FENNIMORE — This was supposed to be the biggest year of Alston Nutter’s young life.
This year was going to be his first chance for the 20-year-old Fennimore native to achieve his lofty goal of wrestling in the Summer Olympics, the worldwide sporting event held only once every four years.
Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic Nutter’s Olympic quest has been put on hold, for at least another year.
Nutter left his family home following his sophomore year of high school, after a stellar yet oh-so-brief prep career, at the age of 16 to pursue his dream by joining the Northern Michigan University–Olympic Training Site program for Greco-Roman Wrestling.
These days, Nutter is back at home in Fennimore living and training in his parents’ basement while he waits out the social distancing lockdown the coronavirus has caused like the rest of us. Not exactly a prime training facility for an Olympic-caliber wrestler.
“It is definitely a big change of plans,” said Nutter. “It has definitely flipped my world upside down, but training is going well. Everything is still on track for next year.”
A little more than two months ago, Nutter was in Denmark training for the United States Olympic wrestling trials, which were supposed to be held April 4–5 at Penn State University in College Station, Pa.
“I went to Denmark in mid-January for a couple of weeks to train with wrestlers from many of the European nations,” said Nutter.
He returned to Michigan Jan. 29 on his own to begin the second semester at NMU and continue his training there.
“I was not forced to come home because the virus was not bad enough at that point,” said Nutter. “I first heard of the virus while overseas in January from my buddies, who had competed in Wuhan, China at the military world championships in October, which looking back is super scary. At the time, I didn’t really think anything of it because there were always weird diseases going on, infecting people around the world. Now, that coronavirus has made governments order stay-at-home policies is crazy to me. I really never thought anything like this could happen. In my world, it’s even crazier that the Olympics were possible to postpone.”
Northern Michigan University closed its campus March 13. The United States Olympic wrestling trials were cancelled on March 14 and a day later Nutter made the decision to return home to Fennimore.
“Once they closed my wrestling room and since I had no place to train I came home and knew I had more options back here,” added Nutter.
Soon after the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until 2021 less than two weeks later on March 23.
“The United World Wrestling Committee started to postpone tournaments in early March when COVID-19 started to really spread around the world,” said Nutter. “I knew in my head that the Olympics were probably going to get moved when the world started cancelling everything. I first heard a couple weeks ago right before everyone else heard the news. USA Wrestling has also been in contact with all of their wrestlers via Zoom keeping us up-to-date on all the changes.”
While some may see the cancellation of the Olympic trials and a year-long postponement of the Olympics as a devastating blow, Nutter has chosen a more upbeat approach to view the circumstances as an opportunity.
“My reaction to the postponement of the trials was pretty positive,” said Nutter. “This gives me another year to mature, another year to get stronger and faster, and more time to prepare.”
As a high school wrestler, Nutter won the 120-pound WIAA Division 3 individual state championship as a freshman in 2015 and finished second at state at 126 as a sophomore in 2016. He also led Fennimore to the D3 Team state championship in 2016, the first in school history. Nutter finished his high school career with 96 wins and just seven losses.
Last August, Nutter reached the semifinals and ultimately finished third at 63 kg (139 pounds) at the 2019 Junior World Championships in Tallin, Estonia after he pinned Poland’s Kamil Czarnecki in a bronze medal match. He has also competed and placed in numerous other junior national and world Greco-Roman tournaments. The Junior Worlds were Nutter last competition, as he opted to train more this winter season over wrestling in competition.
For now, Nutter will have to settle for wrestling brothers Aidan, a current Fennimore senior and four-time state qualifier, and Amyn, a seventh grader, in the Nutter basement living room.
“My training has obviously been put down a lot,” said Nutter. “I can only do little things right now like weight lifting and running. There is also a lot of wrestling with my brothers around the house. It’s hard to fill that energy void when you can’t go to training. Coming back early to my parents’ house is definitely different. I am getting a little case of cabin fever because I can’t go out and do what I want, but it’s nice being with family. It’s just like old times again.”
Nutter is the oldest son of Jamie and Stacey Nutter of Fennimore. The Nutters also have a daughter Alexa, who ran track and field and cross country at UW–Oshkosh.