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Oh Brother! Zadick brothers living their dream as they prepare for World Championships



This story originally ran in the July/August issue of USA Wrestler.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - It was an Olympic experience Bill Zadick will never forget.

The wide-eyed 11-year-old hopped in the car with his father, Bob, and younger brother, Mike, and they made the long drive from their Montana home to attend the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Bill remembers the experience like it was yesterday.

He hung over a railing and slapped Randy Lewis' hand after the former Iowa Hawkeye star won a gold medal. And he stood in the back of a long line waiting to get Dave Schultz's autograph after he won an Olympic title.

"It was awesome - that had a huge impact on me," Bill said. "I had already set my sights on being an Olympic champion. It was very motivational and very inspiring. One of our coaches said instead of the Schultz brothers and the Banach brothers it will be you guys down there someday."

Someday has nearly arrived for another talented set of brothers.

Twenty-two years later, Bill and Mike Zadick have landed spots on the United States freestyle team that will compete at September's World Championships in Guangzhou, China. Bill will represent the U.S. at 66 kg/145.5 pounds with Mike one weight class below at 60 kg/132 pounds. Mike is scheduled to compete in the Worlds on Sept. 27 with Bill wrestling the next day.

"We're living our dream," Mike said. "This is something we've talked about doing our whole lives and now we finally get a chance to do it. We feed off each other and we're pushing each other for that gold medal. That's what we're going over to China to get and we won't settle for anything less."

The Zadicks are the first brothers from the U.S. to compete together in a World or Olympic meet in wrestling since twins Tom and Terry Brands in 1995. Bill Zadick also made a World Team in 2001, placing seventh. The Zadicks both won championships at the U.S. World Team Trials in late May in Sioux City, Iowa.

Even though they grew up going to many of the same tournaments and same camps, this is the first time the Zadick brothers have been on the same team. Since Bill is 33 and Mike is 28, they were never on the same team in high school or college.

"This is very exciting to be going to the World Championships with my brother," Bill said. "This is very special because Mike and I are very close - we're best friends. It means everything to have him on the team with me."

The feeling is mutual.

"Bill was always the guy I looked up to and wanted to be like," Mike said. "If Bill learned something I would learn it right along with him. I learned technique, how to cut weight, and how to prepare and peak from him. Making the World Team with him made it a lot more special."

Those first seeds were planted in the Zadick family living room when the boys were toddlers. Their father, a state runner-up in high school, transformed the living room into a makeshift wrestling room.

"I started wrestling with the boys before they could even walk," Bob said. "I would make it fun for them and we would always say it was for the Olympic title or the World title. I would be ahead and they would always come back to win. I never gave them anything easy and made them work for it. That's why they have the resiliency they have now. Even if they're behind they know they can come back and win."

Bob not only coached the kids from Day 1, he also exposed them to as much wrestling as he could. He took them to tournaments and camps all over the country. He also took them to watch elite events. A club coach in Montana for 30 years, Bob brought top clinicians to Montana to work with his boys.

"I put a lot of pressure on them - I thought I could raise them to be Olympic champions," said Bob, who just turned 66. "I asked Dave Schultz once if his father pushed him and he said, 'I hated it sometimes, but if I didn't have people pushing me like that I wouldn't have been a World champion.' I know Dan Gable's parents pushed him real hard.

"Looking back, pushing Bill and Michael may have not been the best thing. I was very tough on them and very demanding. They should've hated me, but the kids responded in a positive manner. It's remarkable they turned out as well as they have."

Bob's sons agree their father's influence was positive.

"No way we'd be where we are at without my dad," Mike said. "When I first started wrestling, half the people that knew us thought I'd be a violin player. Bill was ripping people's heads off and I was this pudgy kid who was a screwball. My dad was everything in directing me down the right path. We were bred into wrestling since we were five years old. I have nothing but respect for my dad. He taught us about sacrifice and dedication, and how to work to achieve something."

Bill said he can't say enough about his father's influence.

"My dad always wanted real positive role models for us," Bill said. "The environment we were raised in allowed us to excel. He is a perfectionist by nature and if he saw Mike or I not doing anything as good as he thought it should be, he would correct us. He was very intense and very demanding, but he just wanted the best for us. I remember him asking me a lot, 'Is this what you want to do?' He left it up to me."

Mike said his father's love of wrestling was contagious.

"When you say 'wrestling' the first thing I think about is my dad," Mike said. "He's a fanatic about wrestling like no else I've ever seen. He can talk wrestling to a guy until he falls over dead or leaves and has had enough. Then he'll move on to the guy sitting next to him and keep talking wrestling."

Bob also has been known to vent his frustration at an official or two.

"I'm a real nice guy when we're winning," Bob said. "If we're losing or get a bad call, that's when I let the refs know about it. Hopefully, the officiating will be good in China. I don't want to cause any international incidents over there."

Bill and Mike Zadick both were four-time Montana state champions at Great Falls High School. They both went on to All-American careers at Iowa.

