WHITEWATER -- The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is best known for how its football team does on the national stage, but the small university had six wrestlers compete in Wrestling Division III Nationals this weekend in LaCrosse. Just a few months ago, one of those Warhawks was told he might never wrestle again.
Adam Latella spent the weekend in LaCrosse - his third trip to the Wrestling Division III Nationals. "He's been here a long time, and he's kind of the heart and soul of our team. He is a great athlete. He's got unbelievable talent. He has this motivation that isn't normal motivation for most people," UW-Whitewater wrestling coach Tim Fader said.
The Whitewater senior has been wrestling for years, but this season was unlike any other in his career on the mat. "The very first practice of the year, we were just wrestling and all of a sudden, something didn't feel right. Left side went numb. Had to go see a doctor, and had a herniated disk," Latella said.
"He's a big, strong, great athlete. You kind of look at him as almost invincible, and as we got word on his numbness and the pain in his arm, and the severity," Fader said.
Latella learned he had herniated a disk in his neck. It was pressing on some nerves, making his arm and his chest go numb. "At first they told me I wasn't going to be able to wrestle, so I mean, that was really upsetting to me," Latella said.
However, Latella was determined to wrestle again, and he found a doctor that would get him into surgery right away. "Five hour surgery, and they went in, and they cut me through the front and moved everything over, and put a cadaver bone in, and then a metal plate and four screws," Latella said.
The surgery was in late November, 2011. The wrestling season had started, and Latella couldn't even do a pushup. He was forced to wear a neck brace for several months.
"I remember him showing up at the gym up in Madison and he didn't have his neck brace on because he didn't want people to think that there was something wrong, and that was really hard for him," Fader said.
"The whole time, I was there for him if he needed anything or if he wanted to drill, lifting-wise, I would help him, and I was just ready for him to come back," senior wrestler Corey Anderson said.
By January 2012, Latella was back. He earned a 16-4 record, and another shot at a national title. He says the silver lining was that his body was well rested. Though he sees his scar every day when he looks in the mirror, Latella says he rarely thinks about the injury that nearly ended his career. "When they said it, it didn't really register to me that that was something that could happen," Latella said.
"The surgery was a success and his season and this story is really a success, too," Fader said.
Latella did not place at Nationals in his weight class, but his teammate, Corey Anderson, finished second in the 289 pound weight class. A victory would have made him the first wrestling national champion from Whitewater since 1991.