Wilkes’ Racanelli Back After Career-threatening Injury
WILKES BARRE — When he heard the pop, he thought it was all over.
Wilkes wrestler Nicholas Racanelli knew right away something was wrong, and his future in a sport he loves was in jeopardy.
“I knew it instantly,” Racanelli recalled of the injury suffered in November 2017. “I heard the pop, it felt like my knee was on fire and I wasn’t able to walk. I ended up finishing the match, but I couldn’t stand up.
“When I went back to the mat, I was on top. I kind of just hung on. I wanted to do everything possible for the team to win. So, I didn’t want to give up six points; I’d rather give up three.”
For Racanelli, a two-time national qualifier, the decade-plus he dedicated to wrestling, all the hours in the gym, the blood, sweat and tears, seemingly all meaningless after he tore his ACL six matches into his senior season.
“I didn’t think I’d have the ability to come back and be a fifth-year senior,” Racanelli said. “I thought everything I had put into the sport was wasted up until that point.”
But there was a silver lining.
With the injury occurring so early into the season, Racanelli was granted a medical redshirt.
This past November, nearly a year after he thought his career ended, Racanelli, a West Creek, New Jersey native, made his comeback as a fifth-year senior for the Colonels.
At the season-opening Ned McGinley Invitational, Racanelli finished second in his weight class.
“I’m happy to be back.” Racanelli said. “A lot of kids, they wouldn’t spend the extra money or do whatever they needed to do to come back and compete. But, I love this sport so much that I decided to do whatever I had to.”
The road back was far from smooth. The first hurdle he had to clear was a mental one.
“It was very devastating, put me in a pretty bad place for a long time,” he said of the time after his injury. “But, I was able to get over it with a lot of my coaches, friends, family. They were able to help me out of the hole I was in. Wrestling is my life. It’s been my life for the last 15, 16 years. To be able to wrestle one last time is definitely awesome.”
One of the toughest times turned into one of his biggest motivations. When the 2018 national tournament came around, after competing with the best in the nation the previous two years, being on the sidelines was hard. But it also lit a fire.
“It kind of motivated me. There’s these kids becoming All-Americans or making the national tournament, kids that I have beaten, kids that I’ve competed with,” Racanelli said. “As annoying as it was, it motivated me. If I didn’t want to work out one day, it motivated me to get to the gym or do whatever I needed to do to better myself.”
Racanelli put everything he had into making the most of his second chance.
“Rehab was difficult. I was at (physical therapy) three times a week. That’s without me working out on my own,” he said. “I was probably working out two or three times a day the entire summer. Up until this point, I’m still continuing that trend.”
Ever since his second-place showing to start the year, Racanelli hasn’t lost. He currently sits at 18-1, two victories away from 100 for his career. He’ll go for the milestone his weekend when Wilkes competes at Lycoming’s Budd Whitehill duals.
Every time Racanelli takes the mat this year, with him is not only a drive to win, but also a renewed appreciation for being able to compete, after it was all nearly taken away.
“As grueling as the six months are, because it is the longest season, I’m loving every second of it,” he said. “There are times where you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, why am I doing this? I’m here over winter break.’ But nothing is better than winning, in my opinion. I love to win, I love to compete, so that’s why I’m doing it. The winter break, you can have your winter break. I’m here to train.”
Racanelli’s efforts have been well rewarded early in the season.
On Monday, for the third time out of seven weeks, Racanelli was named the MAC conference’s wrestler of the week.
He hopes the accolades show his teammates what’s possible if the dedication is there and the work is put in.
“It boosts my confidence and I hope the guys that are looking up to me, it kind of boosts their confidence as well,” Racanelli said. “ If you put the time in, if you put the extra effort it, the results will show.”