BYRON, Ill. (WIFR) Opportunity to change your life does not come around often. So when that chance came knocking for Nolan Baker to chase a dream, the Byron grad packed up his stuff and moved to Colorado. Now the former Tiger is one step closer to becoming an Olympian.
"I had almost come to terms with the fact that my run in wrestling was done. Now suddenly, I'm thrust into this new opportunity and I'm like ok, here we go."
Two years ago, Nolan Baker hit near rock bottom in wrestling. The two-time undefeated high school state champion from Byron recorded a 2-10 record his freshman year at Northern Illinois University.
This past summer, Baker decided to leave NIU and pursue a career in Greco-Roman wrestling, a different style than what he was accustomed to in college and high school.
"At a certain point, I had to look at the success level that I was having at the Division I level, which was just frankly too tough for me to be competitive on a national level, at that time," said Baker. "And then wrestling at the national level in Greco, it was just night and day. So to see that, I felt like, given the potential that I thought I had in Greco, it was worth it to see if I could turn that into something, as opposed to it just being a hobby on the side."
Baker has been training out of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs since August. He said the move has paid off.
"Now, ever since I've been at the OTC, I feel actually confident in myself for the first time that I'm going to go out onto the mat and this is what I'm going to do, X, Y, Z, to get to the end goal."
His father, Bob Baker, has supported each stop along the way.
"Now, that he's out at the Olympic Training Center, he has access to work out with the best athletes and the best coaches. Really, it's the beginning of his training. He's young."
At 21 years old, Baker has already wrestled all over the world in Greco. He took third at a tournament in Sweden just a couple months ago and has been in the top four in his last three events. This last weekend, he took another step in his journey, qualifying for the Olympic Trials in April at Penn State University.
"I had come to terms with the fact that maybe the roller coaster was over, and now the roller coaster is at the highest it's ever been," said Baker. "The more things like that happen, the more I realize you don't know what the future holds. You just got to keep your head up, keep working hard and put yourself in a position to win."