USA Wrestling

Feb 19 Iowa State junior Kyven Gadson inspired by legacy of his father

By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling | Feb. 19, 2014, 4:37 p.m. (ET)

Top-ranked Iowa State junior Kyven Gadson is carrying on the legacy left by his father and mentor, past Cyclone All-American Willie Gadson. John Johnson photo.

Iowa State's Kyven Gadson found the perfect way to pay tribute to his beloved father during the 2013 NCAA Championships.

Gadson sported the same Cyclone robe that his father, Willie, had worn during his days as an All-American for ISU. His mother had alterations made to the robe prior to the NCAAs. 

The name “Kyven” was stitched on the left sleeve with the name “Willie” sewn on the right sleeve. The words “Gadson Legacy” were stitched on the back of the robe.

“At first, I wasn’t planning on wearing it,” he said. “There were a lot of emotions involved, but looking back I’m really glad I wore it. It made me really proud to wear that to honor my father and everything he had done for me.” 

Gadson continues to honor the legacy of his father as he pursues his goal of winning an NCAA wrestling title this season. That goal is definitely within reach for the talented and driven Iowa State University junior. Kyven Gadson is ranked No. 1 in the country this season at 197 pounds.

And his father, Willie Gadson, a two-time All-American for the Cyclones, continues to provide him with inspiration. Willie Gadson coached his son to a pair of Iowa state titles for Waterloo East High School. Willie also was a successful Division I head coach at Eastern Michigan. 

Kyven Gadson battled through an adversity-filled sophomore season while his father was fighting for his life as he battled lung and bone cancer.

Willie Gadson last saw his son wrestle in person on Nov. 25, 2012. His condition continued to worsen during the 2012-13 season. Willie encouraged his son to stay at the ISU campus in Ames, and focus on school and wrestling. 

But Kyven couldn’t stay away. He drove home to Waterloo in early March on the weekend before the Big 12 tournament. Willie was moved to the hospital that Sunday, and the family was confronted with the harsh reality that the end of his life was near.

Kyven gave his father a hug and kiss before heading back to Ames. He left his father with a final message about his plans for the Big 12 tournament. 

“I am going to bring back a gold medal for you,” Kyven said.

The following weekend, Kyven was at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater for the Big 12 duals and Big 12 tournament. 

After winning his first match at the Big 12 duals on a Friday afternoon, Kyven finally broke. He plopped down and had tears welling in his eyes.

“My mind was wandering and I wanted to be with my dad,” Kyven said. “I was ready to go home.” 

Kyven placed a call back home to his mother, Augusta.

“My mom put everything in perspective for me,” Kyven said. “She said, ‘You have to live with the decision you make. At the same time, what did you and your dad train for? Your dad wouldn’t want you to quit. He would want you to push forward and keep being strong and step into the role of being a man.’ 

“If I wouldn’t have called my mom, I would’ve gone home. After talking to my mom, I made a decision to not come home empty-handed.”

The next day, Gadson had a gold medal in his hands after he won the Big 12 tournament. Immediately after returning to Ames on the team bus, Gadson jumped in his car and drove right to the hospital in Waterloo. 

Kyven went right to his father’s bedside and displayed the gold medal he had promised. He then delivered another message to the man who mentored him.

“I love you and I’m proud of the way you’ve fought,” Kyven told his father. “If you can hang on, I have another medal to win for you.” 

Sadly, that didn’t happen. Willie’s fight ended the next day. His year-long battle with cancer ended. Willie Gadson was 59 years old.

“My dad was pretty unresponsive when I said those last words to him,” Kyven said. “But I’m pretty sure he heard me.” 

Gadson said his father’s words continue to drive him.

“He taught me about the value of hard work,” Kyven said. “He was a very loving father, but he was a hard-nosed guy and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. He was always about working hard and giving your best effort. And not making excuses.” 

Gadson said his father is always in his thoughts.

“It’s hard not to think about him,” Kyven said. “He was a great man and he was always there to push me and guide me. I really miss him.” 

Kyven not only was close with his father, but he also has a special relationship with his mother.

“My mom’s a tough lady – she had to be tough to deal with my dad,” Kyven said with a laugh. “I really appreciate my mom. She has a strong faith and she passed that down to me. She’s helped me get through one of the toughest times of my life. I tell her I love her as often as possible because you never know what’s going to happen. She doesn’t get a lot of credit for what I’ve done, but she definitely deserves it. She’s a strong lady.” 

Just 10 days after his father’s death, Kyven Gadson stepped on the mat for the 2013 NCAA Championships in nearby Des Moines, Iowa. It was in the same arena, Wells Fargo Arena, where he won his two state titles with his father in his corner.

The sixth-seeded Gadson won his first match by fall before dropping an 8-7 match to No. 11 Blake Rosholt of Oklahoma State in the second round of the NCAAs. Gadson bounced back to win his next four matches before eventually finishing sixth. 

“I learned a lot from that tournament,” he said. “I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I learned the guys that make the podium are guys who are pretty resilient and can come back from defeats. That experience will definitely prepare me for that stage again.”

Kyven Gadson excelled during his sophomore season at ISU despite dealing with his share of serious injuries in high school and college.

During the first period of his first match as a varsity starter in his freshman season, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. 

“I'm feeling good now," he said. "I’ve been able to stay pretty healthy the last couple of years.”

Gadson has thrived at ISU while being coached by Kevin Jackson, a past Olympic and World champion.

“Coach Jackson has been great,” Gadson said. “He and my dad had a really good relationship and that’s a big part of why I came to Iowa State. Coach Jackson is a great person and a great coach. He’s been like a second father to me. His family has taken me in as one of their own.”

The 21-year-old Gadson is nearing the end of a season where he is determined to achieve his goals.

“It’s going to take that self-confidence that I am doing everything in my power to get the job done,” he said. “I need tunnel vision where I have a keen focus and I am locked into getting the job done. I will do everything I possibly can to get there.”

Gadson envisions himself up on the NCAA podium again next month, but this time standing on the top step.

“I know my dad would have a big old smile on his face,” Kyven said. “He was a real positive person and he would definitely be smiling. I could hear him saying to me, ‘You got it, Jack. You did it. You did it.'"

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