Man on a Mission
Dec. 11, 2008
By Larry Watts
The thought of the situation made Luke Lofthouse laugh. Two years from now, he'll be the oldest non-coach in the University of Iowa wrestling room -- seven, and maybe even eight, years older than members of the incoming freshman class in 2010.
"Let's only hope I'm not only older, but much wiser by that time," says Lofthouse, a 23-year-old sophomore. "Hopefully it will be a good experience for all of us. These young kids coming in are getting better and better."
Lofthouse will not only have a lot to teach the youngsters about competing at one of the nation's most prestigious wrestling schools, but he'll have plenty to teach them about life lessons as well.
The former three-time state champion and wrestler of the year from Avon, Utah came to Iowa in 2004 with the full understanding he would wrestle for one season and then follow the footsteps of older brothers Cody and Rusty and do a two-year Mormon mission. Unlike Cody, who did his missionary work in South Carolina, and Rusty, who was stationed in Guam, Luke's destination was Zimbabwe and Zambia in East Africa.
According to Lofthouse, most of the young men in the Mormon Church do their mission work between the ages of 19 and 26, usually choosing to do it at 19. The number of missionaries in East Africa averaged between 85 and 100, with a new group of replacements arriving every six weeks.
"We had a set schedule every day from about 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.," he says. "We'd wake up at 6:30 and study the scripture on our own for about an hour. Then we would study with our group for another hour. Then at 9:30 you were out the door on your mission.
"We did a lot of various things, mostly visit and talk to the people about the gospel. Sometimes we would hoe gardens and fields or harvest crops, which were mostly maize."
Although Lofthouse didn't have a farming background, he didn't let it stop him from pitching in.
"A lot of it was by trial and error," he says with a laugh. "A lot of the people there didn't know much about landscaping. But as long as it looked good, they were grateful.
"Most of the time it's 8:30 p.m. when you got home and then you had to plan for the next day. All we did was eat, drink and sleep. There were no TVs or iPods, just a stereo in our house, but the hours and kind of music we could listen to was restricted. Our source of entertainment was talking to these people and watching them grow spiritually."
The missionaries had one day off each week for "preparation." That's when they would do their laundry by hand, according to Lofthouse. And they were allowed two phone calls home per year -- Mother's Day and Christmas.
"I can't even begin to describe my growth as a person." he says. "Not only do you develop a lot by being on your own, but you also develop a deep respect for others. You become what you want to be and determine your own destiny."
After compiling a collegiate record of 8-17 at 174 pounds during his first season at Iowa, the 6-foot Lofthouse knew he would be moving up in weight class upon his return.
"I was never really comfortable because my body was growing," he says. "I wasn't giving my body the right amount of nourishment it needed, so it was both tough and frustrating.
"But we all struggled as freshmen. You come to a great program like Iowa and there's a lot of intensity in that wrestling room. And then your opponents always take it up a notch just because you are from Iowa."
Staying in shape while in East Africa was nearly impossible. Lofthouse took along a jump rope and some resistance bands. The group made some makeshift weights and he tried to do some running when time allowed.
"I was usually worn out by the end of the day and, let's face it, I wasn't on the best of diets," he says. "Meat was scarce and even when you did get some, you didn't trust it. The locals called it 'dodgy.' I lost a lot of muscle mass."
Lofthouse got an early indication of how out of shape he was when gathering with his nephews upon his return home.
"One of my nephews was in eighth grade and weighed 115 pounds when I left, and now he was entering his junior year with a growth of six inches and up to 170 pounds," he says. "And his little brother was no longer pudgy.
"We went down to the basement to do a little wrestling. I did pretty well for three minutes and then I was finished. That day I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me and I haven't been holding back every since."
Not only did Lofthouse have a long road back to regaining his strength, but he also jumped two weight classes (to 197) when he returned to Iowa last year. After talking things over with head coach Tom Brands, they decided a redshirt season was the best option and he posted an 8-6 record as an unattached wrestler.
"It was probably the best thing for me because it was hard getting back into the swing of things, especially the studies," says Lofthouse, who is majoring in health science and carrying a minor in Spanish. "People in Africa are very lethargic in their daily routines and I had grown used to that. Everything here is by schedule and it was tough getting used to that again."
Now Lofthouse enters his sophomore campaign in the thick of a four-way battle for the 197-pound position for the Hawkeyes. And he welcomes the challenge.
"It's really competitive and I wouldn't have it any other way," he says. "You come to Iowa to be the best and you want that challenge in the wrestling room every day. Each one of us at 197 is capable of being successful on the mat, so the preparation inside our team room is very positive.
"Some people think it's silly to come to such a competitive atmosphere, but this is the only way to get better. If you work the right way, do the right things, the results will take care of themselves."
Sounds like Lofthouse is already wise beyond his years.