Wrestlers being wrestlers can at times live life on the edge. It seems appropriate that one of them, Mike Reed, would find his calling in a hazardous business.
For the past six years Reed, who more than 30 years ago was West Valley’s first state champion and two-time national champ at Eastern Washington University, has been employed by Federal Engineers and Contractors, a firm in Richland, working on the Hanford Nuclear superfund cleanup site.
The job offers just the right amount of danger and interest for the colorful Reed, who could be “a little wild, ornery and rebellious,” according to his Hall of Fame high school coach, Charlie Miller.
“I’d say a little more than wild,” Reed concurred. “There were bets around in high school that I wouldn’t live until I was 30 years old.”
But that belied a self assured and highly competitive youngster who found release and salvation in wrestling, where he became a rousing success.
So confident was Reed, now 55, that at least twice he won matches after giving a wink and nod – once to his high school coach in 1971 when he won the 129 pound Washington 4A championship to become WV’s first titlist, another time to an observer while manhandling a foe at the NAIA Nationals on his way to the second title six years later.
The sport took him around the world and educated him. He coached wrestling briefly in high school and college before becoming a brick mason, then did hazmat work at Kaiser before taking on his current job that his wife, Lanette, discovered in an advertisement.
Lanette was a high school classmate and neighbor, and she never saw him wrestle, before they reconnected two decades ago. They live today in Post Falls and Reed commutes to Hanford, staying in an apartment during his four-day work week.
“We wear the ‘moon suits,’ dig up the ground and look for buried nuclear barrels,” Reed said. “Then we package it into safe containers and store it again. We’re dealing in asbestos, all sorts of nasty stuff. It’s actually an exciting job for me. I should have been doing this long ago.”
The stories of a life fully experienced are entertaining. Reed and Miller, via e-mail from his retirement home in California, told of several misadventures and successes of a young athlete. He began wrestling as a 78-pound freshman. As a senior at state, “He was up against a previous champion and was losing,” Miller wrote of his first high school titlist. “They came out of bounds right in front of me with 30 seconds left and I said, ‘You are down by four points.’ His answer was, ‘Not to worry, Coach.’ ”
Reed got a quick reversal and 3-point near fall with time running out, leapt into Miller’s arms and said, “I knew I could pin him anytime I wanted to.”
On the way home, Miller continued, Reed nearly fell out of their van and into the path of a following Buick when there was a lurch, the back doors had swung open and out went Reed. He somehow kept from landing on Interstate 90 by clinging to a window by his fingertips and was able to climb back in.
Miller yelled at him, “Will you quit messing around and close the doors and find a seat?” But, he said, his heart was in his throat and believes to this day only Reed could have managed to save himself from falling out.
Reed said he had no intention of going to college, but stayed with wrestling at open tournaments. Then another WV champion, Steve Gannon, won a national junior college title for North Idaho College.
“That inspired me. I thought if he can win a national title, so can I,” said Reed, who enrolled at NIC following a three-year break.
A championship didn’t happen at NIC, but during his two years at Eastern he won a pair, and added individual awards. One was for most pins, sticking everyone during the first title in Pennsylvania. He was named tournament outstanding wrestler when the Eagles won the team title in 1977.
He could have competed in the 1976 Olympic Trials, he said, but instead “took the for-sure deal” and went on a national tour to the Orient.
One other anecdote defines Reed as a competitor. Between his junior and senior years, working for a logging firm in Montana, he said, his co-workers put up money to enter him in the Libby Logger Days Bull of the Woods contest, where people stand on a suspended log and try to knock each other off.
While others wore corked boots (boots with spiked soles), Reed wore only tennis shoes.
“I’d duck when they swung and whop them upside the head,” he said. “I beat nine or 10 guys.” He won a pole tossing event as well.
Reed said he simply hates to lose, whether it be wrestling, playing pool, or hauling in the biggest fish when horseback packing into the back country with his brother Mark. He credits wrestling with making him a better person.
In 2007, Reed was on hand for EWU Hall of Fame ceremonies when the Eagles’ 1977 national champions were inducted.
He said he just finished work on the B Reactor museum project at Hanford, to moving radioactive fuel for the Department of Energy’s river corridor cleanup.
“I wish I’d have been doing this a long time ago,” Reed said. “I taught biology in high school and knew a little about atoms and fission. You’ve got to pass radiation tests and stuff and that kind of helped. One thing education (and wrestling) did for me, it landed me a pretty good job.”