Going the extra mile has paid off for Skyview senior wrestler Neil Strausbaugh -- especially considering that extra mile is nearly a vertical one.
Strausbaugh, who is undefeated this season and shooting for Skyview's single season record for wins and pins, has added hikes up Skyline Trail this wrestling season to what was already a demanding schedule of workouts.
"I first got the idea from my dad," said Strausbaugh of his father, Kurt. "He really encourages me to do things outside of what we do in the practice room."
So every time the Panthers haven't had a practice on a weekday, or have had an early practice on the weekend, Strausbaugh has dutifully climbed Skyline, which is about 1.5 miles long and ascends from 200 to 3,300 feet above sea level.
He estimates he has done the trail 15 or 20 times since wrestling started. He brings a watch each time and his best time so far is 30 minutes up and 10 minutes down, although he admits icy conditions of late have slowed his summits.
"If I have to get off the trail and into the brush, then that's what I have to do," said Strausbaugh, who has seen brown bear tracks, a moose, a wolf, a lynx and a coyote on his hikes. "It definitely helps me make weight a little bit easier."
That Strausbaugh has taken such a liking to Skyline should be no surprise considering two of the main passions in his life -- enjoying the solitude of the outdoors and training as hard as he can for wrestling.
Strausbaugh's superior fitness becomes obvious during any Panther practice. Whether it is shuttle runs or jogging in the hall, Strausbaugh routinely finishes far ahead of his teammates, who collectively are the top-ranked fall wrestling squad.
"You can't get in the type of physical condition he's in just from two hours a day in the mat room," Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said. "It's obvious he does things that are extra."
Besides hiking and running, Strausbaugh also religiously lifts weights, whether it's at school or in the weight room at his house. Even though he weighs 125 pounds, he can bench press 235 pounds.
Work ethic off the mat has paid dividends on the mat throughout Strausbaugh's career. He was first in the state as a sophomore and second as a junior.
Strausbaugh has played other sports like football and soccer before, but he dropped them in favor of wrestling, a sport he has enjoyed since the third grade.
"People tell me soccer and football are good ways to stay in shape for wrestling and they are," Strausbaugh said. "I like to be in the weight room doing my own stuff on my own schedule, without a coach in my face telling me what to do."
Strausbaugh's mother, Tammy, said her son expresses that streak of independence by getting out and enjoying the outdoors.
"I think it all ties together," Tammy said. "The outdoors is something he does on his own, kind of like the goals he sets for himself.
"I've noticed that after a weekend of wrestling he likes to get out in the woods, go for a hike and enjoy the solitude."
Strausbaugh said one of his favorite things to do is to look for moose sheds and sell them to carvers.
A lifetime of living in Sterling also has made Strausbaugh an able musher and a proficient hunter and fisher. He has landed a 60-pound king salmon and said he has no problem getting his moose in the fall.
"From early on, we've always tried to take our kids hiking, hunting and fishing," said Tammy, who also has sons Heath, a 1999 Skyview graduate, and Shane, a Soldotna Middle School student. "It's an easy way for the family to be together."
Strausbaugh also has used his work ethic to get a 4.0 in the classroom this year.
"He's the kind of kid who has to work hard for the grades he gets," Tammy said. "He's been working hard on his schoolwork, in the wrestling room and outside the wrestling room.
"He's just really focused this year on everything."
Strausbaugh is not sure about his plans next year, but he would eventually like to go to college and get a degree in business.
He would then use his lifetime of knowledge to become a hunting and fishing guide on the peninsula.
Strausbaugh showed he has the stuff it takes to make a good guide when he was asked what tips he would give somebody looking to land a big king.
"I would tell them to wait for three or four years, then look for my guide service in the phone book," he said.
In the immediate future, Strausbaugh would like to complete goals of a state championship and undefeated season. He also would like to put on a good show when the Panthers go to a large national tournament in Reno, Nev., the week after their season ends.
"That's one of the reasons I'm climbing Skyline," Strausbaugh said. "They don't have a lot of mountains in the Lower 48, so it should give me an advantage."
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