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Bonjour, Paris: Hanover Central graduates Micic (Serbia), Mutuwa (Nigeria) qualify for upcoming Olympics in wrestling

Updated: May 2

By STEVE HANLON

 

CEDAR LAKE – People talk. Often. From here all the way around the globe.

Casual conversations are often about the weather, back pain or the prospects of someone’s favorite team.

Language builds up. But too often they can tear others down.

Sometimes, however, words are much, much more.

They can embolden an idea and even resurrect a dream that had long been dormant in the grave.

Hanover Central graduates Ashton Mutuwa and Stevan Micic were in a wrestling room, like they’d been for much of their lives. Micic, a 2014 Hanover grad, is the top seed for this summer’s Olympics in the 57kg Freestyle wrestling competition.

Micic, the No. 1 seed this summer,  will represent his family’s heritage of Serbia.

His old friend, a 2016 Hanover grad, was a long way from such accolades.

“I hadn’t been on that mat in two, two-and-a-half years,” Mutuwa said. “I was sure my wrestling career was over. But that’s when Stevan started talking to me. He helped me to believe such a thing was possible again.”

Ashton’s father, Sanusi, is a native of Nigeria, a place Ashton had visited several times as a child. Consequently, attempting to qualify is much easier with citizenship.

“I didn’t have to twist Ashton’s arm at all,” Micic said. “I just told him he could do it. I believe in him. He’s an excellent wrestler and I’ve known him most of my life. I knew he had what he needed on the inside.”

Such words were fuel for the fire.

Micic won three state championships as a member of Hanover’s high school team. His prep record was 184-5, a perfect 141-0 over his final three seasons. He was an NCAA runner-up while grappling for Michigan in 2018.

Mutuwa, who battled aspects of Sickle Cell Disease growing up, was a late bloomer. Like now.

He made it to one IHSAA state finals. Then, he wrestled for two years at Truman State before the program was shut down. He then finished his career at Campbellsville University in Kentucky.

Then, Micic spoke and things changed.

“He told me I could do it,” Mutuwa said of qualifying for Paris. “That’s when I started thinking there was a chance.”



But he knew he had to get on the mat as much as possible and shake off the rust. He battled with Hanover heavyweights Jayden Bartoszek and Collin Foy in Cedar Lake as often as possible. He followed Micic to the clubs, where some of the top college wrestlers in the Midwest worked out.

“I could see him getting everything back,”

Hanover Central graduates Stevan Micic and

Ashton Mutuwa have both qualified to

wrestle in the Olympics, Micic for Serbia and

Mutuwa from Nigeria.


Micic said.

“It started to come together,” Mutuwa added. “I was starting to feel like this was something I could do.”

The wrestling side was only part of the puzzle. Mutuwa’s passport expired and the only place he could get it refurbished was in Washington D.C. At the Nigerian Embassy. Not an easy task at all, right?

Well, Mutuwa’s cyber security job transferred him to D.C. in January of this year. One item down. A few more to go.

He then had to reach out to Nigeria’s National Team and coaches. That took some time, too. But eventually an invitation to try out for the team was received. Mutuwa was told he had to be in Africa at the end of January.

He had to raise $8,000 for the trip. Friends and family in Cedar Lake stepped up to make that happen. Soon thereafter, he was on a jet flying east.

“Then, I got really sick,” Mutuwa said. “And when I first got to Nigeria I didn’t have the local currency so I couldn’t go to the drug store. My uncle who lives there is a pharmacist and he was able to come to my hotel and help me out.”


Ashton Mutuwa, a 2016 Hanover Central graduate, has qualified to wrestle in this summer's Paris Olympics for Nigeria.


But battling the sickness for two weeks had sapped Mutuwa of his strength. So when he started competing against other Nigerians, things didn’t go too well.

“I was wrestling so poorly, I thought the coaches thought I was a scrub,” he said with a laugh. “But I had some pressure. I was thinking if I didn’t make the team after raising all that money I would’ve been embarrassed.”

Soon, though, things started to change.

In several competitions in Africa, Mutuwa started showing the excellence and advantage of competing in America. He won a tournament in Ghana then qualified for the Olympics in Egypt two weeks ago.

It hasn’t been easy, but Mutuwa has felt a bigger hand writing this story.

“I was at peace,” Mutuwa said. “I could see God’s hand in everything. Through the ups and the downs. He has been with me every step of the way. And now we’re both going to the Olympics.”

Micic is the top seed in his weight class in Paris. The defending World Champion is expected to medal to say the least. But Micic was seeded No. 1 in the 2020 Tokyo Games and lost in his first match.

The two old friends have a similar spirit in the next challenge for both.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” Micic said. “I really am. Yes, my goals are very high and I want to be the very best I can be when I get to Paris. But I want to enjoy this. How many people get an opportunity like this?”

Now the dynamic duo are going from Lemon Lake Park to the Eiffel Tower.

A rally to support both wrestlers is scheduled for May 16 at Red Cedars Elementary School in Cedar Lake. Micic still lives in the area, but Mutuwa will be making another flight to come home, where it all began.

“Stevan and I used to hang out all the time as kids,” Mutuwa said. “We played video games. We did all kinds of kid stuff together. It’s unbelievable to think we would one day be going to the same Olympic games together.

“It’s almost unbelievable.”

Hanover Central varsity wrestling coach Andrew Bradbury was around the duo when the original conversation took place. That life-changing chat has been a spark for the Wildcats program, along with the entire community.

“This is a life-changing experience,” Bradbury said. “They’ve had a great influence on our kids now. They believe in what we’re doing here. To know this school produced athletes like this is pretty special. Stevan and Ashton are big supporters of our program. They’re great athletes but both are even better human beings.

“Special is the word that comes to my mind. What an awesome story.”

 

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