By Brian Shermeyer, Student Writer
With all of the national championships that Messiah has won since the turn of the century, the winning had to start somewhere. Look no further than a humble man from Poughkeepsie, New York. Mike Helm secured the first national championship in Messiah College history by way of a 5-1 decision in the 2000 NCAA Division III national wrestling championships.
Unlike most of the wrestlers on the current Messiah wrestling team, Helm did not step on the mat until ninth grade. This led to him having to work harder than everyone else in order to be successful and reach his goals.
Helm found that wrestling was not easy and felt the weight of a steep learning curve to try to catch up. He found enough success in high school to keep him on the mat but fell short of his goal of becoming a state champion.
Helm was attracted to Messiah because of head coach Neil Turner.
“He informed me that his purpose and goal was to disciple me in Christ and to coach me in wrestling,” Helm said.
Upon coming to Messiah in 1996, Helm did not really know how to train like a serious college athlete. Learning from upperclassmen like Mike Gaugler, Helm was able to push himself to his full potential.
“I learned to train smarter and harder, and year-round rather than just during the season,” Helm said. This newfound training style propelled Helm to become a three-time All-American beginning his sophomore year.
“He was one of the first wrestlers that really bought into the process,” Stephen Maloney, a current senior wrestler, said. “He became successful because of it.”
In his first opportunity to become an All-American, Helm wrestled his favorite match of his career.
“I was a sophomore wrestling at the NCAA championships in Waterloo, Iowa,” Helm said. “I lost my first match on Friday in the pigtail round, so I had to win 3 matches before I reached the ‘blood round.’ This was the round where the winner was an All-American and the loser went home. I was wrestling a senior from Wartburg in front of the Wartburg fan base. It was a knock-down-drag-out fight and I ended up winning by only a point or two. Because Augsburg and Wartburg were rivals for the NCAA Championship, I had more fans than I ever did in my life, most of which were from Augsburg. It was exciting.”
Helm wrestled all the way back to a sixth place finish that year. In his junior year, he would slide one spot and finish seventh. During his senior year, Helm would make his mark in the record books.
Helm owned the majority of records for Messiah College wrestling, including takedowns and near falls, by the time nationals came around his senior year. His records have only beenpassed by a select few. Those include national champions Lucas Malmberg and Ben Swarr, as well as Stephen Maloney.
Going into matches, Helm always held the same mindset: “I was going to out-wrestle my opponent. If he was going to be victorious over me, I was going to make him work extremely hard to do so,” Helm said.
In the 2000 157-pound national championship, Helm wrestled Ryan Ciotoli from Ithaca College. Helm scored two takedowns, one in the first period and one in the third, to knock off Ciotoli 5-1.
Although overwhelmed, Helm quickly gained his bearings and did exactly what Coach Turner had taught him to do: be a disciple of Christ.
“It gave me a platform to share with athletes and the public about my life, who Jesus is, and why I wrestle,” Helm said, looking back at winning the national title.
That statement gives you a glimpse into the life of Mike Helm. He is a man of God before anything else. Every day, even during wrestling season, he would devote time to reading and meditating on the Bible.
“As a believer, my faith ties into everything I do,” said Helm. The prayers before and after meets and tournaments would always remind him why he wrestles.
“In 50 to 100 years, no one will care what championship I won. This…helps steer my perspective in the right direction, toward Christ himself.”
Being a Christian athlete, Helm knew that his trophies and accolades from his wrestling career did not bring him value. His advice to current student athletes: “Do everything you can to prepare for your competition, and let Christ glorify Himself through you.”
After winning the NCAA title, Helm “realized that in 50 to 100 years, no one will care what championship I won. This greatly influences the importance I put on accolades and helps steer my perspective in the right direction, toward Christ himself.”
“He shows that Messiah means more to him than just the place where he wrestled,” Maloney said. “He continues to come back and help Coach (Bryan) Brunk whenever he needs it.”
In his life after college, Helm spent two years as an assistant coach at Messiah. He then got married and began teaching and coaching in Newport, North Carolina.
Every summer since he has graduated, Helm has returned to Messiah to help Coach Turner and Coach Brunk run a wrestling camp for kids of all ages.
“He has been a faithful servant to the Messiah wrestling program,” Maloney said.
This article can be found in the October issue of the Swinging Bridge Magazine.
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.