Tyler Barton was told he had to take off his shoes.
It was the 2013 Sycamore Tournament and the Spartans’ 195-pound wrestler had just landed awkwardly on his left knee as his opponent carried him out of bounds. Barton said it felt like “his knee popped out.”
Determined to remain in the tournament, he planned to put his knee back in place. As the adrenaline coursed through his veins, he slowly rolled onto to his stomach and tried to execute his plan to fix his knee. Suddenly, a searing pain shot through his left knee.
Something was wrong.
But he had a plan to persevere and finish the tournament.
“My thinking was I would injury default the match I was injured in,” said Barton, who would later discover he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in two places. “Then I would go get treatment and wrestle the rest of the tournament. As I walked to the trainers’ table, my knee popped out again and I fell down. I was mad. I had to be carried to the table. I told coach I was fine and wanted to keep going.
“That’s when he told me to take off my shoes; I was done for the tournament.”
The disappointment associated with the injury kept Barton out of school for a week. It grew deeper when he went to the state tournament as a spectator. He’d felt skilled enough to compete with the state qualifiers.
That’s when he made a resolution to return even stronger for his senior season. But, the road back wouldn’t be easy.
For four months he was on crutches. It seemed like an interminable waiting period before he could even walk again. Then, like a child learning to walk, he started the process of rebuilding the muscles around his knee.
“You really take simple things like walking and running for granted when you are on crutches,” said Barton, who will wrestle at Wisconsin-La Crosse next season. “But I built up my strength slowly. I’d walk, eventually jog a little on the track. Finally, I was cleared to run.”
Because he wasn’t cleared for football activities, Barton ran cross country in the fall for the first time. It helped continue to strengthen his knee and bolster his wrestling endurance.
Now midway through wrestling season, Barton boasts a 22-2 record. He’s ranked as the No. 8 wrestler in the state in Class 2A at 195 pounds.
Although the knee injury cost Barton the second half of his junior wrestling season, he was no stranger to the trainers’ room. In three seasons, he’d only played 16 football games because of various injuries, which prompted his career choice.
“It’s ironic that I want to study physical therapy,” Barton said. “I thought about marine biology. But working through the various rehabs I’ve had to do, I got hooked on the process of injury recovery.”