Faces of Sports: Thomas Hiatt overcame injury to win state title

Looking at Thomas Hiatt in high school, it may have been hard to envision him as a state champion wrestler.

Slight in stature at 103 pounds, the Harvard graduate didn’t particularly look the part. But, as he ultimately proved his senior year, an athlete’s measure cannot be quantified in pounds or inches.

“I’m just naturally small I guess,” said Hiatt, who won the 2001 Tribland Wrestler of the Year award. “Sometimes you’ve just got to develop.”

Now 30 and in his 10th year with Computer Hardware, the self-professed technology enthusiast has never been a stranger to hard work.

It was sheer dogged determination that enabled him to rehab his way back onto the mat mid-season after sustaining a fractured wrist while playing football on special teams for the Cardinals his senior year in 2001.

The injury threatened to keep the defending No. 2-ranked wrestler in the state from realizing his dream of winning a state title.

“I just worked hard,” he said. “With the injury, I learned to overcome and work hard to achieve my goals.”

Hiatt loved sports from an early age. Though he enjoyed playing basketball in elementary school, his inability to play it at a high level frustrated him. On the verge of quitting, his father suggested he try another sport: wrestling.

And so, at age 10 or 11 — he can’t exactly pin it down — he joined his younger brother, David, on the youth wrestling program in Harvard. That’s when he began to work hard each day to better himself, taking on his brother or friends in pick-up matches between practices.

“I didn’t start off doing very well, but when you stick to something and practice at it you start to get better,” he said. “It was probably around junior high that I really felt like wrestling was my sport.”

After competing in basketball, football, track and wrestling in junior high, Hiatt decided to focus his attention solely on wrestling his freshman year. Encouraged that many of his wrestling teammates from junior high would be joining him on the team, he anticipated great things for the Harvard program going forward.

“I felt like we had a good class going into high school, that we would fill up all those weight classes and become a pretty good team,” he said.

And right he was.

The Cardinals topped the Twin Valley Conference all four years during his high school career. After finishing in the top 10 at state his junior year, they finished fourth in the tournament in 2000-01, setting a record for pins with 27 en route to capturing the district championship.

Though he qualified for state his freshman year, Hiatt wasn’t particularly satisfied with his performance there. Losing both matches made him all-the-more committed to reaching the medal podium his sophomore year.

“To get a taste of what it’s like to wrestle in a state tournament really fueled me to make goals and to shoot for something,” he said. “I felt I did well for a freshman, but I really didn’t concentrate on making any goals. After I made state, I wanted to place the next year. I wanted to get to the podium.”

Despite a much-improved sophomore season, he once again fell shy of achieving his goal. And while he did garner a medal with a fifth-place showing, his heartbreaking loss in the semifinal match left him pining for another shot at gold his senior season.

“I didn’t make the parade of champions,” he said. “That’s when they honor all the wrestlers who make the finals. Seeing that really fueled my desire to become a state champion.”

A hairline wrist fracture sustained while playing football nearly cost him his chance to get back to the state tournament his senior year.

Primarily a wide receiver his junior and senior seasons with the Cardinals, he was helping out on special teams when the injury occurred. When the initial X-ray came back negative, coaches wrapped the wrist and continued to send him back out onto the field to finish the remainder of the season.

When the pain didn’t subside, a second X-ray revealed the fracture, prompting doctors set a cast on the injured wrist. Suddenly, his senior wrestling campaign was in jeopardy.

After sporting the cast six weeks, Hiatt was cleared and returned the mat midway through the season. Rusty and stiff, he struggled in his initial matches.

“You can do the practice, but when you get into actual wrestling against somebody else, it took me a little bit to kind of get into the groove,” he said.

As part of his rehabilitation regimen, he carried a tennis ball with him at school that he would bounce it up and down and roll around with his wrist to increase its mobility. By districts, he was back and full strength, ready to leave his mark in post-season competition.

After cruising to a district title, Harvard was ready to go out with a bang in state competition. Again ranked second in state at 103 pounds, Hiatt liked his chances, too, as he strolled into Devaney Sports Center to do battle. After winning his initial match in convincing fashion, he felt compelled to attend a Christian devotional hosted by Lincoln Christian between matches.

The service seemed to lift his spirit as he approached his semifinal bout.

“I remember talking to my dad before semis started, and he could sense there was kind of a calmness that I’d never truly had before my matches,” he said. “That was something I thought was really neat. No matter what, I was just going to go out there and wrestle.”

Coming from a one-point deficit in the third period, he hung on to best his toughest opponent in the tournament, 3-2, setting the stage for what turned out to be a very one-sided finals match. Seizing control in the second period, Hiatt dominated his opponent the rest of the way, scoring a decisive 8-1 victory to clinch the state crown in convincing fashion.

“What a great feeling,” he said. “To be on top of the podium and to say you are a state champion is such an amazing accomplishment.”

Still fit and trim — though admittedly “not even close” to his high school wrestling weight anymore — he continues to tackle new challenges today with that same unyielding determination that served him so well on the mat.

His latest enterprise is making hip hop music.

“It’s nothing super serious, just something I like and enjoy,” he said. “It may be something I do with my brother again. We both like that kind of music.”

Creating new beats is never easy, he said. Yet that’s what he finds most appealing about the process.

“It’s something you’ve got to develop,” he said. “Just like wrestling.

“I think that’s the wrestling mentality, actually. You’ve got to work hard at it.”

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