My glory days: Rick Carlson has fond memories of outstanding athletic career at Oakcrest High School

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Rick Carlson racked up more than 100 wins during an outstanding high school wrestling career at Oakcrest in the early 2000s. More than 10 years later, however, his most memorable match was one in which he was counting ceiling tiles. That’s the thing with wrestling, the tough losses sting and stay with you as much as the great victories do. “My freshman year, I was wrestling Jordan Alcoba of Absegami. I’m pretty sure I was beating him. This guy was a hell of an athlete. Almost like a gymnast; he pinned a lot of people. I had him in the air in a double, and he put me in a cement mixer and the next thing I knew I was staring at the lights and was getting pinned. I didn’t get pinned much in my career, so I was like, ‘whoah.’ I wrestled him two more times and he beat me both times. Wrestling is all mental, and he was in my head,” said Carlson, now a 28-year-old owner of Optimal Health Chiropractic in Egg Harbor Township. “In wrestling, the most memorable losses are the ones that stick out. My 100th win was nice, though. It was senior year in the semifinals at districts. You have everything lined up, you know you’ll get your 99th Friday night, your 100th Saturday morning. So that was cool, it was a goal I had been working toward for four years. It was nice to get my 100th win at ‘Gami in their gym. Standing under the lights at ‘Gami was always awesome.” Carlson grew up in Mullica Township and graduated from Oakcrest in 2004. He was a three-sport athlete, amassing 11 varsity letters in soccer, wrestling and baseball. Wrestling was his main sport, he said, and he finished with a 103-22 record, three district titles, two second-place finishes at regions and a pair of trips to the state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Rick Carlson was a 3-sport athlete at Oakcrest before graduating in 2004. These days, he owns and operates Optimal Health Chiropractic and Sports Injury in Egg Harbor Township. If you have any chiropractic or sports injury needs or questions, call Rick at 609-415-2821. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O'Sullivan) Rick Carlson was a 3-sport athlete at Oakcrest before graduating in 2004. These days, he owns and operates Optimal Health Chiropractic and Sports Injury in Egg Harbor Township. If you have any chiropractic or sports injury needs or questions, call Rick at 609-415-2821. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan) “Growing up wrestling, I was very competitive. And the area was very competitive, too. ‘Gami was a powerhouse. Baseball was cool because there wasn’t really any pressure on me. Nobody really expected anything out of a freshman. It was a little nerve-wracking at first. I was just coming off of wrestling, so I was obviously cutting weight and skinny,” Carlson said. “Wrestling was my main sport and that was the sport I was best at. I won districts three times and was second in regions twice. I should have won them at least one time.” Carlson said making two appearances at Boardwalk Hall was quite a thrill for him, although he thinks he should have placed at least once. “It was awesome. I grew up wrestling in nationals and I remember them being at Penn State, and it was kind of the same atmosphere. A couple of the ‘Gami kids were there and I grew up with them. You’re just super nervous and super focused as well. My junior year, if I had won one more match I would have placed,” Carlson said. “Senior year, I remember it all, my last match. If I had wrestled that kid 100 times I probably would have beaten him 97 times. I dominated the match, but he got a couple quick points and I just didn’t take him down (in a 3-2 loss). I was good on my feet, but he stood up and took me down, so he scored all three of his points in about five seconds. I escaped and I out-shot him, but I just couldn’t finish it. “I cried for probably an hour straight. I found this back room at Boardwalk Hall, threw my headgear. I think my dad eventually found it, or coach (Drew) Muzslay. I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe it’s over.’ I came out and (Former Absegami coach) Gene Barber came up to me and said, ‘keep your head up, son, you had a great career.’ That was tough.” Carlson said he remembers the state championships as being something of a dreamlike atmosphere where every sound is heightened and the tension is palpable. “Wrestling at states, you’re in a hockey rink so the sounds are different. It’s not like being in a gym. There’s so much going on. I don’t know how I heard him, but I heard my coach from when I was growing up in the stands yelling, ‘shoot, Ricky, shoot!’ Between periods I could see him about 20 rows up and I was like, wow, how did I hear that guy? Once the whistle blows you are so focused,” Carlson said. “I tell people even today, baseball, soccer, football, those are just games. Wrestling is a lifestyle. It’s something different. You start so young. And while it’s a big community when you start out, the better and more competitive you get, it becomes a much smaller community.” Carlson said the lessons he learned as a high school wrestler, the kind of discipline you have to have to be a high-level competitor, have definitely helped him in his career. He went on to graduate from Stockton College, then got a graduate degree and now owns his own business, all before the age of 30. “Wrestling teaches you that discipline, focus, teamwork. It teaches you that you can get through anything, which helped when I graduated from college and went to graduate school. That was tough. I had to study so hard, but I knew I could do it because in wrestling you have to work so hard. You’re always trying to get better, and I apply that to my business now. There’s always somebody better than you, and growing up, there always was. But I wanted to be on that level, and the same thing with chiropractic, I always want to get better,” Carlson said. “It also teaches you no fear. That no matter how stressed you are about something, you know you can get through it. Find the right angle, find the right move and you’ll come out on top. And if you don’t, learn to beat it next time.” Carlson believes his coaches played a huge role in making him understand the mindset that having confidence in whatever you do in life is the key to success. “I remember my coaches always saying, ‘no matter how good this kid is, he still puts his singlet on one leg at a time, just like you do.’ That’s something that always sticks with me,” Carlson said. “Even in business, I don’t care if you’re the top surgeon for the New York Giants or the New York Yankees, anytime I’m going into a situation like that I think, ‘this guy still puts his pants on one leg at a time like I do.’ Not that the guy isn’t better, but don’t be nervous.” Another lesson he learned was that you have to continually strive to get better to stay competitive. Nowhere is that more important than in the business world. “A lot of what I do now is really sports-minded. It’s not just your typical rack-and-crack spine adjustments. Even now, I treat all my patients like athletes,” Carlson said. “My residency program was at a chronic pain center, and I was doing the same thing with those patients as I did with some professional athletes. The level of progression with a professional athlete is way faster, but it’s really the approach I take with all my patients. We’re all athletes in our own manner. I’ve carried that athletic mindset into chiropractic, expanding beyond the spine and into the muscle injuries that come along with sports and life.” Although Carlson has been out of high school for more than a decade, it’s easy to see how much of an impact high school sports has made on his life when he’s asked if he misses being in an Oakcrest uniform. “Sports kept me focused and straight-edged. I almost miss that sports aspect of always shooting for a goal, or having your next match or next competition. And the team aspect, I miss that,” Carlson said. “Each sport was its own season, it’s own group of guys. We would all hang out all the time, going to the buffet or the movies or whatever. Then that would end and in wrestling season it was winter, and let’s grind it through, cut all this weight. Then baseball was fun, it was spring again. A whole different group of guys. In the season, that is your group. There was always something to look forward to, and I miss that. “I think everybody who was a competitive athlete misses it, at least some part of it. Jason Hearn, the (Oakcrest)soccer coach, he was a wrestling coach as well. The last time I ran into him we were talking about it and he was like, ‘man, I wish I could still play high school sports.’ I think we all do.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]


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