Gary Lower’s trip to the 4A Kansas State Wrestling championships on Feb. 28-29 has earned him a chance to wrestle at the next level.
Next year, Lower will compete at Neosho County Community College.
It’s an opportunity that Lower did not believe was within reach for much of his career.
“About halfway through my senior year, after I started to win matches, is when I realized,” his potential, he said.
Interestingly enough, now a soon-to-be college athlete, Lower was never heavIiy involved in sports until participating in the swim team going into his eighth-grade year. From there, Lower tried different sports before beginning his wrestling career in eight grade for head coach Jason Bates.
Lower’s father, Gary, admits that Bates was instrumental in his son’s improvement from day one.
“He is a true prodigy of Jason Bates,” Lower Sr. said. “If it wasn’t for Jason, Gary wouldn’t be wrestling in college, plain and simple. From training him, spending the extra time in the weight room, and all the way to making the call for him — he even told the Neosho coach Gary’s best years are ahead of him.”
Bates believes Lower has untapped potential. A severe knee injury kept him out of wrestling his sophomore and half of his junior season, stunting his development and putting him behind his peers.
“It set him back an entire season, and really one and-a-half seasons,” Bates said. “Missing nearly two years of high school is rough, and with the weights, plus conditioning — it put him behind everyone else as well.”
Lower highlights the transition without wrestling was tough.
“Everything was slow, and grades started to drop a little bit,” Lower said. “But I kind of was able to come back when I was able to play sports again.”
And while Lower’s junior season may have not gone the way he planned, he had state aspirations for his senior year.
“It definitely was a big goal, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it, but I had a good feeling about it this year,” Lower said.
Lower reached the state tournament with two wins by fall at the regional meet in Garnett before taking silver in the 220-pound division. From there, Lower advanced to the state tournament, where he finished 1-2 with his solo win coming against Ottawa’s Jared Ferguson.
“It was kind of like a weight was lifted when I won my match at the regionals to get to state, and it was like ‘oh, I am going this year,’” Lower recalled.
At Neosho, Lower will work toward an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) degree before obtaining an apprenticeship. And while Lower has the rest of his life to enjoy his career, he only has two years left of wrestling.
Competing at the high school level was one thing, but the college scene is a whole new game, according to Bates, who wrestled at Labette County CC.
“It definitely is a big step, but it is all about who works harder, and who wants it the most. That is who is going to win, it is as simple as that,” Bates said. “I’ve known people who won state championships in high school, but got into college and couldn’t hang because they didn’t work as hard as everyone else.”
Recovering from a tough injury, and making it to state required the work ethic needed to find success. And with a supportive former coach next door, expect Lower to shoot for the moon and land in the stars for Neosho wrestling.