Sanderson says foundation for success is based on gratitude

By Mike Poorman

Of Gaelic origin, it means "Victorious people."

El is another word for a deity, a god.

Of course. Right.

Cael is also the one word that has dominated the collegiate wrestling world over the past two decades.

There was Cael The Wrestler, who went 159-0 at Iowa State from 1999-2002, with four NCAA titles and season records of 39-0, 40-0, 40-0 and 40-0. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member in 2011.

Cael is the only wrestler in NCAA history to never lose a bout over four years — the No. 2 achievement in college sports history, according to Sports Illustrated. (Surpassed only by Jesse Owens' four world records in 45 minutes as an Ohio State Buckeye.)

Then there's Cael The Gold Medalist (84 kg, Athens, Greece, 2004). Who was preceded by the Cael Who Was On a Wheaties Box.

And now, and seemingly forever, there's Cael The Coach.

After three years as head coach at his alma mater, Cael came to Penn State on April 17, 2009. That was 3,012 days ago. (For cCael Sanderson display for socialomparison purposes only: It took 1,009,941 days to build Rome.)

Since then, Cael's Nittany Lions have won six NCAA championships, the most recent this past spring, when five of his wrestlers made the finals. And each won a national title, taking first in five consecutive bouts, from Zain Rutherford at 149 pounds to Bo Nickal at 184.

Under Cael's direction, Penn State has won six Big Ten titles and 103 of its last 117 matches, including the past 31 straight, dating back to Feb. 22, 2015.

The numbers are remarkable. Mind-boggling. Numbing.

But the statistics and the titles and the victories are not the true measure of Cael Sanderson. He would be the first to tell you that.

Not that he isn't grateful for all his successes and blessings, which include a tight-knit family — wife Kelly; sons Tate and Teag; brothers Cody (a Penn State assistant), Cole and Cyler (a Big Ten champion at PSU); and parents Debbie and Steve — and extends to his Penn State staff and wrestlers.

Cael is. Very much so. In fact, his word for the final word in this one-word series, is "gratitude."

But to get the measure of the man, spend some time with him.

In the days and weeks leading up to the following interview, I had the opportunity to chat with him a couple of times, off-the-record. We discussed John Wooden and Galatians and emotional discipline and life's purposes and fatherhood and commitment and how doing your best is just not good enough.

Not numbers. Not national championships. Not the move that earned him almost 200,000 YouTube views as an "ankle picking machine."

Heck, we didn't even talk about wrestling.
Sanderson, Cael_granite plaque


Sanderson: There are a lot of words that are important. But I do think the foundation for success is based on gratitude.

Everything — peace of mind, happiness, getting the most out of what you have — springs off of the word "gratitude." So let's go with gratitude. Are you saying for sports or for life? Or for the concentric circles of sports and life?

Sanderson: I think they're all the same. That's the great thing about wrestling, right? It's life in a microcosm. You learn what it takes and what it doesn't take. Gratitude is right at the foundation of all things. That's Biblical.

So, what does gratitude mean? I've thought a lot about it, for years and years. It just means that you think less about yourself. If I'm grateful, I'm going to think less about myself and more about others, and the opportunities I have.

"You count your blessings and then you make your blessings count." That's not my quote, but it's a powerful idea. It's really important.

True gratitude isn't just if you win. True gratitude is based on all things — success and failure. If I'm truly grateful, I'm going to maintain that regardless of the outcome. Otherwise, it's not gratitude.

Read Full Story

Our Mission: To honor the sport of wrestling by preserving its history, recognizing extraordinary individual achievements, and inspiring future generations