Cox perseveres despite torn meniscus

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COLUMBIA - Missouri wrestler J'den Cox won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics with a torn left meniscus, but he said it was "totally worth it."

He said the suffered the injury in a practice leading up to the NCAA tournament in March - a tournament in which Cox became a 2-time NCAA champion at the 197-pound weight class.

The injury was so bad that Cox said he wasn't sure if he wanted to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa in April. After debating whether to go, Cox eventually decided to give it a go for the Trials.

"I was telling people that I might not go to the Olympic Trials because I knew this was an issue going into the summer," Cox said, referencing his torn meniscus. "We just kind of bucked up and did what we had to do."

Still battling the torn meniscus, Cox won the Olympic Trials tournament, advancing to the 2016 World Olympic Qualifier in Mongolia to try and qualify for the Olympic team.

Not only did Cox qualify for the team, but he also won the tournament, sending him to Rio to compete in the summer games.

After winning his first two matches in Rio, Cox lost in the semi-finals to Selim Yasar of Turkey. While he said he was devastated by the loss, he knew he still had a chance to win a bronze medal for his country. 

"I was training for a gold medal. I don't think we train for anything less," Cox said. "I had already pushed myself to the limit and as far as I could go, and since I didn't get there, I was already prepared to go for what I needed and do what needed to be done."

In the bronze medal match, Cox defeated Cuba's Reineris Salas 3 to 1, getting a takedown in the final 30 seconds of the bout to secure the victory. By winning the bronze medal in the 86 kilogram weight class, Cox became the eighth Mizzou athlete to win a medal at the Olympic Games.

"I tore it even more trying to get that takedown," Cox said of his meniscus. "But it was totally worth it."

Mizzou wrestling coach Brian Smith added, "It's the most memorable moment of my coaching career because the Olympics is the highest level. I knew that was one of his (Cox's) goals, to get to the Olympics. Seeing him win it and fighting through to get that take down was amazing."

Not many people close to Cox knew the extent of his injury. Cox's entire family went to Rio to support him, and even his great uncle, Ross Mutrux, didn't know he was hurt until after Cox won the bronze.

"We knew he had been injured after the (bronze medal) match when he was walking on to the stage to receive his award," Mutrux said. "We could tell he was limping, but we didn't know how bad it was at that point. We didn't know until we got home and he was set to be operated on."

Cox had surgery on the meniscus on Aug. 25 and is taking the next month off to rest and rehab his leg. 

"Having this month off is a blessing in disguise," Cox said. "I don't think it'll hinder any of my performances since I've had a surgery before. I'll be better than what I was before."