Feb. 28, 2011
By Ann Killion, Pac-10.org
Wrestling is hard work. Overcoming an injury is hard work. Being a human biology major at Stanford is hard work. Stanford sophomore wrestler Ryan Mango is doing it all.
But whenever he feels overwhelmed, he remembers his legacy.
"I try to take a step back and realize that there's much worse stuff," Mango said. "I try to keep things in perspective."
Mango's perspective stretches back before his memory even began. When he was not yet two, his father's life was taken, shot while going to work near the family's downtown St. Louis home. Though Mango doesn't remember his father Thomas, he inherited a precious gift.
"I try to appreciate stuff more," the 19-year old said. "It helps me get through the day."
And so does his memory of his mother Deborah working night shifts as a nurse before coming home to see her three children - Ryan, his older brother Spencer, and older sister Natasha - off to school, and then somehow sleeping and running errands before picking up her children and ferrying them to their multiple sports and activities.
"How did she do it?" Mango wondered.
Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, where the family relocated, Ryan emulated his older brother Spencer.
"I wanted to do everything he did," Ryan said.
Fortunately for Stanford wrestling, Spencer wrestled, so Ryan wrestled. But while Spencer bypassed NCAA competition - instead wrestling at the United States Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan - Ryan chose to come to Stanford. He picked Stanford, a relative wrestling unknown, over more established programs such as Michigan and Northwestern.
"I knew we'd be young and building a team, which I wanted to be a part of" Mango said. "And I knew the academics are second to none."
The 125-pound athlete is ranked sixth in his weight class among collegiate wrestlers, as high as third internationally (where he wrestles Greco-Roman style). He wrestled as a true freshman last season, an unusual step in a sport that requires physical maturity.
Though he has been battling a knee injury, Mango expects to take part in this weekend's Pac-10 Championships in Corvallis, Ore. Mango also has high hopes for a second consecutive berth to the NCAA Championships next month in Philadelphia.
"At full health, he'd be a no-brainer to contend for a national championship," said coach Jason Borrelli, who believes his team can contend for the Pac-10 Championship. "But with his recent injury we just don't know where he is percentage wise."
When the collegiate season is over, Mango will compete in national and international Greco-Roman tournaments. He is dreaming of the Olympics, another way in which he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps.
Spencer Mango made the Beijing Olympic team, turning 21 while he was in China, where he finished eighth. His younger brother, who was ranked first in Missouri, felt pressure to also pursue an international career rather than wrestle collegiately.
"It was a really hard decision," Mango said. "But I was still super young in terms of wrestling and knew I would have plenty of time. I still have the Olympics in the back of my mind."
Borrelli convinced Mango that Stanford offered him a unique situation.
"This is a school that embraces the Olympic spirit, with the number of Olympians Stanford has produced," Borrelli said. "Ryan could meet his educational and collegiate goals and have them wrapped around a community of Olympians."
Mango plans to spend part of the summer in Colorado Springs, where his brother lives and trains. Mango hopes to make the 2012 London team, along with his brother, and also has his sites on a collegiate national championship.
"He has very lofty goals for himself," Borrelli said. "And they're all within reach."