Success on and off the mat

Keegan O'Toole and Rocky Elam, NCAA Div. I Wrestling All-Americans, work hard to balance their sport and their studies.

Keegan O'Toole and Rocky Elam

Sophomores Rocky Elam and Keegan O’Toole had a singular goal in mind when they began the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships – win a national title.

Both wrestlers improved on their finishes from last season, with O’Toole claiming a national title at 165 pounds and Elam securing a fourth-place finish at 197 pounds. The duo joined elite company in the Mizzou record books, becoming just the 17th and 18th wrestlers to be multi-year All-American honorees. O’Toole’s title was the ninth in program history.

“It was an awesome moment,” O’Toole said. “Winning a national championship has been my goal since I fell a bit short last season. I wasn’t going to let anything derail me from winning this year.”

O’Toole finished third last year and Elam finished fifth.

Of the nine MU wrestlers at the national championship meet, which took place in mid-March in Detroit, Mich., four are students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR). O’Toole is majoring in personal financial planning and Elam is working on a degree in agriculture. Seniors Jeremiah Kent (184 pounds) and Zach Elam (285 pounds), Rocky’s brother, are majoring in nutrition and exercise physiology, and parks, recreation and sport, respectively.

As student athletes, O’Toole said striking a balance between their sport and the classroom is vital to their success – both on and off the mat.

“I really don’t like missing class, but that is sometimes the nature of being a student athlete,” he said. “My mind was very preoccupied a week or two leading up to the national tournament. My primary task at the time was winning a national title. I made sure to have everything in order during that timeframe, especially right before I left for Detroit. Once I got back, I knew I could get back in the flow if I was prepared beforehand.”

Rocky Elam said they also work closely with Clay Rogers, director of academics with Mizzou Athletics, to make sure the team is prepared academically and athletically.

“Communication is really key,” Elam said. “When we’re traveling, I make sure to check with my professors and let them know the situation. It’s about being disciplined and keeping everything balanced, which I learned a lot about during my first collegiate season last year.”

O’Toole said he chose the personal financial planning degree program because of his interest in anything related to finances. He said that he felt like the degree would prepare him for his future career, whether it’s directly related to personal financial planning or not.

“I knew I was going to gravitate toward something related to financial services,” O’Toole said. “This program has been a really good fit for me so far, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

Elam said he is in a similar spot with his agriculture degree. While he may not end up with a career directly related to agriculture, he said spending time at his family’s farm, plus the opportunity to build his own degree through the agriculture program, were too good to pass up.

“I’ve always had an interest in agriculture,” Elam said. “The agriculture degree is really unique in that I get to choose three focus areas. For me, I’m studying agribusiness management, nutrition and exercise physiology, and animal sciences. I think those three hit on a lot of my specific interests, and it’s exciting that I get to do it all together.

“Plus, I’ve always felt like agriculture and wrestling have a lot in common. Both involve a lot of hands-on, hard work. That work ethic fits me perfectly.”