Fearlessness drives SouthLake wrestler on mat, on dirt bike

by Chris Hunt

At first glance, Cody Tucker doesn’t look much like a wrestler.

Weighing about 125 pounds, Tucker’s school-boy appearance doesn’t really intimidate anyone. The SouthLake Christian Academy junior looks more like the kid next door than a Herculean grappler, but teammates say that, pound-for-pound, Tucker might just be the toughest athlete in school.

“Cody’s a hard-nosed kid,” said another rugged SouthLake athlete Sam Remick, who wrestles at 160 pounds and plays football and baseball. “He doesn’t take (flak) from anyone despite his size. He’s kind of crazy, and that’s how he wrestles.”

Remick doesn’t use the word crazy as an insult. This isn’t the type of crazy you would shy away from on a dark, vacant street. It isn’t the axe-wielding crazy that actor Jack Nicholson made famous in the movie “The Shining,” either. Remick’s use of the word crazy is a compliment. It’s a badge of honor among high school wrestlers that means one is fearless.

Fearless is perhaps a more precise word to describe Tucker. The hobbies he enjoys are not exactly for the timid. Not only is he an accomplished wrestler who finished third at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A/2A meet last season, he’s also a hard-charging dirt-bike racer, who competes in Hare Scrambles, off-road races that can last up to two hours.

Tucker, 16, has been riding off-road bikes for more than 12 years, racing for the past two seasons in series such as the N.C. Hare Scramble Association, Grand National Cross Country and Mideast Racing. His love for motorcycles started when most kids were riding big wheels. When he was 4, before he could even ride a bicycle, he asked his father if he could have a 50-cubic centimeter motorcycle, one of the smallest in the industry.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

His father made him wait until he learned to ride a bicycle. It took a determined Tucker just four weeks to shed his training wheels. His first motorcycle was a 1999 Suzuki JR 50, and he’s been motoring through the woods of his family’s 35-acre property ever since.

“I just love to go fast,” Tucker said. “I like the challenge of how physically demanding it is to ride full speed for two hours. I’m better at the Hare Scrambles because I grew up riding in the woods.”

To this day, Tucker hasn’t suffered a serious crash, but the same can’t be said of his brother, 13-year-old Colton, a middle-schooler on the Eagles’ wrestling squad. After his dirt-bike accident last year, Colton showed up to wrestling practice in a sling. Since then, SouthLake coach John Nerness has an agreement with the Tucker family: No racing during wrestling season.

But Colton Tucker’s bad luck isn’t the real reason for Nerness’ ban on in-season motorcycle riding. The accident may have been the final straw, but Nerness has some past experience with adrenaline-junky wrestlers. When Nerness was a high-school wrestler in Iowa, his teammate, Mike Laub, was expected to win the state title in the 93-pound weight class. Laub broke his leg on an ill-advised ski trip that winter, losing his chance at a title.

“Mike was ranked No. 1 in the state,” said Nerness. “He told his coach he wasn’t skiing and broke his leg on the ski slopes.”

Nerness is protective of his wrestler because Tucker, along with Remick, has championship hopes this season. Tucker’s been attending SouthLake’s wrestling camps since he was in second grade. And even back then, Nerness noticed his competitive fire. After 12 matches at 125 pounds, Tucker’s record is 8-4, which includes a pin of Charlotte Country Day’s Seth Premo on Dec. 10 and a four-match sweep at the Lumberton Wrestling tournament, in which Tucker allowed just two points the entire meet. Nerness expects Tucker to drop from 125 pounds at the end of the season to chase a state title in the 119-pound division.

“I knew I wanted him for our team when he was in wrestling camp back in elementary school and he lost a (back-bend) competition to a really flexible competitor,” said Nerness. “He slapped the mat, and I could tell he really wanted to beat that kid.

“He takes losses hard. His mom said after a defeat, he stays up all night thinking about the match. The team reviews videotape of our matches the following day, and he’s already seen his parents’ video of his match two or three times the night before.”

For Tucker, wrestling and dirt-bike racing have been a perfect fit. He doesn’t mind Nerness’ motorcycle ban because he races outside the wrestling season - his dirt-bike schedule is primarily during spring, summer and fall months. Conversely, wrestling’s grueling training regimen prepares him to muscle his 200-pound, KTM 200 XC motorcycle over treacherous terrain during his long, demanding Hare Scramble races.

“I don’t mind (the ban on motorcycles in the winter) because it’s cold, and it’s too nasty to ride,” said Tucker.

While there’s plenty of symmetry between the two sports, the major difference for Tucker between wrestling and Hare Scramble racing is that he’s tasted more success on the mat. Tucker has never won a Hare Scramble event, placing in the top five many times. The closest he’s come is second place. That’s why on any warm afternoon, you’ll find the ultra-competitive Tucker in the woods, hoping to shave seconds off his time.

“Still looking for a win (in racing) bothers me a lot,” Tucker admitted.

Wrestling, on the other hand, has been kinder. He’s been able to enjoy the results of his hard work. His favorite moment in wrestling is when the referee raises his arm in victory.  That’s when all the pull-ups, towel pushes, burpies (a combination of pushups and jumps in the air) and hours of running with 30-pound sandbags pay off.

“I train to wrestle full speed for three periods,” said Tucker. “I try to win in the third period because I know I’ve worked harder to condition myself. Most high school wrestlers don’t train to wrestle three periods.”

Most high school wrestlers don’t race off-road motorcycles for fun, either. Then again, most aren’t as crazy as Tucker.

And if you ask any wrestler, being crazy is a good thing.