By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
In February 2002, Drew Heisler thought he had lost the worst match of his high school wrestling career.
He had been beaten in the district tournament as a senior. His last chance to capture a coveted district title and something he had worked four years to achieve, up in smoke. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him.
Heisler, 28, admits he could have been a better high school wrestler. He should have easily won a district title. He knows he wasn’t good enough to win a state championship, but figured he at least had what it took to earn a trip to regions. Why didn’t he? As he says, he wasn’t mentally tough enough. If a wrestler he was about to face had a better record, or if he had heard how good his opponent was, he says he was defeated before he even got on the mat. He had the skills, but not the “edge.”
“If I was wrestling somebody who was even considered slightly above me, I would literally be defeated before I even stepped on the bus,” Heisler said.
Now Heisler makes a living operating Heisler Training Systems (htssj.com) on Route 83 in Clermont, Cape May County. He trains high school athletes as well as men and women in their 20s and 30s who compete in triathlons, rugby players, and anyone who simply wants to get stronger, become more fit or just lose a few pounds. His message to any athlete he trains, no matter their skill level, is always the same: If you can dream it, you can do it.
Heisler took what was a disappointing end to his high school athletic career and turned it into the fuel he needed to start his own business and live out a dream.
“How my senior year of wrestling ended actually shaped what I’m doing now,” Heisler said. “My goal all through high school was to win the districts. As I got toward the end of my senior year I started to panic a little bit. What if I lose? What if this happens or that happens? All these ‘what-ifs.’ Mentally, I never really had the edge. I beat myself a lot of times before I stepped on the mat.”
The moment of clarity for Heisler came after he was eliminated from having a chance to win a district title. Heisler retreated to a corner of the gym at Absegami High School, crushed with disappointment.
“I’m sitting in this dark corner…and this kid’s dad walked up to me, didn’t say a word, just crouched down in front of me and shook his head, like, ‘Dude, what the hell happened to you?’” Heisler said. “And I’ve never really been able to forget that. It’s something that has stuck in my head.”
So, as Heisler moved on in life, attending Richard Stockton College for a few years, then working for private trainers for four years, that loss still stuck in his craw. After a few years of working for someone else, he decided he wanted to be his own boss. A scary proposition, going out on your own with no established client base, but this time Heisler told himself he wasn’t going to let fear hold him back like it did in the 2002 wrestling districts.
“I decided that I never want to feel like that again,” Heisler said. “At least I’m going to give myself an opportunity. I’m going to go 100 percent at it and I’m going to believe that I can get it done. Whether or not I get it done, I don’t know. We’ll find out. But I believe I can get it done, and this is the first time I’ve ever had that in the 28 years I’ve been alive.”
Heisler works with several high school athletes now, and says helping them master the mental aspect of sports is just as important as showing them how to strengthen their bodies.
“They could be a lot more successful than they are,” Heisler says about many high school athletes, “they’re missing that mental drive, that mental component.”
As an up-and-coming businessman, Heisler said the values he learned during his high school wrestling career, such as determination and the ability to bounce back from failure, have proved invaluable.
“It’s been very up and down, but just like in wrestling, I’d lose a match and I’d quickly have to recover and get right back out there, sometimes on the same day,” Heisler said. “It’s been the exact same thing here. If I have a client who says they can’t make it in this week, I can’t start worrying about what am I going to do to make up that money? I have to start thinking about the next client coming in.”
But Heisler’s high school wrestling career wasn’t all disappointment. There are moments that will live in his memory forever, such as the time he won a Christmas tournament his junior season. That’s a moment he’ll be able to tell his grandkids about.
“It was the first real taste of success I had,” Heisler said. “I ended up beating a kid in double overtime, and it was one of those things where, going through a double-overtime match and coming through on the other side after wrestling two other matches that day, it was just exhaustion and relief…but in a great way.
“It was cool to be the guy who had his hand raised at the end. It was a really good feeling. It’s something that you just don’t ever let go of it. That’s a moment that is absolutely phenomenal to remember.”