FISHER — Strength has always been an asset for Josh Wallick.


There’s the strength associated with someone who can bench-press 340 pounds and squat-lift 575.


There’s the strong will needed for a person who won a wrestling state championship as a junior and was top-ranked all season as a senior.


There’s also the mental strength required for a young man whose father passed away when he was in eighth grade.


Wallick’s strength for the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher cooperative wrestling team was unparalleled.

He won a program career-record 160 matches, losing 15 times in four years. He set the program record for career pins with 90 and was a two-time state champion and a three-year state medalist.


The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder headlines The News-Gazette All-Area team as Wrestler of the Year.


Many wrestlers who succeed at the highest level are blessed with equally talented practice partners at nearby weights, and collectively they push each other to become better.


Wallick didn’t have that luxury, so he did it on his own.


A lot of his winter mornings started with a trip to Gibson City for a 6 a.m. cross-fit class.


"It’s one-hour long, constant motion, never stopping," Wallick said. "Cross-fit exercises are aimed at training your body to move in not just one way. It kept me flexible."


Wrestling practices included more than working on the mat.


"We’d run in the halls to try and tire me out," Wallick said.


Wallick even added evening workouts.


"Almost every night, I’d go to The Forum, in Rantoul," he said, "to train myself harder, rather than go home and relax. I spent a lot of time trying to make myself better."


For more than a year, when he hit the weight room, the plan was never to see how much weight he could lift.


"Mostly now, I do lower weights and higher repetitions," Wallick said. "As a freshman and sophomore, I trained a lot trying to get stronger and stronger. I kept a record of each weight I did.


"I’d get tired easily and wasn’t getting the definition I needed. What I needed was more conditioning. Otherwise I’d be stiff as a board."


Wallick began wrestling as a fourth-grader, after the family moved to Fisher. He was at an immediate disadvantage. There weren’t many other 150-pound fourth-graders.


"Most of the kids I wrestled were older than me and had more experience," Wallick said. "It was difficult, not facing kids my age."


What it meant was that in order to be competitive, he had to learn and master the skills rather than rely on his strength. Before he completed his junior high career, Wallick was a three-time kids’ club state qualifier, but he never reached a state championship match.


He wasn’t easily discouraged.


"I hadn’t seen (wrestling), but it was interesting," Wallick said. "It was nice that there was another sport besides football that was physical. I stuck with it."


His fond memories were not just of the sport but also the time he spent with his father, Steven.


"He drove me to all my matches and was up in the stands, watching and waiting," Josh Wallick said. "He always encouraged me."


Beyond teaching his son about wrestling, Steven Wallick instilled a virtue that remains with the teenager.
"He didn’t care how the match went as long as I was respectful of the other athletes and worked as hard as I could," Josh Wallick said.


In becoming the first three-time state placer in the storied history of the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Fisher wrestling programs, Wallick succeeded without a year-round commitment to the sport.


He rarely wrestled in the offseason, though he joined a Mahomet-based team last summer to participate in the Disney Duals in Florida.


"I feel like the best athletes are three-sport athletes," Wallick said. "Football helps getting into a stance and with your starts in wrestling. It all contributes to one goal, becoming a better athlete."


Wallick was on the All-Area football team as a lineman and was a discus state medalist last spring in track and field. Those are the sports he will continue in college at St. Xavier.


"It hasn’t hit me that I’m really done with wrestling," Wallick said. "Next winter is when I will feel it."


The best thing that happened to Wallick as a senior — prior to winning the state title — was a midseason, two-point loss to Sherrard’s Ben Corlett.


"It helped take the pressure off," Wallick said. "I didn’t have to have a perfect season (after going 51-0 as a junior), and it helped to push me harder and to have fun with it. It was definitely funner after that (loss)."

Reaching the top of the victory stand as a junior made the repeat feat tougher to achieve as a senior.


"Junior year, I had a lot of ambition," Wallick said. "It’s easy to work hard for something you haven’t achieved. That comes naturally.


"Senior year, I knew how hard I had to work to get to the same place, but it wasn’t as natural."


Wallick wasn’t the unknown as a senior. Based on his junior-year title, he was top-ranked in the preseason for his final year and never lost that position.


"It helped to know I was recognized, but I didn’t look at it as definite," Wallick said. "It feels great to put my name up with the other great athletes we’ve had."


The intensity and tenacity that Wallick displays during competition doesn’t stay with him away from the playing field.


During his free time, Wallick likes to "read a lot," especially fiction and science fiction. Watching movies is another passion. The outside interests are all part of a message that was reinforced by his father.


"Sports," Josh Wallick said, "are a small aspect of life."


Ten years from now, Wallick hopes to be working in his chosen profession as a therapist or as an occupational therapist.


"I haven’t decided which route interests me most," he said, "but helping people really interests me."


Of all the accolades, awards and achievements in his life, it was a comment from an opposing wrestler that stands out most in Wallick’s mind.


At the recent state meet, at the State Farm Center, Wallick was warming up with another competitor, whose name he never learned.


"He said, ‘You’re  nice guy,’" Wallick said. "When something needs to be done, I turn into a different person and try to get it done. Otherwise, I’m more laid-back."

fkroner@news-gazette.com