BEREA, Ohio - Terence Haynes kept alive a decades-old dream by shedding 200 pounds and earning a spot to wrestle against collegians half his age.
At 45 years old no less. Haynes, who weighed 429 pounds just over a year ago, dropped down to 228 on a five-foot-9 1/2-inch frame while wrestling at Baldwin-Wallace College. His bulging arm and neck muscles testify to a relentless workout routine meant to exorcise a 15,000-calorie-a-day eating habit that bordered on obsession to cover up everyday problems in life.
He finished the season Saturday with a 2-13 record, though he plans to throw the shot put for the track team this spring and hopes to return to wrestling next season.
"I feel that once I get more experience behind my belt, my records will improve tremendously," said Haynes, who returned to college after a quarter-century break to complete a degree in computer information systems.
Wrestling fulfilled a childhood dream for Haynes to compete in athletics. He didn't get past junior high school wrestling but had a dream to play football in college and advance to the NFL. Too slow, he didn't get a look from major-college scouts and competition went on the shelf for a generation.
Nearly a year into his weight-loss program, Haynes - still big enough to compete as a heavyweight - was spotted on campus last fall by an assistant coach who recruited him. The irony of his smaller but still heavyweight-qualifying size wasn't lost on Baldwin-Wallace wrestling coach Rich Fleming, who expected Haynes to quit under the practice demands.
"What impressed me was the fact that he wanted to do it," he said. "He's inspirational because at 45, your know it hurts. Wrestling hurts when you're young, let alone at 45."
Lee Roy Smith, a former world wrestling silver medallist and executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., said he knew of no other wrestler of Haynes' age who has competed at the NCAA level.
"I think it's unprecedented. Is it going to be a trend? I'm not sure," he said.
Haynes, who wrestled at an age 20 years older than many Olympians past their prime, said his problems with overeating were a reaction to the daily grind - paying bills and the demands of work. He credits personal trainer Paul Scianna with getting him on track to lose weight.
"What he said was I was going to die if I didn't do something about this. I knew that, but I was in great denial for quite some time," Haynes said.
Haynes, pre-diet, had a routine: get that feel-good response from working out and then go out for fast-food - maybe three or four Big Macs at McDonald's. He was careful to pay cash, so his wife would be unaware that he had a big meal before he sat down at the dinner table.
The exercise-and-eat routine made sense in Haynes' mind.
"Because I have to make this equal, because it's not like I'm really trying to lose weight because the gym is like a spa. I'm enjoying myself."
Haynes, whose former girth would match the size of a roomy recliner, compared his dependence on food to a Band-Aid covering up his problems, ignoring signals like sitting on his car key and breaking it and collapsing chairs when he visited friends.
"I was in a delusional state," said Haynes, a supervisor at a residential treatment centre for troubled teens who is paying his own way through college.
Haynes enjoys the interaction with teammates half his age and serving as an adult role model. His coach appreciates Haynes' efforts but understands he's probably overmatched on the mat, even at the small-college, non-scholarship NCAA Division III level.
On a snowy night in January, Haynes prepared for a match against Heidelberg College's Tony Carothers by stepping away from the bench, rocking gently on his feet and stretching in a routine that lasted longer than the match. He tripped stepping over the edge of the mat, got up, engaged Carothers and was pinned in 40 seconds.
"He's a pretty big guy out there," Carothers, 24, said later. "I was a little nervous. I mean, he's 45 years old. I thought I was like, probably a little stronger and what not but to be out there and do this and be 45 years old takes a lot. I didn't know what to expect."
Looking back on the season, neither did Haynes.
"I can't believe that there was a treasure box just opened and I came out of it, finally," he said.