MOUNT VERNON, Iowa — The cake looked delicious.
Tristan Wirfs couldn’t help but pick up the sweet treat and start stuffing it in his mouth, devouring it all.
It was a moment of pure bliss — and something he couldn’t afford. Cake was the last thing someone trying to drop 37 pounds needed.
It’s when he sat up and started freaking out.
“I got scared,” Wirfs said. “I thought I really ate it.”
It was all a dream, one Wirfs would relive four or five times as he tried to drop weight for wrestling. One night it was cake. The next a burger or wings.
Wirfs would always eat it and always wake up worried until he realized he was still in bed. He knew the weight loss wouldn’t be easy but never expected it would invade his dreams.
“You can’t really get told how tough this is,” the Iowa offensive lineman signee said. “You have to go experience it.”
‘I was kind of chubby’
He never needed to drop weight before. He hit the scale at 285 pounds, the maximum allowed for a heavyweight, on the first day of wrestling last season.
Wirfs knew he would need to hit that number again this season if he wanted to chase his dream of a state title. But he checked in at 322 pounds when this season began in November and needed to lose nearly the equivalent of the average 3-year-old to make weight.
Wirfs and his mother, Sarah Wirfs, each did research and talked to his wrestling coaches. It sounded like a lot of weight, but it was just 10 percent of his total body weight, which Sarah Wirfs learned was in a safe range.
“I wasn’t all that worried about it,” she said. “I thought it would be a really good challenge for him going to college and just being able to challenge himself. A lot of things have come naturally and easy to him.”
Plus, Wirfs knew he was carrying more than lean muscle.
“I was kind of chubby,” he said. “I had some fat to lose.”
‘Shock’ to the system
Dropping weight can be an obstacle for heavyweights. Mount Vernon wrestling coach Vance Light knew as much. Larger kids eat, and eat a lot, especially offensive lineman.
“For a lot of them, it’s been a competition to see how much they can eat,” Light said. “When it comes to not being able to eat whatever you want, it’s a little bit of a change with them.”
It was for Wirfs. He always ate three meals and three snacks a day. He needed to cut the S’s — snacks, salts and sweets — out of his diet. It would be a shock to his system.
He initially tried a few different ways to lose weight. He found success switching to the Atkins diet where he ate only meat and protein. Wirfs dropped about eight pounds in a week. It was a good start. He slimmed down to 298 after a little more than two weeks.
Wirfs was on his way — then Thanksgiving hit. The family went to Chicago because his sister was marching in a parade.
He swears he didn’t eat too much and wasn’t too hungry. However, Wirfs knew sweat tea could be a problem, yet he kept getting refills.
“He didn’t want to have to restrict himself and be uncomfortable and unhappy,” Sarah Wirfs said. “So he just sucked it up and said I’ll just deal with this when I get back.”
Wirfs wanted to know the damage done. So when he got back to Mount Vernon he headed straight to the gym. He hopped on the scale. It took a second before the number popped up: 320 pounds.
That can’t be right, he thought, but it was. One holiday weekend erased all of his hard work.
“Thanksgiving was a little culture shock for him,” Light said.
Wirfs needed to start over. His slip led him to work closer with Light. Wirfs would weigh himself before and after practice, telling Light both figures. Light would tell Wirfs a new weight goal for the next day.
If Wirfs lost eight pounds in a practice, a typical figure, Light would factor in a pound or two for drifting, the amount of weight a person usually losses while sleeping, and tell Wirfs he could ingest five pounds of food with the hope being it would result in about a four-pound drop.
“That’s when it really started coming off quicker at a nice pace,” Wirfs said.
His breakfast and dinner became 8 oz. smoothies. He’d mix in some Carnation instant breakfasts and protein to provide the vitamins and nutrients he’d need to get through a day. Lunch became a salad without dressing and some grapes.
Eliminating snacks was hard. Wirfs constantly ate during football season. He was always hungry the first few weeks of wrestling. It didn’t always make the mild-mannered teenager the easiest person to be around.
“When you want food, you get kind of angry,” Sarah Wirfs said.
Over time, he adjusted to the new meals, but restricting liquids still gets to him.
“It’s the thirst that gets to you,” Wirfs said.
Hawks have the 2nd highest percentage of wrestlers in all college football ? https://t.co/eZDH4DI3j5
— Big T (@TristanWirfs74) February 4, 2017
He’s learned to view food in terms of weight instead of counting calories or portion size. He’ll weigh his meals to make sure it comes in at exactly one pound. He’s on a similar plan with water. He may get only 16 ounces of water at school.
“I bought a huge water bottle for football and would drink about two of those each day,” Wirfs said. “Now, I go to this. It’s awful.”
Food intake is just half of the battle plan. Wirfs would constantly work out. He’d wrestle against former Iowa football player Matt Kroul and former Mount Vernon wrestler Justin Dix at practice. He’d run after practice or get an extra workout in with a coach.
After his smoothie dinner, he’d head to the gym. He’d rotate between sitting in the sauna and riding a bike.
“A good workout and I drop an extra pound or two,” Wirfs said.
Wirfs kept dropping weight, but time wasn’t on his side. If he wanted to qualify for the extra two-pound allowance given to wrestlers, he needed to hit 285 before the Mustangs’ meet on Dec. 20.
The night before the dual, Wirfs went through a brutal workout, taking part in a unoffical handicap match, with Kroul and Dix swapping in and out, a fresh opponent always ready for the worn down high school senior.
“I couldn’t even stand up at the end of practice,” Wirfs said.
He dragged himself to the scale. After nearly five weeks, it finally read 285.
To ensure Wirfs stayed at it for the meet, Light told him to spend the night at his house. The coach wanted to watch how much food Wirfs ate.
As Wirfs got behind the wheel, his cotton mouth was too much. The desire for water was overwhelming. His stomach felt hot, too. Wirfs learned this happens when you hit a level of hunger that you didn’t know existed before dropping weight.
His desire for water and food proved to be a tougher combination than Kroul and Dix. Wirfs couldn’t take it any longer, and as he approached a stop sign, he broke down.
“It was kind of a rough little hour or two until I got to his house,” Wirfs said.
He composed himself, and Light had no idea the agony Wirfs went through when he arrived.
He sat down, ate some broccoli cheese soup and watched a movie. The next night he made weight again.
Then he pinned his opponent in seven seconds.
“I was ready to go,” Wirfs said.
A leaner, more understanding Wirfs
Wirfs used to make fun to teammates who were cutting weight. He admits he could be ruthless. Once he slimmed down to 285, he whipped out his phone and sent a text to an old teammate, Jake Durgin, who needed to drop about 15 pounds each season.
Wirfs had no idea what Durgin went though, how hard it could be. Now that he did, he needed to say he was sorry.
“I feel really bad about it,” Wirfs said.
His weight is now under control. In fact, he was below 285 before a meet on Tuesday, so he could savor an apple once school let out. He regularly sits at about 290 pounds and must cut about five pounds a day or two before a meet.
Wirfs likes being leaner, Yes, he lost a little strength, but he’s made up for it with improved quickness and agility. His season-debut pin was really just the start. He’s ranked No. 2 in Class 2A by The Predicament.
A few wins at the district meet on Saturday and he’ll make his third trip to state. The season is almost over, his days of salad lunches and no snacks coming to an end. He wants to celebrate it with a state championship medal and a buffet for one.
Then, Wirfs could finally bite into that piece of cake he keeps seeing in his dreams. But he probably won’t.
“I don’t really like (cake),” Wirfs said. “I’m not sure why I’m dreaming of it.”