RACINE — He was once afraid of heights.
Nick Cihler has since become inspired to reach new heights in both a figurative and literal sense.
The senior for the Horlick High School wrestling team, who is off to a 22-3 start, has every intention of qualifying for the WIAA Division 1 Tournament in February. That’s quite a goal for someone who didn’t make the Rebels’ varsity team as a freshman.
This theme of reaching new heights will carry on for Cihler after he moves on from Horlick. His grand plan is to be flying jets for the United States Air Force, following a family tradition of military involvement.
“I always thought being a pilot was pretty cool,” Cihler said. “I was talking to a few of the recruiters and they were talking about how my ASVAB (Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery test) was actually high enough to be able to do that.
“After that, I realized I was actually able to get that goal and I started going after it a lot more. It was kind of set in my mind that way.”
And when Cihler gets something set in his mind, he wastes no time going after it.
That mentality became apparent when he was a boy and he wanted to overcome a fear.
“I was afraid of heights,” Cihler said. “I decided I just didn’t want to be afraid anymore, so I actually would go higher and higher on things. Like I would go higher in buildings.
“Eventually, I thought that being in a plane high in the sky would be real cool.”
Cihler had a similar go-for-it attitude with wrestling and he has improved from 21-15 to 34-17 to 22-3 in his three years on Horlick’s varsity. Helping him make the transition to the varsity team as a sophomore were his twin brothers, Jason and Justin, who were then senior wrestlers for Horlick (they combined to go 176-122 at Horlick).
Jason and Justin have continued to work with their little brother the last two years. With their help, Cihler has developed more into a technician on the mat wrestling at 152 and 145 pounds this season.
“He wants to follow in his brothers’ footsteps,” Horlick assistant coach Leonard Velasquez said. “He really wanted to step up to the plate as far as their achievements. He wanted to go higher than what they did.
“Like neither one of them qualified for state — they made it to the last round, but never qualified — and he really wants to qualify for state.”
Cihler is certainly wrestling at that level. Velasquez singles out a Dec. 21 match at the Milwaukee Hamilton Duals, when Cihler took a step-by-step approach in a 10-2 decision over Rhetley Jones of the Wauwatosa combined team.
“He wrestled really smart there,” Velasquez said. “He didn’t go all-out right away. Toward the end of the match, he picked up the pace and the kid got tired. He took the kid down, let him go and took him down again.
“He didn’t realize who he beat until after he wrestled him and then he was like, ‘Oh, wow! I really beat a good kid!’ And I said, “Yeah, you wrestled smart! That’s why.’ “
Cihler, who has been wrestling mostly at 152 pounds this season, is following a new diet that he hopes will allow him to drop to 145. When he looks at the competition, he feels he has a better chance of qualifying for state at the lower weight class.
“It would make me really happy to go to state,” he said. “I’m sure my brothers would be more than happy to see me go to state. I know they both wanted to go their senior year.”
And then he plans to follow in his family’s military footsteps. Four family members, including brothers Jordan and Jason, made commitments to the military, which has inspired Nick.
“I’m hoping to be piloting,” he said. “I might actually keep wrestling in the military, too.”