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  • Ashley Wang

J'den Cox Strives for Greatness

The Olympic Bronze Medalist's unique view on mentality and optimism

When J’den Cox first started school at the University of Missouri, his plan was to become an NCAA champion and to major in psychology.

He, of course, became the first three-time national champion in program history. But while Cox took courses in the psychology department during his time at school, he eventually changed paths to major in Interdisciplinary Studies instead. Even so, he says he’s still fascinated with the subject to this very day.

It makes sense, especially given the way he's incorporated the study of mentality into his entire life. Take, for example, his walkout routine. Even when shaking hands with his opponent at the center of the mat, Cox doesn’t look them in the eye. He refuses to acknowledge that they exist; not, in any way, out of disrespect, but because he says his real opponent is himself.

But perhaps what defines Cox more than the way he's embraced the ideas of psychology is his intense embodiment of optimism. Cox has a uniquely acute capability of putting himself in the position of others, taking in difficult circumstances as they come, and somehow making the best of it all.

It’s something he lives by: ‘Let pain be pain, but the choice is yours.’ Through it all, Cox has continued—and will always continue—to strive for greatness.

Cox will participate in the Beat the Streets Virtual Telethon as a featured speaker this Thursday, September 17.



I started wrestling at four years old. My older brothers did it, so I kind of felt like I had to do it. We wrestled each other at home a lot; we put a bunch of holes in walls, glass, everything. My mom did a lot of drywalling as we got older, because the bigger you are, the less effort it takes to break a lot of walls.



Wrestling is not a sport of instant gratification. In other sports it’s easy to see when you’ve done something good or bad. If you shoot a basketball, it either goes in the hoop or it doesn’t. In wrestling it’s hard to see those things. It’s a sport of constant and small increments of progressions.


When I meet my opponent in the center of the mat I don’t look at him. They’re not real, they don’t matter. Some people say that if you don't look your opponent dead in the eye, it's a weakness. But no — I don't look my opponent in the eye because he's not the one I'm facing. He's just the unfortunate soul that's in my way. The person I'm facing is the one I wake up in the mirror and look at every day.


When people say ‘It doesn't seem like you struggle,’ I’m like ‘No, actually, you're wrong.’ I’ve struggled more. I've suffered more. I buried myself more. I've crushed my body more. I've had to sacrifice more. I've had to go through more.


Instead of being tough, I'd rather someone be adaptive. Toughness is a hope that you can make something happen. Adaptability is having the ability to make something happen.



The question isn't, ‘Can you win?’ The question is, ‘How many ways can you win?’ Can you ride someone out for the last last period? Can you get the escape in the overtime? Can you tech somebody, can you pin somebody, can you grind a match out, can you hold good position over the last 20 seconds to make sure you don't get taken down and hold on for the win? A person that can win 5 or 6 or 7 different ways is a lot more dangerous than someone that can win just one.


Moving to 97kg is an opportunity for me to take hold of my career and take hold of a chance at greatness. This weight is one of the toughest weights in the world. This is just what needs to be done.


It would be so much easier just to hate; and it is so easy. It's easy to give and say I hate you, I hate this, I hate all this. It's so easy. And I think that's part of the reason why we have so many issues and why we don't move on and progress forward. Love is hard, because it's not always on your side when it comes to wants, needs, desires, or sacrifices.



There's no possible way to deny the reality that we live in now. For me, it's more important than ever to be someone who acts out of kindness and love and compassion. The worst thing someone could ever do is stand on the side and not throw over a line for someone to come across.


I look at Beat the Streets as an opportunity for kids to grow not only as wrestlers, but as people in general. It allows an avenue for children to really figure out who they are and who they want to be. That's huge, especially in today's world that almost tells you who to be instead of allowing you to figure it out.



'Let pain be pain, but choice is yours.' It's up to us to decide who we are, what we're going to be, what we're going to do, and how we're going to react.



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