The machine

Senior Caleb O’Cain’s three-year journey towards wrestling dominance


Designed by Anuj Khemka

Anuj Khemka, Team Leader

*This article was originally intended to be published in the March 2020 print issue of tjTODAY. With the sudden closure of Fairfax County Public Schools in reaction to COVID-19, we transferred this story to tjTODAY’s online website.

For the average person, it takes one minute to change or walk down the stairs, but for senior Caleb O’ Cain, one minute is all he needs to pin each heavyweight in the district. 

As the two-time reigning district champion, as well as a medalist at regionals and states, O’Cain is not the average person — rather, over just three years, he’s become arguably the most dominant wrestler in the district.

Initial Experiences

Despite O’Cain’s stronghold on the district heavyweight crown, wrestling was not a part of his life until his sophomore year. He experienced moderate success from the start, placing eighth in the NOVA Classic and going 2-2 in dual meet competition in his first year. However, an injury soon ended O’Cain’s season.

“I went to take a shot during practice; my hip flexors wanted to tear, but they were stronger than the bone was so instead of the muscles tearing, it tore off a chunk of the bone,” O’Cain said.

Nonetheless, in just four weeks of competitive wrestling, O’Cain had already developed a passion for sport, to the point where he stayed active in it throughout the off-season. 

“After being injured, I didn’t just say, “Oh well that’s the end of it for me. I went and I watched wrestling. In the off-season, I went to a couple of camps. And I actually lifted and worked, even though I wasn’t wrestling,” O’Cain said. 

On the Rise 

O’Cain’s off-season work proved beneficial as he began his second year in wrestling with a fourth place finish at the NOVA Classic. 

O’Cain would go on to be district champion, but a severe knee infection once again threatened his progress. 

“I had a MRSA infection in my knee, so the day before regionals, I had to go to the emergency room. I had to get shot up on antibiotics, and then they had to cut my knee open and clean it out,” O’Cain said.

Even with an active infection, O’Cain, who came into the season with the goal of making states, pushed through the pain in order to compete at regionals.  

“At a certain point you have to put your goals above the pain you’re experiencing, and realize the 

pain is temporary, but the medal will last. If it’s just like a cut, because at that point that’s basically all it was, just go for it. You have nothing to lose.”

With that in mind, O’Cain placed fourth at regionals, just enough to make states. There, O’Cain finished sixth, making the podium and receiving a medal.  

Final Stretch 

Following his successful junior year, O’Cain’s final season at Jefferson began with one major goal — win states. 

“I thought that [winning] was an attainable goal because at the time, I thought that everyone who ranked above me at states was either graduating or reclassified. So at that point I thought [it would be] natural progression — I just slide up and take first.”

As had become the norm, O’Cain went undefeated in dual-meet competition as well as in the district tournament en route to another first-place finish. However, with second- and third-place finishes at regionals and states, respectively, O’Cain finished short of his expectations. 

“Turns out I was wrong, and the person who got second last year was still here. And that was fine,” O’Cain said. 

Although O’Cain was ultimately unable to reach the top of the state podium, he has carved out an undeniable legacy in Jefferson wrestling. Much of this success can be attributed to a combination of strength, athleticism and strategies rarely used in his weight class. 

“What I realized is that a lot of heavyweights aren’t used to wrestling people who don’t wrestle like heavyweights and wrestle like lower weights. For example, most heavyweights don’t shoot,” O’Cain said. “So I worked on doing faster moves and different moves than would be typical at heavyweight — going for the legs or trying arm bars.”

Despite uncertainty regarding how big of a role wrestling will continue to play in his journey, O’Cain stresses that wrestling has forever ingrained in him several life lessons, including the importance of perseverance. 

“If it’s easy everyone would do it. Everyone wants to be on the podium and win, but not a lot of people actually want to do the work that goes into it,” O’Cain said. “Wrestling has taught me that the work is worth it, and going through all the trials and challenges you face will be worth it once you’re on the podium.”