Earlier this month in Philadelphia, Ben Kjar became the first Utah Valley University wrestler to earn All-American status when he placed fourth at 125 pounds at the collegiate national championships. Kjar, who entered the tournament unseeded, beat the Nos. four, five and seven-seeded wrestlers in his weight class en route to his miraculous finish. A three-time state champ at Viewmont High School, where he compiled a 121-6 record, Kjar ended his career at UVU with a 129-35 mark – including going 30-8 this season – and never suffered a loss at home, dating all the way back to junior high. Here, Kjar talks about the mental side of the sport, his many influences and his plans post-college.
Question: Entering the tournament, how well did you realistically think you could perform?
Answer: The thing about pulling off upsets and become a "Cinderella story" is all about having a belief in yourself. A long time ago, I wrote on my mirror, "2011 national champion, 125 pounds," and I've been looking at that every day. I started winning matches and moving up, but I couldn't have done that if I didn't have that belief in myself.
Question: In wrestling, how important is mentally gaining an advantage over your opponent?
Answer: It's huge. Anybody can be there physically. Anyone can teach you the technical part of the sport; anyone can do push-ups, squats, practice holds all day long. But you can't teach desire, want and heart. You need an inner calm, a desire, a courage. You need to step on the mat and know that you've already won.
Question:Who have been your influences in taking an interest in wrestling?
Answer: My parents were both big influences. I played all the sports growing up, but when I stopped growing, I looked for something I could do at that size, and my parents were always supportive of anything I wanted to do. I was lucky that my Dad could make his own work schedule and be anywhere I was competing. My Mom was always by my side, too – she has been my biggest cheerleader. My Uncle, Shandell Smoot was a national champion at Ricks College, and has coached me. Greg Williams (UVU's head coach) was my club coach growing up; Bart Thompson coached me in high school, and my principal, Scott Tennis, was also a wrestler, and helped me a lot, also.. All of those guys were in Philadelphia to watch me.
Question: What were the most memorable moments during your career at UVU?
Answer: Last season, we hosted Boise State, who was ranked No. 8 in the nation. We were a brand new Division I team, but we had the belief that we could beat them, and we did. Everyone was just on that night.
Another moment that sticks out in my mind was when I lost my first match in conference this season. A couple of my teammates, Flint Ray and Justin Morrill, talked with me, and I'll never forget what they said and how much that helped me. They said, "we know exactly the person you are and the person you can be."
And of course, at nationals, when I started upsetting those wrestlers and finally making All-American, is a moment I'll never forget.
Question: Do your future plans include wrestling?
Answer: I'll be praying a lot in the next few weeks to figure out what I'm going to do. They don't pay millions of dollars in (real) professional wrestling, so the only option is the Olympics. I'm not sure right now if I'm going to try to train for that. But I've had a great time helping out with Kingdom Klub (a training facility that hosts club teams in wrestling, jujitsu and other disciplines). It has helped me become a better competitor, because I'm teaching others how to do it. The bond with the kids has been priceless, and it has helped me to become selfless.