Letters from Steve Fraser – Behm was perfection on and off the mat
By Steve Fraser
Don Behm, who recently made a visit to USA Wrestling, is from Michigan and wrestled for Michigan State University.
Of course, as a graduate of Michigan, I don’t hold that against him. Even though Don was an MSU guy, the 1968 Olympic silver medalist spent time in Ann Arbor in the Michigan wrestling room. I gleaned many tidbits of valuable knowledge picking his brain, back in the day and on his visit to Colorado Springs.
Once we caught up a bit, I got around to asking Don if he had to sum it up, what was the most important thing that helped him have the great wrestling success he experienced. He began to tell the story of what he shared with the audience attending his fairly recent MSU Hall of Fame induction.
“Were we exceptional people, or were we given exceptional opportunities?” Don said. “I feel we were given exceptional opportunities, and the reasons for success always come down to these four things: hard work, dedication, perseverance and overcoming obstacles.”
In the ninth grade, Don had a dream. He went on to say that it had to be a dream, because he had no idea what it really meant. Don wanted to be the best in the world.
Don’s dream became a wish and that wish became a goal and eventually a plan. He didn’t tell anyone about the goal. He didn’t brag about it. He just kept it to himself and began to execute his plan. Don said, “Without a plan, a wish is just a dream, and it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Don went on to talk about that he had many great coaches in his career. He commented, “all of my coaches who I had through the years are in the Hall of Fame.”
So he had many great mentors and opportunities. Don’s dad said he could do anything! And Don believed him. Don had another memorable lesson that came from one of his professors, Dr. Gail Michaels.
Don was training about four hours a day and stated, “I didn’t spend much time in the classroom.”
One day Dr. Michaels gave Don an assignment and asked Don to turn in a paper. So Don went home that night and wrote this paper. When he brought it back to Dr. Michaels, he told him to come back tomorrow.
So Don came back the next day and the professor asked Don, “I see how hard you train and how dedicated you are to wrestling. Do you think this is the best you can do?” Don looked at him, and thought a moment and said, “No, I think I can do better.”
So the professor said, “I won’t mark you down any, just take it back and work on it some more.”
Don took it back home and then for the next few days worked on fixing the spelling and rewriting parts, etc. He then brought it back to the professor.
Again, Dr. Michaels took the paper over-night and when Don came back the next day to discuss the paper, the professor again asked Don, “Do you really think this is your best work?” Don thought again and squirming a bit said, “No, I can do better.”
So Don took it back home and after a few more days of improving it brings it back in. Again, the professor asks Don, “Do you think this is the best you can do?” This time Don quickly replies “Yes! This is the best I can do.” Dr. Michaels then replies, “Okay then. I will read this one.”
Dr. Michaels never read the other versions. This lesson stayed with Don Behm for his entire life.
When Don was wrestling in the 1968 Olympic Games, his final match was against a five-time World champion from the Soviet Union. As Don stepped out on the mat, he thought about his father, he thought about professor Michaels, he looked back at his teammates and the American flag, and said to himself, “I am the best the United States has… Let’s get it on!”
Don beat that Russian that day and won his Olympic medal. “Why?” he says, “because I paid the price!”