For years, Jared Frayer had come tantalizingly — agonizingly — close to making the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, finishing one spot short three times.
Frayer, now 33, was on the downside of his career. The former Countryside High School standout also was down to his last attempt at the Olympic Wrestling Trials this past weekend in Iowa City, Iowa.
But the moment Frayer had longed for was as good as it gets. In the 66-kilogram final he beat Brent Metcalf, tournament favorite and the hometown hero who had never lost a match at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Frayer raised his hands in triumph, and his family and friends sensed his elation. The close calls and disappointments were things of the past.
"I had always had that dream up on a pedestal," Frayer said. "It had been knocked down so many times before. But I knew I had to keep going, keep trying. I keep having to replay everything in my head because it doesn't seem real. It's going to take a while for all of this to really sink in."
Frayer kept going in a sport most abandon after high school. After finishing fourth in the 2008 Olympic Trials, Frayer thought about ending his quest. He didn't know if he could continue to make the physical and financial sacrifices necessary to get to the London Games.
Frayer was set on moving back to Clearwater to become a teacher and possibly take over the Countryside wrestling program that his father, David, coached from 1980 to 2004.
"I was starting a family and needed to make some money and have some benefits," Frayer said. "Teaching and coaching at the high school level seemed like the most sensible thing to do."
In September 2008, Frayer got an offer to become the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Iowa. He jumped at the chance in part because his competitive blood was still boiling and the program was in a rabid wrestling environment that would help keep his Olympic drive alive.
"If I don't get that job with Iowa," Frayer said, "I probably don't go to the Olympic Trials. That dream would have become a distant memory."
One of the wrestlers Frayer worked with at Iowa was Metcalf, a junior at the time. In 2010, they faced off at the World Team Trials with Metcalf winning two of the three bouts.
That was the last year Frayer competed at the international level. He took the past year off to be with his family after the birth of his daughter, Khloe, who has Down syndrome.
"My daughter struggles throughout her life," Frayer said. "She helps put things into perspective. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it's nice to be able to make the Olympics and the trials you have to go through help build character. But it's nothing compared to what she has to go through."
Still, Frayer could not stay away from wrestling long. The Olympics beckoned, and he put himself back on the road to London with no thought of turning back.
"I knew deep down that I was going to give it one more shot," Frayer said. "There would have been too many woulda, coulda, shouldas with me if I didn't."
At the trials, Frayer and Metcalf were on opposite sides of the bracket. In the final, they met in a rematch.
Metcalf was the favorite. He had an entire city behind him. Posters of Metcalf hung in the restaurants and on walls surrounding the arena.
Frayer was the sentimental favorite.
"Metcalf was the guy I wanted to face," Frayer said. "He was going to be tough, no doubt. But I was confident the entire time."
Before his championship match, Frayer pictured a moment on the wrestling mat that he believed would come true, a moment when he would make all the right moves to outlast Metcalf.
Frayer did, beating him twice.
Afterward, his family had a small celebration.
"The last time Jared was in the trials, we planned a big party afterward," said Jared's mother, Vicki Frayer. "This time we didn't want to plan anything at all. We didn't even know if we should go; we thought we might be jinxing him. It's a good thing we didn't do anything too elaborate because the whole town was behind his opponent. He almost felt bad for celebrating."
Now that Frayer has made the Olympics, his schedule has changed. He was supposed to attend a camp, but is traveling to Baku, Azerbaijan, for the 2012 World Cup in freestyle wrestling.
Frayer's wife, Nicole, is expected to give birth to their second daughter on Aug. 7. Frayer will already be in London and will have to watch the birth via Skype.
"That was probably bad planning on our part," Frayer said. "But my wife wouldn't want me to be anywhere else. My dream has finally come to fruition. I'm truly blessed."
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.