Bill won an NCAA title as a Hawkeye senior in 1996. Six years later, Mike appeared poised to end his Hawkeye career with a title at the 2002 NCAA tournament in Albany, N.Y. But Mike, who was seeded No. 1 and was undefeated, was upset in the quarterfinals and finished seventh.

"It was very tough," Mike said. "Whether I would have won that or not won it, I would still be training my butt off to be an Olympic and World champion. But losing that match still drives me."

Mike admits the loss still gnaws at him, but a relationship he forged with a cancer patient has put that match into proper perspective for him.

It was nearly six years ago when Mike met Tyler DeHeer, who was just 12 years old and had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Tyler was at the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City and wanted to meet a Hawkeye wrestler. Mike heard about Tyler's request, paid him a visit and they built a friendship. Mike started wearing a gray bracelet with the message "Tyler DeHeer: Fighting the Battle and Never Giving Up" inscribed on it.

Tyler passed away in late January. The day before Mike left to compete in the Dave Schultz Memorial International he was a pallbearer at Tyler's funeral. Tyler was just four months shy of his 18th birthday.

"When I lost that match (in Albany), I felt like it was the end of the world," Zadick said. "Watching Tyler battle cancer, that was pretty selfish of me to think that about a wrestling match when that kid is fighting for his life. He put things in perspective for me. He inspired me with his positive attitude and how hard he fought. I have his senior picture in my house and I still think about him all the time."

Mike's resiliency on the mat was evident in a match many observers consider one of the best comebacks in NCAA history. During the 2002 National Duals, Mike was thrown to his back and nearly pinned in the first period by Oklahoma's Jared Frayer. Zadick trailed 10-0 after the first period and was down 11-0 when he cut Frayer for an escape to start the second period.

Mike then staged an improbable comeback by scoring an unthinkable 10 takedowns to earn a stunning 21-19 victory. Bill was in Mike's corner coaching him during that match.

"I was embarrassed and disgusted after the first period," Mike said. "I knew I couldn't quit."

Mike continues to train in Iowa City, where he has been a volunteer assistant coach for the Hawkeyes. He will continue as an assistant at Iowa under new Hawkeye head coach and Olympic gold medalist Tom Brands, who coached him in college and also is coaching him in freestyle.

"I love working with Tom," Mike said. "He's very intense, very driven."

Mike placed second at the 2003 U.S. World Team Trials and 2004 Olympic Trials before being slowed by an assortment of injuries, including a cracked sternum. He placed third at the 2005 World Team Trials, but was not 100 percent physically. Known for his fun-loving nature and adventurous side off the mat, Mike said he finally feels good again.

Mike has come back strong this season. He won the Dave Schultz Memorial and placed second at the prestigious Uzbekistan Independence Cup. He struggled to a fourth-place finish at April's U.S. Nationals, but rebounded at the World Team Trials.

"I need to keep raising my game and prepare to battle for this gold medal," Mike said. "I need to create a lot of action and a lot of flurries. I need to keep my offense going and stay relentless. A lot of guys wait around for the clinch or try to push you out of bounds. That's not my style. I want to dominate."

Bill Zadick, who competes for the Gator Wrestling Club, now works with Tom Brands' twin brother, Terry, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Terry, a two-time World champion, is USA Wrestling's Freestyle Resident Coach.

"Tom and Terry were seniors when I was a true freshman at Iowa," Bill said. "They've trained with me and coached me. I've learned a ton from them. When Terry came to Colorado he made an immediate impact. He brings so much intensity to the room."

Bill Zadick has come back strong after placing seventh at the 2004 Olympic Trials and sixth at the 2005 World Team Trials.

"A lot of people thought I was done," Bill said. "Since I came out to Colorado I'm more focused on wrestling again. I'm training to be the best in the World and so is Mike. It's his first trip to the World Championships, but I definitely think Mike can win it. We've already beaten some of the best guys in the World. I don't see why we can't do it."

Mike came out to Colorado Springs to train just before the World Team Trials. The brothers, who share a love of the outdoors and still go on hunting trips together, have been reunited the past few weeks at the Olympic Training Center during training camps for the World Championships.

The tight-knit Zadick clan will enjoy a family reunion of sorts this fall in China. Bob and his wife, Toni, are planning to make the trip. Bill and Mike's sisters - Terri, 41, and Maryann, 29 - also hoped to make the trip.

"The support of our whole family has been amazing," Mike said. "It wasn't just our dad - I credit my mom a lot. She drove us to a lot of tournaments and was there for us as well. My sisters love wrestling - they haven't missed too many big events."

That was the case when Maryann planned her wedding. She was married a week after the U.S. World Team Trials.

"She had to change her wedding date three times to make sure we could all be there," Mike said. "My family has sacrificed so much for us."

Bob Zadick hopes his family has another reason to celebrate in China.

"I look to see Bill and Michael in the finals," Bob said. "I've seen how hard they've worked over the years and I'm a firm believer they can do it."
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