It's one thing to build yourself into a champion; its a completely other thing to build up those around you as well. Mathew "Mad Dawg" Hakken has dedicated himself to the sport and the program at large. Any given day you'll find Mathew in the gym training or helping coach the next generation. Hakken opened up to us about his career at the national level, and his quest to be West Ottawa's next All-American.
How did you prepare for this season?
I prepared for this season by learning from my matches last year. I watched the matches back, and saw what I needed to improve on by changing my style. I changed my mind set from a pure folkstyle mind set, to a freestyle/Greco Roman mindset. I feel like I wrestle better when I think of my matches as freestyle/Greco. I feel like I am a pretty strong Greco Roman wrestler, and if I think of what I might do in a Greco match I may have an advantage since a lot of people in West Michigan are not as familiar with Greco. I also prepared by competing in tournaments during the off season. I placed at States in both Freestyle and Greco Roman. Because I placed at the state level I was able to compete with Team Michigan again this summer. I was able to practice with some of the best kids in Michigan every weekend, and get coach by some great coaches from around the state. I traveled around the country this spring and summer to compete at the National level. I competed this spring at the Folkstyle Nationals in Waterloo, Ia,. I also traveled to Fargo ND to compete at the Freestyle and Greco Roman National tournament. I also continued to practice at least 3 times a week at Myrmidon. I was able to get one on one training there by some of the best coaches in our area. I worked on not only physical training and drilling, but worked a lot on my mindset and making sure that I will have a strong, positive mindset for this up coming season.
What was practicing at Myrmidon in the off-season?
Practicing at Myrmidon during the off season consisted of both physical training, learning new technique, and changing my mental game. I mostly focused on Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling this summer. By continuing to learn about different wrestling styles, this will give me an advantage over my competitors. I focused a lot on my mental game because that is where most matches are won or lost. If I can be stronger mentally than my opponent before we set on the mat, I will have a better chance of beating him when we step on the mat. I have coaches who have helped me realize that I can compete and beat the best kids locally and best around the country, and with them believing in me, it helps me believe in myself. Myrmidon also helps me build new friendships from kids who compete at different schools around the area and across the country. Some of my closest friends are from neighboring schools, and even from other states who workout with me over the summer months. Because I have been attending Myrmidon for a while, I am able to help teach some kids who are newer to the sport, or don't have as much experience as I may have with certain situations.
How was the experience of wrestling at Fargo and Iowa?
The experience of wrestling in Waterloo and Fargo were great, challenging, and definitely a learning experience. Wrestling in Waterloo was very difficult, I was at the very low end of the weight class and competed against kids who were bigger, and stronger than I am. I learned that leading into a tournament you need to be at the top of your game, both physically and mentally. Fargo was also a learning experience. I competed again kids who were top in the country. I had matches that were against All American wrestlers, and was able to score on the wrestler who took first in my weight class. I learned that I am good enough to compete against them, and even have the chance to be an All American next year. This was a huge mental hurdle that I feel I am making progress on. Being able to travel around the country and have my family members from other states there was also very nice since they are not able to watch me wrestle live most of the year.
What are some of the hurdles you have to face?
One of the main hurdles I face is athleticism. I have never been the fastest or strongest kid, so I have had to work harder than a lot of my competitors. Another hurdle I have is my mental game. Although I have grown this summer, it is still something I need to work on. I have to realize that I am good enough to compete against the kids who are maybe more naturally athletic than I am. I need to continue to get stronger both physically and mentally. I need to continue to work on not only my basic drills, but the techniques I have picked up over the last couple of years.
What has been for motivation in the off season?
One of my main motivations during the off season has been Fargo. My ultimate goal is to be an All American, and in order to do that, I have to continue to train all year long. As much as I look forward to folkstyle season, it is only a stepping stone to where I want to go. For my folkstyle season I want to do better at than I did last year during the High School season. I did better last year than my Freshmen year by making it to Regionals, but I would like to compete and place at the State level. So my main motivation is to keep getting better, and keep reaching for my ultimate goal of being All American.
Who is your wrestling hero?
I would have to say that my coaches at Myrmidon are my wrestling heroes. Coach Jared Lancaster has taught me so much over the years. He has taught me how to stay strong even when I am feeling down, how to overcome my losses. He has shown me how to look at both my wins and losses and learn what I can do better next time so that I can continue to grow. Coach Aaron Parr-Basemer has shown me even though I am not as athletic as some of my opponents, by putting in the work I can compete with the "big dogs". He has shown me some moves that work well for lighter weight classes. He has shown me that being small is not a bad thing, and has given me a lot of tools that I can use to continue to improve. Both these coaches, as well as others at Myrmidon, have stood behind me, even when it is difficult. They have helped me realize that I am better than I think I am. They have supported me, mentally, physically and emotionally when I need it. All of my coaches have shown me what it means to not only be a great wrestler, but a great person. They have taught me lessons that will work not only on the mat, but will help me throughout my life time. I am truly grateful to not only call them my coaches, my heroes, but also my friends.