Caleb Henckel knew something was seriously wrong with his left elbow at a Thanksgiving weekend wrestling scrimmage at Paw Paw prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
It wasn’t until a trip to the hospital later that day that he realized the extent of the injury. What was initially believed to be a dislocation turned out to be far more serious when an X-ray revealed a fracture to his left humerus.
The Mendon junior and team co-captain underwent surgery the following Monday, leaving a promising season in jeopardy.
“It was devastating,” Henckel said. “But there’s not much we can do about it. We got over the initial shock of it happening. You’ve just got to move forward and continue to train for possibly the end of the season and for next season.”
As a sophomore, Henckel finished fourth in the Division 4 regionals at 112 pounds to qualify for the state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Entering the championship with a 47-8 record, he ran into eventual state champ Logan Griffin of Erie Mason in the first round. Henckel was defeated 7-2 and went on to drop a 5-2 decision to fifth-place finisher Jimmy Spencer (Rudyard).
“I didn’t wrestle very well,” he said, though the experience was the first step in reaching his goal of a D4 title.
Henckel missed out on a top-eight, all-state finish, but he left the Palace as a new member of the sport’s nobility.
And he made some sacrifices to keep pursuing his dreams, including giving up a spot on the Hornets’ storied football team in order to remain focused on the mat.
“That was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make,” said Henckel, who would have likely wrestled at 119 pounds this winter. “It kind of came down to wanting to reach my goals in wrestling beyond wanting to play football. I chose to chase wrestling and continue to practice through football season. That was definitely really tough.”
So were the sweaty sessions at Michigan Xtreme in Portage, and the treks to national tournaments such as the one in Pennsylvania in which Henckel competed.
Nothing was as difficult as having it all suddenly ripped away.
Part of Henckel’s humerus had to be screwed back in place, which meant no contact while in a cast — and perhaps even after.
“We go back [to the doctor] on Jan. 7,” said an optimistic Henckel, who hopes to return in time for districts. “He’ll give us a timeframe and we’ll just have to go with what we’re given.
“Mentally you’ve just got to stay positive; there’s not much you can do about what happened. You just have to keep working for the future. Physically, the doctor is happy with the way it’s healing up. I’m just working at getting my motion back and trying to get it back by the end of the season hopefully.”
Mendon head coach Art Stephenson has watched Henckel be as engaged as possible despite the unfortunate setback.
“You just know what type of person he is because the day he had surgery he was at practice,” Stephenson recalled. He had surgery in the morning and he was at practice, and he hasn’t missed a practice since. He’s starting to do what he can do. He’s riding the bike and all that to just keep his lungs going. He’s trying to lift what he can lift with one arm. He’s still an inspiration to the team, obviously. He’s one of our captains and he’s out there and hasn’t missed a beat as a leader on the team. You wish he could be on the mat and wish he could be able to help out on the mat also. But he’s quite the leader, leads by example and is a hard worker even though he has his arm in a cast.”
Stephenson said Henckel is “another set of eyes” in a practice room where new techniques are being introduced. The very young Hornets are 2-9 this year as the coaching staff builds towards the postseason.
Individuals such as Jonah Grimm (130), Cole Harrison (215) and Josh Goodman (285), just to name a few, continue to improve throughout already solid seasons thus far. Grimm went 4-0 and Goodman finished 3-1 at Saturday’s Jackie Besser Memorial Tournament at White Pigeon.
Henckel will have played a part in whatever level of success his teammates achieve this year.
“I do everything I can do,” he said. “Basically I try to impact my team as positively as possible. We have a young team. If I see someone doing something wrong, I’ll correct them or try to help them out as much as possible. We definitely have some individuals I expect to be at the state meet come the end of the year. We’re young and we’re building for the coming years.
“It has humbled me. It makes you realize there’s more beyond just the sport of wrestling. It has just been tough sitting on the sideline watching your team continue to wrestle. Whether or not I’m back this year, [I’ll] continue to work for next year and try to win state next year.”