Making the most of second chances: UW-Madison wrestler overcomes adversity on, off mat

Stepping into the space where the UW-Madison wrestling team practices is like entering a sauna. The air is thick and humid, the energy is sky-high and at the center of it all is a graduate student named Seth Gross.

“I knew once I had that opportunity, I was going to give it everything I’ve got to go all in and give it the very best I can,” Gross said.

Gross started wrestling as a kid in his Minnesota hometown, which led him to the powerhouse team at Iowa. It was his first time out of the house, independent of his family. In March 2015, Gross and two of his teammates were arrested on alcohol-related charges, as well as burglary. All three wrestlers were suspended and removed from the team. Gross was back in his hometown working at Target.

“When I got in trouble at the University of Iowa, I didn’t know if I was going to wrestle again, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Gross said.

At the time, Chris Bono was looking to elevate the caliber of recruits at South Dakota State University. The Jackrabbits’ head coach was convinced Gross deserved a spot on the team.

“There is a second chance, and if you do get that second chance, you’ve got to take it and run with it,” Bono said.

“I’m going to do every single little thing right. There’s not going to be another single issue with me, and there wasn’t, and here we are today,” Gross said.

Gross has since become an NCAA champion in his weight class and a member of the USA junior world wrestling squad. There was one more challenge he would have to overcome: his health.

A high school back injury flared up to the point where Gross would wrestle one day and barely be able to walk the next. Surgery was the best long-term option, but that meant sitting out his senior season.

“It was out of my control completely,” Gross said. “At Iowa, it was a mistake that I made that caused that, and now, it was something that I couldn’t really do anything about.”

Due to NCAA rules, Bono couldn’t communicate with Gross during some of his recovery. The All-American didn’t give up hope that he would return to the mats someday.

“I specifically remember one doctor saying, you know, we don’t typically see athletes compete at a high level after this surgery, and that’s something that’s kind of in the back of my head pushing me every day,” Gross said. “I like to prove people wrong, and go out there and do what you’re not supposed to do.”

A devout Christian, Gross relied on his faith. Bono had come to Wisconsin to take the head coach position in Madison. They both crossed their fingers that the NCAA would grant him the opportunity to transfer and compete again.

Once he was cleared by the NCAA, Bono jumped on the opportunity to have Gross on his team again. Gross was accepted into the supply chain program within the business school. He had another chance to prove he was worth a second chance.

“No matter what obstacles in life you’re going through or things that you’re struggling with, it’s always going to be a day-by-day process of getting to where you want to be,” Gross said.

Bono called it the best decision of his career.

“You can’t ask for anything more. I don’t want this ride to end,” Bono said.

This past weekend, the Badgers were back at Gross’ old stomping grounds. The Hawkeyes dealt him his first defeat in a Wisconsin singlet. That streak may be broken, but his faith isn’t. The next goal for Gross is the Olympics. He has already qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials, which take place this April.

HAVE � A � DAY � @GodsWrestler133 !

Gross takes down three former NCAA Champions to go on to qualify for the Olympic Trials in April!!!! pic.twitter.com/TZSwBKVVnf

— Wisconsin Wrestling (@BadgerWrestling) November 17, 2019

“I think about that a lot, and it’s just crazy the opportunities I’ve been given through everything that’s happened and thankful to be where I’m at,” Gross said.

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