With one awkward maneuver, what seemed to be a high point in redshirt senior Jacori Temmer's wrestling career came to a screeching halt in a moment's time. Teemer was attempting a throw, a move he'd done thousands of times in his career when he tore his pectoral muscle six centimeters off the bone.
This occurred during the first live practice of ASU's preseason, and it caused Teemer to miss all of what would’ve been his junior year.
Everything had been perfect for Teemer until that moment. He was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, who had been a five-time state and national champion. Upon arriving at ASU, Teemer showed no signs of slowing down.
During his first competitive season, he defeated three top-25 wrestlers, winning his first of three Pac-12 titles. Teemer placed fourth and sixth in the NCAA Championships in his second and third seasons of competition. Before his junior year, Teemer was a three-time all-american who ranked fourth in the InterMat preseason poll at 157 lbs.
In one fell swoop, Teemer went from competing for a title to beginning a six to eight-month recovery process, perhaps the most challenging period of his career yet.
"It was my first time not being on the mat for a whole year," Teemer said. "I grew up wrestling freestyle, Greco and folk style, so that's all year round. Getting that taken from me all at once was just really hard, and I didn't know what to do with myself."
After wrestling year-round his whole life, Teemer dealt with several challenges away from the mat, including mental health struggles. Amidst the adversity and emotional turmoil, he had to prioritize himself by meeting with mental health coaches daily. He felt like he had to tap into a completely new side of himself.
"I feel like mentally I had to be tough and figure out who I am off the mat," Teemer said.
Torn pectorals are tricky injuries. The key to healing them is not in the surgery itself. It's the rehab. Any doctor can fix the injury, but athletes must work tirelessly to recover the muscle and get everything flexible again.
Every morning, Teemer would wake up and then immediately do rehab. He worked with many different doctors and trainers in his rehab process. Then, he’d do strength training to build the muscles in his pectoral back to their previous level. This was all before team practice even began.
By the time the team had begun practice, Teemer had already done tons of conditioning to get his pectoral back to its previous state, so he’d often watch on the sidelines, anxious and itching to get back on the mat.
To take his mind off of his inability to compete, Teemer would often meet with his mental coaches while the rest of the team practiced.
When practice ended and nighttime came around, Teemer often spent his nights outside running even more, visualizing his return to the mat. A lot of emotion was expressed and released during these night runs. ASU wrestling coach Zeke Jones highlights this eagerness that typically occurs from great wrestlers.
"A major injury takes time," Jones said. "With that kind of time, when you're dealing with elite athletes, they get restless. It's something they've been doing their entire lives, and now they can’t do it."
Teemer sought solace in his Dad, whose wisdom gave him the strength to stay consistent.
"My dad was a very big help for me," Teemer said. "(He) was the most important one. We talked daily, and he got my mind right. He actually thought it was the best thing that could happen for me cause I hadn't been off the mat in so long; he said maybe I needed some rest. He definitely took my mind somewhere else, and I think he was a big help for me."
Teemer's mother provided a ton of emotional support in addition to his dad. She took care of him physically during the beginning days after surgery, which were excruciatingly painful and was always there to talk with him when he needed it.
Fast forward a couple of months, he was so effective in rehab that he got cleared to return on the mat at the beginning of his 6th month after injury, which was the earliest he could've possibly gotten cleared. What perhaps is most unexpected from Teemer's road to recovery is the overwhelming positives that have come with the result of the process.
His teammates, who saw him sidelined, itching to return to competition, only have more admiration for him after seeing him fight through adversity. Teemer is now one of the oldest guys on the team, and with his experience comes leadership. His teammate and close friend, junior Julian Chlebove, agrees.
"He's one of the most accoladed guys on the team, and he's old this year, so he's definitely a leader," Chlebove said.
Teemer has undergone an immense amount of personal development and growth in his sport. From being a freshman in 2019 to a 5th year senior now, Teemer has experienced great progression.
"It naturally happens for good wrestlers on the team from young and hungry to established veterans understanding what to do," Jones said. "He's done that. There are things you conquer and then a new set of hurdles. That's a natural progression that great wrestlers go through."
There is no doubt that Teemer is in a much different place than he was entering the season last year, even before his injury. He has undergone the most adversity-driven period of his career and comes out on the other side as a leader, completely healthy, mentally and physically. He's found a new identity off the mat to support himself on the mat and has a ton of ambition built up in his missed year of competition.
All these factors lead Teemer, along with his coaches and teammates, to believe he is in a better place to compete than ever before. For Teemer, getting back out on the mat and being able to compete for a national championship exhilarates him.
"It's been a long time coming," Teemer said. "I'm excited to be out there wrestling and competing, putting on for my city and school, so I'm very excited."
Teemer has had big wins and significant losses throughout his time at ASU. But amid last year's adversity and coming out stronger on the other side, he's going for the jugular this year. A national championship in the 157 lbs class is the only thing on his mind. Jones agrees that a title should be the only thing on his mind right now.
"He has learned all the lessons to win a national championship," Jones said. "Now he's got to put them all together and actually do it. He's cleared all the hurdles. Now he's got to go do it."
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Grace Copperthite.