All-American Chris Heilman ’08

Three-time All-American in wrestling

  • Chris Heilman '08 stands on the wrestling mat at the U.S. Air Force AcademyB.A., physical education, secondary education
  • Master’s degree in sports management, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota
  • Assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado (Heilman’s hometown)
  • Married to Jenn Boaz Heilman ’09; two children

What’s a lesson you learned from a coach, teammate, or faculty mentor?  

When I first started wrestling, I only saw it as an individual sport—it is only you out there, your team or coaches can’t come save you—and that’s what I loved about it. However, there were times where I could be selfish in my training and life. Coach Mike Duroe helped me realize that it wasn’t all about me, that the team and program came first. For that, I will forever be grateful.  

What was a significant failure you faced, and how did you overcome it?

Chris Heilman '08 as a Cornell College student-athlete - standing in his wrestling singlet
Chris Heilman ’08 as a Cornell College student-athlete.

At the time, not winning the national championship seemed like a huge failure. I poured everything I could into it and expected to win. I was the No. 1 seed going into the tournament for the first time and was feeling great. I did feel pressure as Cornell hadn’t won a national championship in quite some time, and I really wanted it to be me. 

Unfortunately, I lost in the semi-finals for the second year, but was able to come back and finish third. I was really heartbroken for a few months after that. In order to overcome it, I really had to change the way I thought about it. 

Eventually, the thought became “if not winning the national title is the worst thing that has happened to me, then I am doing pretty well.” I instead became proud of the work that I and my teammates put into it … those extra runs and lifts, getting my butt kicked at the Olympic Training Center, the early morning workouts with the team. I appreciated those moments more and more. Also, as a coach, we talk a lot about being able to handle adversity. Coming back to finish third after a difficult loss is something that I am proud of.