DES MOINES, Iowa — Blood, sweat, and tears.

“We just have hard-nosed wrestling and we are not really quitters,” said Baxter High School junior wrestler Callyn Bishop. Freshman wrestler Ruger Kincaid said, “Just trying my hardest just to make Baxter proud.

The journey to the state high school wrestling tournament is rigorous. “They battled injuries, they battled adversity and it’s a long road to get here,” said Baxter head wrestling coach Joe Amadeo.

While the road for athletes required dedication and victory, the journey for Amadeo was harrowing. Bishop said, “It was pretty heartbreaking. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It just pushed everybody in the room to work harder almost for him.”

Last March while visiting his parents in California, the 27-year-old coach and teacher was on a morning jog when he was hit by a car. Joe fractured his nose, orbital bones, wrist and required brain surgery. He was unconscious for four days receiving life-saving care. Amadeo said, “The community was so supportive of me and continued to be within the last year so I’ve always been proud to be part of the Baxter family.”

Amadeo returned home to Iowa with a new outlook. “It was a huge goal of mine just to get back in the classroom. It was a huge goal of mine just to get back in the wrestling room,” said Amadeo.

That outlook after facing a near-death experience was an inspiration to his wrestlers. “There’s somebody who we are working for now. We have a ‘Why’ we have a reason to go for it now. It’s not just wrestling for ourselves. It is wrestling for somebody else now,” said Bishop.

Throughout the season moments on the mat may seem immovable. “My last match I didn’t give up and just kept fighting,” said Kincaid.

A simple glance at coach Amadeo was all the motivation they needed. “It feels like a little spark to get that little bit going through the third period,” Bishop said.

It pushed Kincaid, Bishop, and Aiden McFadden all to the state tournament. Amadeo said, “I felt really inspired by my students and athletes. These guys battle adversity too, they battle injury also so they really motivated me to get back and it felt really good to do so.”

Baxter ended an athletic partnership with Collins-Maxwell in 2017. Coach Amadeo joined Baxter in the 2021 season when they sent one wrestler to state. They sent two in 2022 and three in 2023 showing the Bolts have a bit of a spark. “This was not only our first year qualifying three kids this is the first time we’ve won a couple of matches at the state tournament,” Amadeo said.

Slight scars remain visible less than a year removed but in the true fashion of the sport, the bruises tell a story of courage to get back on the mat. Amadeo said, “I really believe you are who you surround yourself with and I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by really incredible athletes and real incredible coaches.”