Marlborough’s Jackson Heslin, a freshman at Xavier High School in Middletown, won a gold medal in freestyle and a silver medal in Greco-Roman to help the United States win a team championship at the Under-15 Pan American Championships in Oaxtepec, Mexico.
Heslin, who wrestles at 114 pounds (56 kilograms), won seven of his eight matches, defeating Mexico’s David Martinez Gomez in the freestyle championship match to capture the gold on Oct 22.
“It was pretty cool. I knew I earned it. The month before I was training really hard,” said Heslin, who was one of nine Americans to win gold in freestyle at the Pan-Am games.
Heslin won all four of his freestyle matches during his gold medal march and defeated three opponents in the Greco-Roman tournament to capture the silver.
“The wrestling style was different and none of them spoke English, so it was different not understanding what they were saying,” added Heslin, who prefers freestyle to Greco-Roman a.k.a. “folkstyle.”
The now 15-year old earned a spot in the Pan Am games after winning Nationals at the United States of America World Team Trials, which took place in Wisconsin in April.
At Nationals he won the Greco-Roman and placed fifth in freestyle, showcasing an ability to wrestle both ways effectively.
His father, Matt Heslin, said his son’s development as a wrestler has been swift, “It’s an exciting time for him. He went from being a kid that competed just around this area to being a real competitor on the national level and now on the world level. It’s been a tremendous increase in talent.”
A fire to the family's home in 2017 may have spurred the development of the promising wrestler. The family's dog, Teddy, caused a fire by jumping up on the stove while the family was away. Miraculously, Teddy was rescued but the fire destroyed the home, causing the Heslin family to rebuild from the ground up.
After the incident, Jackson developed a life motto that “everything happens for a reason” and because the family was displaced they were able to travel for wrestling tournaments.
“Every opportunity we had we’d hit the road. We spent a lot of time with his teammates and other dads in hotel rooms,” added Matt Heslin, “We were with the most successful people and [Jackson] was losing a lot.”
Jackson called the house fire “a restart for the family” and said that the wrestling losses toughened him up and made him train harder, even though he admits he doesn't always love the training.
“When I lose I kind of turn the switch on and start wrestling well. I want to let it all out,” he said.
Next is a new challenge for the first-year high schooler, who will be wrestling for the reigning champion Falcons from Middletown. Xavier will be looking to defend their title after winning the Class L championship in February of 2020.
Jackson said he looks forward to the venture, saying “I’ve grown up with all of them my whole life and I’ve always looked up to high school wrestlers. It will be cool going to school with my teammates.”
The high school wrestling season starts later this month, with practices beginning Nov. 29. Last year wrestling was on hiatus because of COVID-19 restrictions, but this season full competition, including postseason tournaments, are scheduled.
“I’m definitely going to have a lot of nerves for the first couple of duals and tournaments because I have never experience any of that before. I’ll be nervous but I think I’ll have that switch turn on,” Jackson said. “I have good practice partners and my coaches are super good and also wrestling everyday will help. I think it will turn out pretty well.”
If the last couple of years are any indication, this winter will be just another stepping stone for the gold medal grappler.
“No other kid in the country did what I did in my weight and only ten others did it for my age,” Jackson said of his most recent accomplishment, “Even if I don’t stick with wrestling, it’s cool knowing what I accomplished.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin