When your freshman year nickname is "Bambi," that's when you know you've got some work to do as a wrestler.
North Medford's Reid Shipley had that moniker pinned on him by his coaches, but not for a wide-eyed, innocent view of the world. Rather, it had everything to do with his balance, or apparent lack thereof.
"I didn't have the best coordination back then," Shipley, 17, says these days with a laugh.
In retrospect, it was that same awkwardness that drew him into the sport of wrestling in the first place.
"I've never been that athletic of a kid," he adds. "My parents tried me in a bunch of different sports but I was never really very good at any of them or they just weren't that interesting to me. I did baseball, football, basketball and even swimming when I was a little guy and I think I finally tried wrestling around age 9 and it just kinda stuck with me ever since."
While the sport may have stuck with him, so did that lack of coordination. But, like so many great athletes, Shipley took it upon himself to do whatever it took to become a better wrestler. He dedicated a majority of his time away from schoolwork to the sport, and now finds himself ranked No. 1 in the state at 170 pounds and with a 39-3 senior record heading into this weekend's Class 6A wrestling state tournament in Portland.
"His work ethic is what sets him apart," says North Medford head coach Nolan Harris. "He's a student of the sport and pretty much wrestles year-round. He loves it. He's just a hard-working kid in the wrestling room and outside the wrestling room."
Shipley, who stands a sturdy 6-foot-1 with a 3.9 grade-point average, has taken part in a Cultural Exchange program over the last two summers that has allowed him to wrestle in Russia and South Africa. That exposure, and the fact that Shipley had to win his way onto the traveling team, has gone a long way toward developing his confidence and skill-level on the mat.
But one factor that began as an afterthought may actually have been the best thing for Shipley in his quest to hone his all-around abilities.
While hanging out with a female friend, she mentioned she had to get going to dance class and a curious Shipley decided to tag along. He hadn't thought about dancing or really even heard of the West Coast Swing but, never one to shy away from new things, Shipley soon found himself on the dance floor.
"I went and tried it and fell in love with it," he says, still amazed at the discovery. "It was a blast and a nice changeup from wrestling."
Ever since, Shipley has become an avid dancer as well as wrestler and competed in three novice events, winning one and placing in another. Fun on the dance floor has been his biggest motivator to keep at it, but there's also been a helpful offshoot for his time on the wrestling mat.
"My body awareness and balance on my feet has helped me quite a bit this season and my family attributes that to the ballroom dancing I started a couple years ago," says Shipley. "My coaches have definitely noticed a difference in my footwork and balance, too, but it didn't cross my mind that dancing would be something that would help me with my balance. I just did it because it was fun."
Shipley hopes to keep having fun in his second trip to Memorial Coliseum and the state tournament. He placed fourth at 170 last year in somewhat unconventional style. He lost his opening-round match to West Linn's Ryan Harman by a 5-2 margin, then worked his way back through the consolation bracket, only to lose again to Harman in the third-place final.
"He kinda just had my number," Shipley says of Harman, who beat him three times overall last year. "It was definitely frustrating to have both losses come against the same guy to know I didn't get to wrestle the guys that took first or second. Those guys were both pretty tough but I would've liked the chance to wrestle them."
Shipley says he plans to use his experience from last year to help him this time around. Part of what kept him going was a mindset that he had nothing to lose and go all out in each match, but he's also learned to have more of a plan against his opponents this time around.
"I'm going to give it all 110 percent," he says. "I'm feeling real healthy and definitely have a good attitude. I'm just excited for the matches I'll get up there. It's definitely going to be where all the toughest competition in Oregon will be peaking and it's just an exciting thought to step out on the mat against a kid that wants to win it as well and it's either going to be me or him."
Shipley is seeded second to West Linn's Tyler Chay, who was a state runner-up in 2012, and the No. 3 seed is McMinnville's Tiger Paasch, who Shipley beat in the Cultural Exchange finals to earn his trip to South Africa. Glencoe senior Michael Schraeder is a very capable No. 4 seed.
"It should be a fun weight and I'm excited for Reid," says Harris. "This is what he's been training for and I think he thrives in close competition so we'll see where it goes because there's going to be some good battles."
Shipley has done well to keep points against him at a minimum thus far, and takes pride in the fact that he hasn't been held down for any extended time on the mat.
"I've just made it kind of a point in myself this year that I didn't care win, lose or draw, a guy was not going to be able to hold me down and definitely not pin me," says the District 4 regional champion.
Harris says Shipley's versatility has also been on prime display this season, as well as his dedication to wrapping up his Black Tornado career with no excuses.
"He's got great conditioning and that goes back to his great work ethic," says the coach, "and he's good in multiple positions. With wrestling, you're always kind of trying to force your will and position on your opponent and Reid's able to get his position on people because he knows how to wrestle out of so many positions."
A future goal of Shipley's is to continue on to the Air Force Academy, but right now he's more concerned with taking it one step at a time — just like on the dance floor.
"I think I'm going to put on a good show," he says of the state tourney. "I'm pretty excited for it. I'm just going to leave it all on the mat and hopefully that will work out for me."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry