Family surrounds J’den Cox as he heads to Rio

Cox said: “I don’t think anyone trains for third, and I sure as heck don't know what it’s like to train for second.”
Junior J’den Cox celebrates after defeating Cornell’s Jeramy Sweany 24-9. Cox’s technical fall pushed the No. 4 Missouri Tigers over the No. 14 Cornell Big Red on Jan. 10, 2016, in Jesse Hall.

Michael Cox knew nothing about wrestling 20 years ago, but he’ll tell you now it’s his favorite sport.

He loves the competition on that mat. He respects the preparation that comes with having to lose weight. His son, Olympic wrestler and Missouri senior J’den Cox, is pretty good at it too, which, he admits, doesn’t hurt.

On Aug. 20, in Hall Three of the Olympic Training Center in Barra da Tijuca, Brazil, Michael, along with more than 10 of J’den’s relatives, will watch J’den sport a red, white and blue singlet for Team USA in the 2016 Olympics 86-kilogram weight class wrestling competition.

As the clock ticks and the days pass, J’den inches closer to competing for his ultimate dream. And in hearing that last Thursday at Hickman High School’s send-off for the school’s former wrestler, Michael beams.

“I have to smile every time I talk about him, honestly,” Michael said. “I try to tell people I’m not bragging about him, this is just what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. As a dad, I love him to death.”

There’s a certain aura about J’den that’s clearly derived from his parents. Michael is a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky father who veers into stories like he’s merging lanes. His mom, Cathy Cox, loves humor and loves cracking jokes — two J’den staples.

J.D. Coffman, J’den’s former wrestling coach at Hickman and the current athletic director at the school, praises the family in speaking about what makes his former pupil great. Coffman said Michael and Cathy are always in attendance, which is “something some kids don’t have.”

The family will leave for Rio on Aug. 17 and will stay in a condo that belongs to a local church. As one might expect, Cathy said “it’s going to be amazing.”

“It’s still sinking in that my kid is an Olympian,” Cathy said. “I don’t think I really comprehend what that actually means, but I’m sure when he takes the mat for the first time, I’ll feel that pride that other parents have felt before me.”

Cathy is used to taking trips like these to watch her son wrestle. Back in March, she traveled to New York to watch J’den win his second national championship as a wrestler at Missouri in Madison Square Garden. Before that, J’den became the first-ever Hickman High School athlete to win four straight state championships, and each time J’den strapped on the headgear, Cathy was there.

She wasn’t there, though, when J’den met the media last Thursday. J’den took the podium in the bowels of Mizzou Arena and spoke for nearly 45 minutes. When the press conference wrapped up, he didn’t leave. Instead, he stayed and spoke about movies.

“Can we keep the microphone on?” J’den asked when the press conference ended. “It’s a fun time.”

He had just finished talking about the nervousness he might feel when he takes the mat in Rio. Like the melodic nature in which he spoke at the podium, J’den hopes the nerves “flow with him.”

“I think I have to realize when I’m there, ‘I’m here and there’s nothing you can do about it,’” J’den said. “Already, you’re going there and your back's against the wall. All you can do next is fight and wrestle, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

With all the worries about the environment in Rio — from the athletes’ village housing to sewage running through the streets — J’den admits he’s felt concerned. Even after winning the NCAA championship, J’den Cox said he “didn’t want to wrestle in the Olympics,” but said that Missouri coach Brian Smith talked him into it. Just weeks prior to competition, J’den called it “maybe the best decision I’ve ever made.”

J’den has traveled to four countries since electing to compete in the Olympic trials in April: the United States, China, Germany and Mongolia. Each step of the way, he’s been dialed in. Cox has to be with the style change to freestyle wrestling — a difference from folkstyle wrestling in college — because for him, nothing but gold will suffice.

“I don’t train for anything but (gold). I don’t think anyone trains for third and I sure as heck don't know what it’s like to train for second. I always say, I think it’s always best to push yourself to be the best — to me, that’s fun. So, I’m going out there to try to win it all,” J’den said.

On a Saturday in Brazil, the event he’s dreamed of since he was 5 years old will unfold in 24 hours. If anybody believes he can do it, it’s the people who have been with him every step of the way, and Cathy has zero doubts.

“If anybody could do it, it would be J’den,” Cathy said. “Because once he sets his mind to something, he accomplishes it.”

Edited by George Roberson | groberson@themaneater.com

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