Nahshon Garrett, national champion
How an 84-pound third-stringer became one of Chico’s greatest high-school athletes
One of Chico’s greatest high-school athletes has come a long way since entering Chico High School as an 84-pound, third-string wrestler who also sat the bench on the school’s football team. He remembers sitting outside of his church that year, confused and wondering, “Why am I so small?”
“I didn’t really feel that small, but for some reason sports just weren’t working for me,” Nahshon Garrett said.
Flash forward four years: On April 3, Nahshon won a national championship in the 112-pound category at the National High School Coaches Association tournament in Florida, becoming the only California Interscholastic Federation Northern Section wrestler in history to win a national title. (This Saturday, May 7, he will be honored as a top athlete by appearing in the Pioneer Days “Celebrating Athletic Enthusiasm!” parade.)
Soon after his national victory Nahshon was offered a full-ride scholarship to Cornell University, a prestigious Ivy League school in Ithaca, N.Y. He’d been recruited by seven colleges but chose Cornell because of its outstanding academic and wrestling programs. He’s leaning toward majoring in developmental sociology.
The lean but intensely muscular 112-pound senior entered that finals match in Florida with a torn pectoral (chest) muscle, and during it he dislocated his thumb, ripping the tendon so badly that he had to wear a foot-long arm cast for six weeks afterward.
Before the match Nahshon stayed loose, as he always does before a contest, talking and laughing with friends, and even dancing—his second passion, which he shares with his twin brother, Isaac.
“I was in one of the best areas of the country with gorgeous beaches, so what would I be worried about?” he said. “Even if I lost, my coaches would still love me.”
Somehow, he felt virtually no pain and won the match 3-2. It was another astounding achievement for Nahshon this year. In March he became the only Northern Section wrestler ever to win the state high-school championship twice.
Nahshon says he’s overcome his perceived adversities using his faith in God and his tenacious personality.
“If I do something I want to be the best at it,” he said during a recent interview, still wearing the cast. “I want to work harder than everyone else with my body and mind.”
His coach for all four years, Keith Rollins, was also a big help.
“He’s guided me every year here,” Nahshon said. “If wrestling is like making bread, then Keith is the flour; he’s an essential ingredient.”
For all his wrestling success, he almost never started the sport. Through his early teens his mother, Golden, forbade him to wrestle, fearing for his well-being and health.
“I’d heard that you could get fungus and ringworm from wrestling mats,” she explained.
Nahshon became secretly hooked on wrestling when a friend took him to his school’s practice in seventh grade, the same year his father passed away from pancreatic cancer. During that practice he was elated when he beat one of the school’s best wrestlers. He kept practicing that year, unbeknownst to his mother. In eighth grade he finally asked her permission, and, seeing his passion for the sport, she relented.
At Chico High, Nahshon’s skills grew along with his size, as he gained more than 25 pounds in his four years there.
One of Nahshon’s biggest challenges has been keeping focused on his faith, which he credits to his mother and coach Rollins.
“It’s been hard because I’m coming of age and have different thoughts than when I was younger,” he said.
His dedication earned him his first state championship as a junior.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he did what he’s always wanted to do,’” Isaac said. “All his hard work and starving to make weight finally paid off.”
Though not identical twins, Nahshon and Isaac appear to be so. “Everyone always thinks I’m Nahshon,” said Isaac. “I just wave, say ‘hi’ and keep going.”
Nahshon and Isaac are a formidable athletic pair. They are an accomplished singing-and-dancing duo. Isaac has performed ballet in The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty and the two have danced pop and hip-hop at nearly every Chico High rally during the past four years. A few years ago their mother actually drove them to Hollywood in an unsuccessful bid at professional modeling and acting.
“It turned out to be too costly and difficult to move there,” Golden said. “But we got a ton of calls from interested agents.”
Isaac does not regret the lost opportunity.
“I’m glad Hollywood didn’t work out because Nahshon wouldn’t have excelled in wrestling and I wouldn’t have taken ballet,” he said.
Nahshon says that dancing is his fallback passion if wrestling doesn’t work out.
Throughout it all, Nahshon has kept his modesty and positive spirit, Isaac said. “Sometimes I’ll get tired of stretching and ask him if I should continue,” Isaac said. “He’ll ask me, ‘Do you want to be a champ?’ and that’ll be enough to keep me going.”