DUANESBURG — Though it had been about four years since Nick Gwiazdowski had returned to his hometown of Duanesburg, the fact that he was leading a one-day wrestling clinic at Duanesburg Jr.-Sr. High School on Wednesday was typical.
“He always reaches out to see what we need, whether it’s something from a sponsor in terms of uniforms, or [he] comes in to run a practice or this clinic. He always thinks of us and takes care of us,” Duanesburg wrestling coach Ryan Patrie said.
Gwiazdowski worked with 16 wrestlers at the clinic. Most were from Duanesburg, with a few from Berne-Knox-Westerlo. These days, coaching is becoming more of a second nature to Gwiazdowski, who took a job as a volunteer assistant at Cornell University about a year ago.
He hasn’t hung up his wrestling shoes yet, however. The two-time World Championships bronze medalist and two-time NCAA Division I heavyweight champion is part-coach and part-athlete.
“Coach [Mike] Grey, the head coach at Cornell, when he offered me the position, made it very clear he wants to see me compete and win and all those things,” Gwiazdowski said. “That was something that was a major key for me.”
Gwiazdowski said his dual role is a welcome challenge.
“Lead these guys, but also lead by example,” he said. “You can’t tell guys what to do if they’re, like, ‘You want me to do this, but you won’t do it yourself.’ ‘No, I’m going to tell you these things to do and I’m going to do them to you.’ It validates all the things you tell them when you can execute all those moves.”
Gwiazdowski works primarily with three weight classes: 184, 197 and heavyweight. He’ll do whatever is needed, though.
“The kids we have on our wrestling team are skilled, they know wrestling moves, but it’s perfecting them, having them feel good for competition, having them be confident, having them trust you in the things you’re telling them to do, not just in training but in competition too,” Gwiazdowski said.
For now, he chuckled, he is that much better than the college wrestlers that it gives him some credibility. But like a typical coach, he hopes the student-athletes he’s guiding surpass him skill-wise some day.
This year, he has wrestled in two competitions, a tournament in Turkey in February and the Pan American Championships from May 5-8 in Acapulco, where he earned a silver medal. He doesn’t have anything scheduled in the near future, as he recovers from an injury recently suffered the last time he wrestled.
Once he’s fully recovered, he said his goal is to qualify for the 2023 World Championships, which would make the fifth time he had represented the United States in them. At the 2021 World Championships, Gwiazdowski placed fifth.
Nick Gwiazdowski (4 photos)
“I’m very confident that’s where I belong, in terms of my skill and abilities,” Gwiazdowski said. “[Last] year, I came up short by 12 seconds. Those reminders sting, those are things that don’t sit well with me, so I’ll fix those and be back to where I need to be.
“It’s someone I’ve beaten before, had shutouts against before,” he continued. “There’s three six-minute matches, so 18 minutes of wrestling, and you kind of controlled 16 and a half of the 18 minutes. You’re, like, I’m doing a lot of things really well, but how do I seal the deal? How do I close out the matches to where they don’t score five points in the last minute?”
The good part, Gwiazdowski said, is that he has overcome failures before and kept going, so he is confident he can call upon that.
“Right now my goal is the 2024 Olympics, being ready for that and the trials to make the team in 2024,” Gwiazdowski said. “Before that, the 2023 Worlds, that’s the team I want to be on.”
Gwiazdowski said he doesn’t have an end date in mind. He’s healthy and still enjoys the physical and mental challenges. But when he is ready to devote more time to coaching, based on Wednesday’s clinic, he’ll be just fine at that, too.
“Just from the moves he was showing, he was right there by my side to help me out with them,” said Duanesburg junior Scott Nicolella. “This is a great chance to have. He’s the best in the world; it’s an honor.”
“It’s appropriate for the high school level,” Patrie said, “and the things he shows definitely translates into the high school game. And it’s a nice event because it keeps us connected in the offseason.”