Grappling with success
N.C. wrestler pins down records, adds to family lore
Posted: Wednesday March 14, 2007 2:56PM; Updated: Thursday March 15, 2007 2:53PM
When Colton Palmer was in grade school, he participated in football, basketball and track. He was such a talent as a runner that at age nine he won a national championship in the 800-meter sprint during an AAU meet at Disney World.
At the time, wrestling was not on the top of his list of interests. He dabbled in grappling because his older brothers, Austen and Brandon, were top school wrestlers. He idolized them so much that in seventh grade he made a surprising decision to give up all other sports to concentrate on wrestling.
"It was pretty natural," he says. "But I didn't care for it too much because wrestling was the only sport that I lost at. I knew that to be the best, I'd have to focus on one sport year around. Everybody expected me to be good because Brandon won his second state title when I was in seventh grade."
Five years later that decision paid off this season when the 5-foot-6, 145-pound Riverside (Durham, N.C.) senior set national records for most career wins (284-6 in four years) and most wins in a season (91-0 this year). He finished second all-time with 183 career pins.
As a third grader, Colton and Brandon were trained by C.C. Fisher, who is currently an assistant wrestling coach at UNC-Greensboro. "He would come to our home at 5 a.m. to work us out," Colton says. "We'd hear him coming, lock our doors and run and hide under our beds. He used to work us out so hard."
Following two older brothers was no easy task and Colton admits that his attempts to fill their singlets produced "a little bit of pressure, but also gave me more incentive. My quickness really comes in handy. And I had a great coach to fine-tune my technique."
As an eighth grader Colton wrestled 95 AAU matches with the idea that when he came into high school the next fall he would have the equivalent of a full season already under his belt. "I got a lot better because I beat two of the guys who had beaten me the year before," he says.
That experience reaped huge dividends as Palmer compiled a 74-3 record -- including 50 pins -- and placed third in the Class 4A state 103-pound class as a freshman. That was the first time he had felt pressure because he had dreams of becoming North Carolina's first four-time state champion.
Palmer rolled to a 61-0 record, including 37 pins, as a sophomore and claimed the 125-pound state championship in double overtime. He ran his two-year winning streak to 119 matches at 140 pounds as a junior before his opponent charged him, hit him on top of the head, and knocked him out of bounds in the regional. He had to be carried out on a stretcher with a serious neck injury. Not only was he forced to forfeit the match for his first loss in 59 outings, but he was also tagged with two other forfeit losses because he could not continue to wrestle in the tournament.
Once his neck healed, Palmer came back with a vengeance this year as a senior. His magnificent 91-0 season and state title at 145 pounds included 63 pins and 169 takedowns. His closest match was a 7-2 decision over the state's No. 2-ranked wrestler.
"It wasn't like I wrestled 91 full matches," he says.
For his final appearance in the state tourney, Palmer not only scrapped his way against his opponent but also battled a severe case of flu. "It affected my breathing the most," he says. "Every time I'd take a deep breath, I'd start coughing. I'd drink hot tea and take medicine every day. No matter what, there wasn't much that could have kept me from wrestling in the state tourney."
The Colton brother trilogy has now come to a completion, finishing with a combined 621 victories, four state championships, and just 65 defeats.
"[Colton] is an excellent wrestler on his feet [scoring takedowns]," Riverside coach Walt Tolarchyk says. "He's improved an awful lot and has been around some excellent coaches, including his brothers. He's one of the best-ever at our school."
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