bosak stayed later, working himself ragged.
He stayed a couple of extra days later after our teammates left and he was getting double workouts in, trying to get better and get back to where he knows he should be and I think he is getting back to it, Bosaks teammate Kyle Dake said. I think hes going to surpass where he was last year and Im really excited for him this year because I think he can do some amazing things.
Bosaks next challenge awaits at the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1 and 2. There, he has a good chance of meeting the man ahead of him in the rankings Penn States Ed Ruth who won the national championship at 174 pounds last season.
Koll has seen wrestlers benefit from missing early portions of wrestling seasons before. Once theyve returned, theyve done so with vigor, having not had the grind of an early-season stretch adversely affect their health while at the same time being motivated to make up for lost time.
Bosak fits both criteria.
I wrestled at Madison Square Garden this past week and felt a little rusty, Bosak said. The first match is always the roughest one. Ive had about four weeks of training now and Im excited to get back into it. I feel good, fresh and rested, so now the next step is the Southern Scuffle and Im looking forward to that.