In a relatively empty arena in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Tyler Makosy put his wrestling shoes on one last time and stood on the edge of the mat.
He needed to experience the feeling one last time.
Once the arena crew was ready to roll up that mat, as it was directed to do, Makosy would move over to the next one and just stand there.
“It’s like I formed one big, long sentence, and there is no period,” he said.
Mere hours away from weighing in and competing for the third consecutive year in the NCAA Division II wrestling championships for the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Makosy was now grappling with the sudden end to his wrestling career as a senior on the team.
“Never in a million years did I think they would cancel the tournament,” said Makosy, a lifelong wrestler and former state finalist for Urbana High School.
But the Division II national tournament became yet another victim of the coronavirus pandemic that has seized control of the world and brought normal, everyday life to a halt just about everywhere.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a tough pill to swallow,” Makosy said. “I know it happened. But I don’t want to believe it’s over.”
Makosy was unseeded at 149 pounds. But he had high hopes for a breakthrough and getting on the awards podium as a national All-American by placing in the top eight in the weight class.
He had spent most of the season at 157 and was 33-11 coming into the tournament. He worked hard to get down to 149 and liked his chances in the lighter weight class.
“That’s why I started wrestling [as a small child],” Makosy said. “I had a goal to one day get on the podium and be an All-American.”
After a terrific career at Urbana that saw him earn a spot on the state podium twice, including once in 2015 as the Class 4A-3A runner-up at 138 pounds, Makosy thought about directing his focus and energies to another pursuit.
“But I couldn’t do it,” he said.
Seeking somewhere warmer and at arms-length from home, Makosy settled on UNC Pembroke, where he won more than 100 matches and became a regular presence at the national championship tournament.
After going 0-2 as a sophomore at 149 pounds in the NCAA nationals at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Makosy was seeded seventh at 157 the following year in Cleveland.
But he injured his right knee and ankle early in his first match and fell into the consolation bracket with a loss.
Feeling the pain of what turned out to be a torn meniscus and high-ankle sprain, Makosy continued to push toward his ultimate goal and wrestled his first consolation match. But the injuries and a tough opponent were too much to overcome.
“I wasn’t going to injury default,” he said.
It was everything that he had overcome — the injuries, moments of self-doubt, bigger, stronger and faster opponents — that made the NCAA’s decision to pull the plug on Division II nationals in Sioux Falls all the more difficult to accept, even though the scope and severity of the virus outbreak was well-understood.
“I was truly heartbroken for this terrible, unforeseen event,” said Tyler’s mother, Chrissy, who raised three boys that were all standout wrestlers.
Tyler’s younger brother, Jake, was a three-time state placewinner for Urbana, and his other brother, Kevin, was a two-time state champion for the Hawks who now wrestles for the University of Maryland.
“We were so close and had so much built-up anticipation to see [Tyler] finish his final tournament right at the top, especially after getting injured at nationals last year,” Chrissy Makosy said. “He had worked so hard this past year — and every year — getting himself mentally and physically strong and ready to bring it home.
“[Tyler’s father] Doug and I could barely stand it. We counted down the minutes. We just knew he would [be an] All-American.”
Chrissy and Doug Makosy were in line at BWI Airport, getting ready to board a Delta Airlines flight to Sioux Falls when the news of the tournament’s cancellation was announced.
“The airline lady was literally holding the door until I got ahold of Tyler,” Chrissy said. “I called him and knew immediately by the way he answered the phone that it was true. We were both just numb and shared an emotional moment before hanging up. It was just devastating.
“Honestly, [Doug and I] almost still got on the plane to go be with him and spend some time with him but decided against that and made the long and disappointing trek back to the car and headed home.”
Makosy has already earned his degree in exercise physiology and is working toward his master’s in exercise and sport administration. But, like most of the rest of the world at the moment, he is not sure what his future looks like.
It’s possible he will join the coaching staff at UNC Pembroke in some capacity.
“I am not at a green light [in life], and I am not at a red light,” he said. “It’s more like a yellow light. I am not exactly sure what’s next.”