When Jordan Leen won his first state championship his mom put the newspaper clippings in a scrapbook, and he tucked his medal away in a drawer.
For the next three years they repeated the pattern: another state title, more clippings — a bigger scrapbook and a drawer full of medals.
After four state championships at Baylor, Leen moved on to Cornell and last year became the first Chattanooga-area wrestler to win an NCAA Division I national championship. Yet little has changed. He remembers his losses but doesn’t know how many wins he has or where he is ranked nationally.
“It’s one step at a time,” said Leen, who will be back in Chattanooga on Feb. 1 with his Cornell teammates to wrestle the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “You start small. I try to make sure I am giving something up to God, and that process has grown to where at least on the wrestling mat I feel spiritually mature and confident.
“I have more composure and more peace, and that is different from four or even eight years ago. It is so much more than having a great tournament in March. Winning was a byproduct of that peace. It is an amazing thing because I am able to leave everything on the mat. Even with two losses this year I can say I am wrestling the best I ever have. I can’t make any promises that I’m going to repeat, but I can say I’m at peace and comfortable with the wrestler I have become.”
Leen was outstanding at Baylor, collecting 214 victories including an 86-match win streak and becoming only the fourth wrestler to win four Tennessee state wrestling titles. He was a five-time state medalist because of a work ethic that was noted by Baylor coaches.
“I would go through the doors no later than 7 a.m., and most mornings he was coming out of the weight room about then,” said former Baylor football coach David Bibee. “I think he was in there about 5 or 5:30 every morning.”
Leen’s daily regimen has shifted from early mornings to late nights and the challenges have been stiffer, but he continues to fill the awards drawer.
He earned his first NCAA tournament berth as a freshman following a 25-16 season that included Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association rookie of the year honors. Like most Cornell wrestlers, he took the next year off but returned as a redshirt sophomore to win his first EIWA championship and gain All-America status with an eighth-place NCAA tournament finish.
On his way to making his third All-Ivy League team he was named the EIWA Wrestler of the Year. He then upset three higher-seeded wrestlers to win the 157-pound national championship.
“It was a blur. I felt like I needed somebody to pinch me,” he said.
Since the NCAA title have come even more challenges.
“To win a national championship is special and rare. To repeat is more difficult. It comes with a whole new bag of challenges, and opponents are more prepared for what I might throw at them. I’m not going to catch anybody by surprise,” he said. “It gives me more things to work on and prepare for. You work on them one by one, piece them together and hopefully get lucky in March.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...