It was summer and Sean Biltoft was taking it easy. Too easy.
“It was just a couple weeks before the start of summer wrestling camp, and I just wasn’t all that excited about going,” the 135-pound East Valley High School wrestler said. “I knew I had to do something to get myself going, and I knew I wanted to do it the right way.”
When you’re signed up for Washington Wrestling Intensive – a week-long camp designed to push wrestlers to the very edge of their physical limits – being unexcited is an ill-advised state, especially for a returning state placer.
Then again, tough workouts and tough camps are in keeping with the sport. “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy,” legendary wrestler and former University of Iowa coach Dan Gable once said. It’s a quote that always has inspired Biltoft.
Gable also said: “More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride. Some have wrestled without great skill – none have wrestled without pride.”
It was pride that got the EV senior ready for camp. And it was pride that made him throw down a camp gauntlet.
“I announced to everyone when camp started that I intended to be a camp champion,” he said. “From that moment on, the coaches sought me out during sessions.
“I ended up wrestling against one of the coaches, an NCAA champion from Boise State, and he did not take it easy on me.”
Biltoft had his face planted into the mat so often it threatened to take root. Meanwhile, with each passing day, the goal grew to be all-important while proving to be all-the-more daunting.
Wrestling camps don’t get labeled “intensive” lightly. They are as tough as they are demanding.
“To put it simply, it’s hell,” Biltoft said. “Your first workout is at 6 a.m., and you go for an hour, hour and 15 minutes, all before breakfast. It’s grueling. We did a session where we did a thousand pushups. We did laps with weights on our back.”
In the end, Biltoft achieved his goal.
“I felt so good about myself, I just wanted to cry,” he said. “All through that last day it seemed like I was a lot stronger than what other kids were. I told myself I was out-working all of those kids.
“It was the hardest week of my life, but it was also a lot of fun. It’s helped me to do a lot more goal-setting this year, and that has made a big difference.”
It’s a difference that shows itself every day in practice. As a junior, Biltoft admits, he never got excited about going to practice.
“This year I can’t wait to get into the practice room,” he said. “I run laps before practice to make sure I get in a good workout. My practice partner (junior Aaron Brown) and I are the hardest workers in the room, and we sometimes stay after practice to keep working.”
Going into this weekend’s district wrestling tournament, the first step on the three-week road to the state tournament in Tacoma, Biltoft is the state’s third-ranked Class 3A 135-pounder.
“I have a good shot at winning state,” he analyzed. “One of the guys ranked ahead of me (Caleb Gifford of Hanford) I beat in last year’s regional final – he just finished ahead of me at state.”
Biltoft is driven to reverse his state tournament performance of a year ago. He lost to an eventual state finalist in his first-round state match when he used an illegal move and never fully recovered, losing his medal-round match to finish eighth.
“I let myself down,” he says, flatly.
This year he’s been on a roll. Through the regular season, he’s lost just three matches – two of them coming at the season-opening Inland Empire Invitational tournament at Central Valley.
“I got a concussion in that tournament, but I can’t tell you exactly when it happened,” he said. “It kept me out of the Tri-State tournament and that was a big disappointment. I really wanted to test myself against the competition you find at Tri-State, but it just didn’t make any sense to push it and risk my health.”
Biltoft won his weight division at the Pacific Coast tournament in Vancouver to open the new year, a win that further stoked his confidence level.
“I never went into a match not being confident this year – that’s a big difference,” he said. “Compared to last year, this year (my confidence level) is just incredible. Confidence is key in this sport, and I have it. I feel like there is no one out there I can’t beat.”
Biltoft is quick to share credit for his season with Brown, his practice partner.
“He’s such a great workout partner,” he said. “We’re good friends outside the room, but inside the room we compete. We get mad at each other. But as soon as we get off the mat, we go right back to being friends.
“A lot of the improvements I’ve made are because of Aaron. He’s going to be a top state placer, too.”
Heading to the University of Washington next year with the goal of becoming a high school teacher, and hopefully a high school wrestling coach, Biltoft said he’s looking forward to checking in on the Knights.
“Aaron is going to be a great leader next year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to dropping by and watching him work with the team.”
But first, he insists, he’s intent on getting the most out of these final weeks of his wrestling career.
“When you look at it, wrestling might not always be fun, but it’s completely bettering me for my future,” he said. “In 10 years, you could find yourself looking back and wishing you’d stuck it out. I’m never going to have to do that. I’ve done my work. I can be proud of what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished.
“This is my time to shine. It’s time to prove that hard work will pay off.”