Got 'a lot of heart'

Centennial freshman Nathan Kraisser had cardiac surgery at 2 but takes it in stride with his family as he wins national ranking


March 06, 2009|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,

The words "perseverance" and "heart" are often used by wrestling coaches when discussing Centennial freshman Nathan Kraisser.

Those words have a deeper meaning for his family, however.

When Kraisser was 2, doctors told his parents their son had a hole in his heart and needed surgery. They took him to Children's Hospital in Washington, and doctors there cut into his chest, inserted white Dacron velour cloth into the hole and sewed his chest back together.

"The day they told me he was going to have to have that surgery was the worst day of my life," said his mother, Kerri Kraisser. "I was devastated. ... Nathan was so frail. He was so little that instead of taking his blood to use in the surgery, his dad gave his blood, which is what we used.

"It wasn't until Nathan was a little older and we saw him handle difficult situations that we saw his perseverance and fortitude, that we said, 'God knew what he was doing.' Now we laugh and say, 'Nathan, you have a lot of heart.' "

When teammates ask about the scar on his chest, Kraisser tells them matter-of-factly that he had surgery as an infant and moves on. He won't give a thought to the cloth filling the small hole in his heart when he attempts to win the Class 4A-3A title at 103 pounds at the state tournament, which begins today and concludes tomorrow at Cole Field House.

Kraisser, whose childhood heart condition does not impede him in any way, has already make a huge impact on the area wrestling scene. He is 33-1 and ranked No. 9 nationally among freshmen and sophomores and No. 11 overall in his weight class by Wrestling He is also ranked No. 1 in the 103-pound class by the Maryland State Wrestling Association.

Wrestling "is kind of like real life," Kraisser said. "You're on your own at a wrestling match. It's just you and your opponent out there. It's all you. If you lose, there is no one else to blame, and if you win, all your hard work has paid off."

It's not a surprise that Kraisser took an interest in wrestling. His grandfather wrestled, as did his father, Cliff, who was a 119-pound state champion for Centennial and is now the team's assistant coach.

Kraisser also has three brothers who wrestle: Austin (11), Jason (9) and Brian (17), who competes for Centennial in the 145-pound class and will also wrestle at states. His sister, Brandi, 13, is learning to be a scorekeeper, and even 3-year-old Calvin mixes it up with his siblings in the basement, where the family has a wrestling mat. Only 6-year-old Holli has escaped the allure of the sport for now.

"I didn't expect to have so many wrestlers, but now I'm glad I do," Kerri Kraisser said. "It builds character, and it helps them to be humble because everyone loses sometime."

Cliff Kraisser said he pointed his sons toward wrestling but didn't tell them at first how hard it is and how much dedication it takes to succeed.

Nathan soon realized he would be working out Friday nights while his friends were out having fun. And that his mother would be cooking food he and his brothers didn't particularly like for dinner the night before matches to help them control their weight.

"It's all been worth it so far," Nathan Kraisser said. "I have grown to love wrestling."

Although Nathan was born into a wrestling family, his coaches say his success has been a product of hard work and dedication rather than natural ability.

Cary Kolat, a former three-time World Cup gold medalist and Olympic competitor who operates a wrestling club in Towson, said all the Kraissers - he's working with four of the boys, including Nathan - have earned everything they've achieved on the wrestling mat.

"The Kraissers are the worst athletes I have in my club," Kolat said. "They're not the fastest or the most innately talented. Their skills come from hard work and continuous repetition. They persevere. And I think when Nathan loses, he is haunted by the loss."

At Kolat's club, Kraisser practices against some of the toughest wrestlers in the area.

"In our room, you have to get better," Kolat said. "It will beat you up or you thrive in the environment. The Kraissers do horrible cartwheels, and they're not great at tumbling or rolling. But man, do they have heart."

Nathan's determination was on display during the last week of the regular season, when his coaches decided to wrestle him up a weight class to meet River Hill two-time state champion Scott Mantua, who was unbeaten going into their match.

"We realized we were not going to win the dual meet as a team," Centennial coach Dave Roogow said. "So why not? It's not often you have the opportunity to see a great match like that, pitting a nationally ranked wrestler against a two-time state champion. I saw it as an opportunity to get Nathan a tough match and I think it probably helped Scott, too, with his focus."

Kraisser won the match, 4-3, in the final 10 seconds.

"It could have gone either way," Kraisser said. "I was pretty nervous because I know Scott. We practice together. To win that match, to know I can do that well against a senior, gives me a lot of confidence."

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