Mizzou wrestler battles adversity on and off the mat
COLUMBIA - If there was one word to define 24-year-old Mizzou wrestler Grant Leeth's collegiate career, it would be adversity.
The three-time high school state champion from Kearney, Mo. was headed to Duke to wrestle after his senior year. Grant was not the only one making the move.
"We all packed up and moved with him! It was a family decision," Grant's mother, Amy Leeth, said.
Before the 2014-15 season, Grant had his first knee surgery following his final state title. During that season, he noticed having some issues in his neck.
"I was feeling some issues with it in high school, but it became worse and worse my first year in college," Grant said.
The Leeth family decided to head back to Missouri, where Grant went on to transfer to the University of Missouri for the 2015-16 season. However, Grant would then go on to have disc replacement surgery in his neck. Ultimately, this news meant he had a possibility of never returning to the mat again.
"It felt like I had everything taken out from under me. Everything I had ever worked for, just like that, is over," Grant said.
After a successful surgery, Grant began to strengthen his neck back. Due to the surgery, Grant was given a neck brace to wrestle in. Regardless of having to wear the brace, this was another shot at getting back on the mat.
During the 2016-17 season, Grant began getting back into the grove of things.
"I basically had to re-learn how to wrestle. I had spent so much time off, getting back into the routine took some time," Grant said.
That's when things took a turn for the worse.
"I was just wrestling at practice and my knee came completely out. It had done this before, but I knew something wasn't right," Grant said.
After being evaluated, Grant would have to undergo another surgery on that knee and miss another hopeful season.
At this point, Brian Smith, wrestling head coach at Mizzou, talked with Grant about possibly hanging things up.
"I remember talking to him and saying this was probably it, and he came back to me a day later and said 'I don't want to do that,'" Smith said.
Grant did just that. He returned for the 2017-18 season with having been injured for three straight seasons. He went 25-6 and finished sixth at 149 pounds at the NCAA Championships to earn the first All-American honor of his career.
"I came into my first dual without having wrestled in a dual since high school. I was terrified. Excited, but terrified," Grant said.
"We had seen how hard he worked. Through it all, just to see him stand on that podium meant the world to us because he was doing what he loved," Vince Leeth, Grant's father, said.
After defeating nine ranked wrestlers in his debut season in the Black & Gold, and running a 19-match winning streak between November and March, Grant looked forward for what was to come.
"I ended up getting a chance to go teach at a wrestling camp down in Arkansas. I was thrilled to go get the chance to spread my love for the sport," Grant said.
The camp was early in the summer of 2018. On Grant's travel down to the camp, tragedy struck.
"It was a two lane highway and was a 60 miles-per-hour road. I remember falling asleep at the wheel from waking up so early that morning for the trip," Grant said.
Just like that, Grant went head on with an F-350 truck.
"I remember sitting there, like how could I have fallen asleep. How could this have just happened," Grant said.
After the car accident, Grant remembered a women telling him to sit down, but he only had one thing on his mind.
"I came to, and the only thing I could think about was calling my mom. I had to tell her what had just happened," Grant said.
On the other side of that call, Grant's mother thought her son was telling her good-bye.
"He was just apologizing to me again and again for what had happened and I thought that was the last time I would ever talk to him," Amy said.
Grant walked away with only scratches. By the looks of Grant's totaled car, it is a miracle he walked away with his life.
"I mean if you see the car, it was crazy, you would think whoever was in it would have been killed," head coach Brian Smith, said.
Following the accident later that summer, Grant looked into competing in a pre-season tournament.
"I was wrestling in the quarterfinals and my arm was ripped back and I heard the loudest 'pop.' Heard hit, felt it. I knew it wasn't good," Grant said.
Grant admits during the car accident, he injured his shoulder.
"I didn't think anything of it, but I think the accident was a precursor to the tournament," Grant said.
After finishing that match, Grant headed back to get evaluated by the team doctor at Mizzou.
"I actually was practicing on it and was doing pretty good. I genuinely thought I was ready to go all-out on the mat again," Grant said.
The 2018-19 season ended before it had started once the team doctor called Grant giving him the news.
"He told me I had a 360-degree labral tear and a 320-degree rotator cuff tear," Grant said.
Once again, Grant would have to sit through another season.
"He experienced the highs of becoming an All-American and then to have it taken from you again and again. But this season we're going to play it smart," head coach Brian Smith, said.
Looking back Grant thanks his family and his teammate Connor Flynn for their relentless support.
"I don't know what I would've done without a brother like Connor. He's seen me through my highest peaks and lowest valleys. He has helped me through all of these rough times," Grant said.
The only thing Grant has on his mind after he achieves his goal of becoming a national champion this season is to run to his mother and father in the stands.
"I know they want it just as bad as I do and I can't wait to run and hug them in the stands after I achieve what I set out to do four years ago," Grant said.