Senior Pat Owen has been a dominating force for the Michigan
wrestling team this season.

Just looking at his stats, which are impressive, would belie the
tough road to success that he has been forced to travel. Owen leads
the team with 85 points in dual matches, is ranked No. 4 in his
weight class, and has amassed a 24-5 overall record.

Such accomplishments seemed out of reach, especially to his
doctors, when he was born with a club right foot.

Owen’s right foot was pointed down and twisted severely
inward, which required four surgeries by the time he was eight. The
last of these cut his tibia and fibula in half, rotating them 40
degrees outward to correct his severe pigeon-toe.

Going against his doctor’s initial fears, Owen immersed
himself in sports.

“I played just about everything — just to prove to
myself that I could do it,” Owen said.

In fact, Owen excelled at Polson High School in Montana, leading
his football team in tackles, finishing second in the state in high
jump and winning three state wrestling titles.

But how did a boy from Montana — who by his own admission
only knew of Michigan from its 1998 Rose Bowl match-up with nearby
Washington State — end up at Michigan?

It starts with the fact that Owen’s father and several of
his uncles are all high school wrestling coaches. They had
maintained a relationship with Michigan coach Joe McFarland after
attending one of his wrestling camps in nearby Coeur d’
Alene, Idaho. Owen’s uncles told McFarland about their
nephew.

After watching Owen at the National High School Championships,
McFarland brought him to Ann Arbor for a recruiting trip.

“The moment I set foot on campus … I knew this was
the place I was supposed to be,” Owen said. “I went
home and told my parents I was a Michigan man.”

But Owen’s life was not without obstacles when he arrived
at Michigan.

In his sophomore season, Owen was forced to watch from the
sidelines when he was put behind then-freshman Ryan Bertin.

Owen and Bertin wrestled a challenge match to decide who would
take the spot at 157 pounds, and Owen lost the third match of the
challenge in double overtime.

This was a difficult setback for Owen, who then watched Bertin
succeed in his place and eventually earn All-America honors.

“It was hard to deal with,” said Owen. “I
could see myself being in his shoes, and I said to myself,
‘Man, I know I’m capable of that.’ ”

Last year, Owen moved up to wrestle at 165 pounds, and did very
well, capping off the year by pinning the No. 4, No. 6 and No. 16
wreslters in the country.

Right before the Big Ten championships, however, Owen moved up
to 174 pounds to accommodate the return of all-American wrestler
Mike Kulczycki, who had just returned from a knee injury.

Owen went on to qualify for the NCAA tournament at 174 pounds,
but fell short of becoming an All-American by two wins.

This season at 165 pounds, Owen has been “Mr.
Reliable” for McFarland’s team. He is one of the
team’s three captains and is excited for the upcoming Big Ten
and NCAA tournaments.

In addition to his success on the mat, Owen is a person of great
character off of it.

This was evident during the team’s rehearsal for
“Mock Rock,” a charity event for Mott Children’s
Hospital that took place Tuesday. Here he was leading the
choreography of his teammates’ faux-synchronized swimming
routine, all set to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On”
by Celine Dion. Even in such a silly scene, he was focused and
determined to provide the entertainment at an important charity
event.

This small example pales in comparison to the work Owen does
with a local high school wrestler.

Zack Damon has limited use of his legs due to cerebral palsy,
but still competes for Pioneer High School.

For the past three years, Owen has met once a week with Zack to
work on his wrestling. Owen does this immediately after finishing
his own practices with the team.

“It shows you what a kind heart Pat has,” said
McFarland. “I’ll put these guys through a doozy (of a
practice), and then he’ll stick around after practice and
spend another hour and a half with Zack, and I know the kid’s
got to be exhausted.”

Owen feels he has become the person he is because of the
obstacles he has faced since birth. It’s not his physical
ability that has brought him to where he is, it’s the drive
he has.

“I always tell (kids), ‘If I had two normal legs, I
don’t think I’d be at Michigan, wrestling,’
” Owen said.

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