Learning to let go key in grappling success
If Korbin Myers has learned anything during the past year, it’s the benefit of accepting that he can’t control everything.
“I’ve kind of realized that sometimes in life, it just is what it is,” said Myers, who won the 133-pound title at the ACC Wrestling Championships last month. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from this year. You can only control what you can control, and the more you worry about factors outside of your control, the worst off you’re going to be.”
Such a mindset helped Myers not only face the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also while recovering from a neck injury that sidelined him last year before the season was cut short as a pandemic precaution. In overcoming both trials, the Virginia Tech graduate student not only won his first ACC title, but went 8-0 in the regular season, rose to a No. 4 national ranking, and was named the ACC’s Most Outstanding Wrestler at the conference tournament.
“When I think of the most challenging thing about wrestling, the first thing that comes to mind is the mental side of it,” said Myers, who is set to earn a master’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a concentration in leadership studies this summer. “It’s something I’ve really focused on this year and this is the best I’ve ever wrestled. Coming off that [neck] injury, most people don’t have their best year coming off an injury like that, so I just think understanding that mental side of it is huge and has given me an edge.”
Slated as a No. 3 seed, Myers was one of eight members of the No. 3 nationally ranked Hokies wrestling team to compete in the NCAA National Championships in St. Louis, this month. He placed fourth at 133 pounds, the first time he's placed at the NCAAs in his fourth trip, and earned his first All-American honors of his career.
“There’s a significant difference in where he’s at right now compared to where he was in the past in terms of his competitive mindset,” said Tony Robie, head coach of Virginia Tech Wrestling. “He’s gotten better as a wrestler, there’s no question, but I think he’s always been a good wrestler. I think the biggest change and the biggest difference with him is he’s really approaching things with a different mentality. He’s worked really hard to put himself in a position where he has extreme confidence.”
Myers' collegiate wrestling career began in Blacksburg, but not as a Hokie. Following an excellent high school wrestling career at Boiling Springs High School in Pennsylvania, Myers joined the Fighting Scots at Edinboro University. His first match was in Cassell Coliseum where he defeated the Hokies’ Dominic Latona at 133 pounds.
“It’s funny, my first dual match was actually here. I remember how nervous I was and I ended up wrestling Dom Latona, Sam’s [Latona] older brother, and now Dom and I are basically best friends,” Myers said.
Sam Latona won the 125-pound title at the ACC Championships last month, and is slated as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA National Championship bracket.
Following two very successful seasons with Edinboro, a coaching change led Myers to consider transferring to Virginia Tech.
“Long story short, I came down to Tech and absolutely love it,” Myers said. “I remember walking out of Coach Robie’s office, about to get in the car, and my dad telling me, ‘Korbin, I’m not letting you not go to school here. It’s too good to pass up.’ And ever since then, I haven’t had one complaint about anything here.”
Likewise, Hokie fans likely haven’t had much to complain about from Myers’ first days at Virginia Tech. He went 20-10 during the 2018-19 season, placed third at the ACC Championships, and went 2-2 at the 2019 NCAA National Championships.
Robie, who also wrestled at Edinboro University, said he’d been familiar with the wrestler since Myers’ high school days and kept up with his college career thanks to a friendship with then Edinboro head wrestling coach Tim Flynn. He believes the combination of tremendous athletic ability, commitment, and passion had helped put Myers in a position to have a special season.
“He’s just incredibly fast, explosive. He’s got great feet and foot work and he’s strong. He’s got all the physical tools you need to be a great wrestler, so that’s a big part of it,” Robie said. “But he’s also a great kid and a great worker. He’s diligent. Wrestling’s important to him, it means a lot to him, and he’s persevered through a lot of stuff.”
Robie added that Myers staying healthy had also been critical for Myers this season, and the team had been “smarter” with his training to give him the best shot at staying injury-free.
Myers credited much of his success to the relationships he’s developed with the coaches and his teammates, as well as the overall atmosphere of comradery that can at times go unnoticed in the sport.
“On the mat, people might see me as kind of dominating, but that’s not always the case in practice. I get beat in practice all the time and always have close matches with my teammates,” Myers said. “It’s a huge part of the sport. You have to have guys who push you in the practice room or you’re not going to be any better when the lights are on.”
He said the team also gives him the opportunity to apply a lot of what he’s learning about from his academic studies, particularly related to concept of shared leadership.
“Basically what it means is your teammates are your greatest asset when you’re trying to achieve a goal. You have to be one and work as a collective unit,” Myers said. “Fortunately, my coaches have recruited a stellar group of guys. I’ve never been on a team where I felt this close and connected to the guys on it.”
As he approached his next challenge – fighting his way to a national championship – Myers reflected on his journey and what’s he’s learned along the way.
“It’s funny, when I hurt my neck, I’m not going to say I was broke, but I was getting burned out from the sport. It just beats you up after a while,” he said. “I was so depressed, like I’m not going to be able wrestle any more. And here I was able to have not one, but two successfully surgeries, and two months later, I was back on the mat wrestling. Me getting hurt, I think it was the best thing for me.”
The importance of keeping such a positive attitude and a focus on his faith are qualities Myers has honed during his college career and that he plans to lean on in the future.
“When our coaches left Edinboro, I thought it was the worst thing in the world, but I think God was looking out for me and turned it into a huge positive. He gave me the opportunity to come to a great school with great coaches and great teammates,” Myers said. “It just helped teach me to have faith that whatever happens, no matter whether I think it’s good or bad, if I focus on my goals and work hard, it’s going to turn out good in the end.”
And as for his college career, the good ending meant Myers finding himself right back where he started.
“I started my career out wrestling at Tech and my last match is going to be as a Hokie. It’s just so cool how everything worked out,” Myers said.
— Written by Travis Williams