COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Two-time World Champion and 2016 Olympic champion wrestler Kyle Snyder nearly jumped out of his front row seat inside a classroom Tuesday morning at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
On the two screens in front of him, images of Jess Lockwood getting knocked unconscious by two-time World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser, had Snyder gasping as he threw his left hand behind his own head in disbelief.
“Give me a different one,” Snyder quipped to a laugh from the room.
Snyder was essentially speechless, though, as was the rest of the USA Wrestling men’s national freestyle team during a Tuesday morning meeting before the first of two practice sessions.
The group had met Lockwood on Monday, but this was the first time that they were seeing highlight clips of Lockwood.
“I have watched some bull riding before. It is really cool to see.” Snyder said after the morning practice. “Yeah those things are bucking hard. It is scary to get thrown off like that, but he is tough and is able to fight through injuries and is able to compete. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much.”
Lockwood, a Montana high school state champion, was invited by USA Wrestling this week to Colorado Springs for two days of training after learning of his 2017 World Championship last month.
The youngest PBR World Champion was sitting next to Snyder smack dab in the middle of the front row of the classroom.
Lockwood couldn’t hide his grin as the best wrestlers in the world hooped and hollered while watching some of his best rides, as well as images of the Volborg, Montana, cowboy hoisting the 2017 championship trophy.
It was one of the 20-year-old’s favorite moments of his two training days.
“How much I looked up to these guys, and they played my highlight video,” said a still somewhat surprised Lockwood. “They were so amazed and thought I was the coolest guy ever. That meant a lot to me because I have looked up to these guys ever since I was in sixth and seventh grade. For them now to think this kid is crazy good meant a lot to me. It was awesome.
“This is something I never expected. I follow all of these guys and the Team USA Olympic team.”
The relationship between USA Wrestling and the PBR this week was spearheaded in part because of the similarities between Snyder and Lockwood.
Snyder is the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a world title (19) and an Olympic title (20), while Lockwood, 20, became the youngest World Champion in PBR history following last month’s PBR World Finals.
“Whenever you are the youngest ever, or the first at that age, a lot of times people think it is impossible,” Snyder, now 22, said. “But it shows he grew up in a family that believed in him, and he believed in himself, just like I did. Then he was able to execute when it mattered most. He seems like a down-to-earth guy.”
The idea was the brainchild of Cody Bickley.
The Otis, Colorado, native joined USA Wrestling in 2009 and has been USA Wrestling’s National Teams High Performance Manager for four years.
Bickley is no stranger to the Western lifestyle either. His father used to ride bulls and Cody gave it shot as a kid growing up in Northern Colorado. He eventually switched to wrestling full time during his freshman year of high school.
A self-proclaimed PBR fan that grew up on a ranch, Bickley knew he had to approach USA Wrestling’s National Freestyle Head Coach Bill Zadick with the idea of bringing Lockwood to Colorado.
“I started to learn a little of his backstory, and I started reading a little bit more,” Bickley said. “I then checked in with our coaches and was like what a great opportunity. Both won World Championships in 2017. This is a slam dunk. We have a little bit of a downtime so let’s get together and have some fun.”
Lockwood, who wrestled from the time he was 5 years old until he was 16, has no intentions of trying to one day make the Olympics as a wrestler; and so far none of Team USA is signing up to get on Bruiser any time soon.
He still credits his 2017 world title to the lessons he learned on the mat before he switched to bull riding full time after his sophomore year of high school.
“That is where I got my work ethic and my strong mentality and being tough,” Lockwood told the group of wrestlers. “It is all from wrestling. Yeah, you get it from riding bulls too, but it started out with wrestling.”
This week’s two-day session was less about pushing each other in the state-of-the-art training facility, but more so about finding different tactics and ways to improve mentally in their respective sports.
This was about putting a bonafide World Champion alongside a group of champions.
“We feel iron sharpens iron,” Bickley said. “If you are good at what you do, we want to pick your brain. We were watching Jess and what he does on a (medicine) ball,” Bickley said. “The coordination. The sheer will power. We talked a little about that in our meeting this year injury wise. We just wanted the guys to experience that a little bit.
“We have a lot of respect for what Jess and professional bull riders do.”
Lockwood was still put through the ringer at times during his two days in Colorado Springs.
At one point, he was left red in the face and sweating as he leaned against a wall post.
Lockwood decided to take a quick water break before Zadick jokingly asked, “Jess, you gonna start doggin’ it on me?”
“I know this isn’t my sport,” Lockwood said afterward. “I am not afraid if I am doing stuff wrong. I wrestled, yeah, but I never freestyled wrestled. This was completely new to me.”
All kidding aside, though, Zadick was thrilled to bring Lockwood to town and to give him a chance to inspire the men’s freestyle team, while also hopefully taking something away for himself.
During Tuesday’s team meeting, Zadick, who also is from Montana, stressed that it is usually easier to pick out the differences in others.
It was no secret that Lockwood was by far the tiniest guy in the room and on the wrestling mat.
Instead, Zadick wanted his team to focus on learning from other people’s successes.
“That is more powerful,” Zadick said. “Similarities become more powerful because of what success looks like and how it connects people. The thing that I noticed about Jess in these few days being with him are there are a lot of strong similarities. His maturity. His competiveness, and the way he approaches his career is very striking. It is similar to our best athletes.
“That grounded emotional base is what allows exceptional competitors to reach the peak of that pyramid.”
Zadick later added that winners can become inspired from winners of other sports and disciplines.
There is a mutual appreciation for each other’s excellence.
“One of the things I wanted these guys that don’t have a lot of experience in bull riding to see is that it is really tough,” Zadick said. “It is really hard on your body. It takes a lot of courage to step in that arena and put yourself on the back of an 1,800-pound animal with a bad attitude.
“There are a lot of people doing other challenging things in the world and not only are they facing those adversaries but they are thriving in it. Jess is doing that. It is good for our guys. It is healthy for all of us.”
Lockwood may have been brought in to help inspire, but he was left leaving USA Wrestling also inspired, hungry and motivated for the 2018 PBR season to begin.
His quest at repeating as a World Champion begins on Jan. 5 in New York at Madison Square Garden, and Lockwood believes these two days helped him slowly get back into the necessary mental state he will need once the season officially gets underway.
“Heck, being able to hang out with these guys. They are the best of the best,” Lockwood concluded. “That motivates me greatly.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Stay tuned to PBR.com next week and the PBR’s social media channels for more behind-the-scenes content from Lockwood’s two-day stint with USA Wrestling’s Men’s National Freestyle Team.
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