Senior wrestler balances roles of athlete, husband

By Jon Gluskin

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon in February. Inside Huff Hall, the public address announcer’s voice blares over the loudspeaker, “Now competing for the Illini, No. 12 Aaantooon Dietzeeeen!”

The crowd of 762 fans clap in approval as muscular 5-foot-7-inch senior Anton Dietzen steps into the ring ready for his 149-pound match. He wears his blue Illinois wrestling uniform, with the patented orange “I” in the middle.

With his headgear in place, he strolls to meet his opponent from Indiana. Dietzen stares at his foe in the red uniform. The referee blows his whistle.

The two wrestlers grapple, push and shove, feeling each other out, fighting for position, each struggling to maintain their balance. Dietzen leads 6-2 after period one.

“(Balance) is definitely key,” Dietzen said. “The thing about this sport, there’s no way to predict it. It’s constantly trying to adapt to what your opponent is doing, so it’s all about staying on your feet and balance.”

For Dietzen, life is about balance on and off the mat. He got engaged as a freshman in college to Cecelia Williams and married her the summer before his sophomore year. He went from being a walk-on freshman year to being a starter senior year for a wrestling powerhouse now ranked No. 3 in the nation.

Mornings for Dietzen begin between 6:30 and 7 with breakfast and walking the dog. While the Dietzens eat, they continue their 365-day Bible reading, because Christianity is vital to their lives.

Dietzen then drives Celi, as everybody calls her, to Refinery, the gym where she will spend the day working while Dietzen spends the morning working out. Then there’s class, followed by Dietzen bringing Celi her lunch, sitting with her while she eats. Dietzen will go home, eat his lunch and do some studying. At 3:30 p.m., it’s practice time.

By sundown, there is studying, cooking dinner, picking up Celi from work, eating dinner, family time and sleep, before Dietzen has to get up and do it all over again.

At a time when many young men of college age are going to bars, chasing after girls, playing intramurals and simply living a life of less adult responsibility, Dietzen faces the challenge of being a student, athlete and husband. It is perhaps an unenviable position, though he manages to fulfill these roles, his admirers say, with stunning proficiency. Yet, it is not without costs and is not always easy. But it is without question a balancing act.

Anton Norman Dietzen was born Aug. 21, 1981, in Elmhurst, Ill. He wasn’t a wrestler as he grew up; he was a football player. It was during his freshman year at York High School when he first started wrestling.

When it was time for picking a college, the University of Illinois was an easy choice for Dietzen – Celi was already there on a track and cross country scholarship.

Despite being just a walk-on, Dietzen said he was treated no differently from everybody else. In that red-shirt season, Dietzen had an 11-7 record at 149.

During his second season, he was a backup at 149 and 157, only going 4-4. After that season, things changed.

One of Dietzen’s closest friends decided to quit the team to pursue other interests. That made Dietzen think his wrestling situation over, and he decided he was either going to be a starter or he wasn’t going to be on the team at all. He had to go down a weight class. His decision ended up coming down to a half a pound.

“My wife and I went on a road trip and I told myself if I got back and I was less than 157, I would do it. Then I came back and I think I was 156.5, so I was like ‘aw, shoot,'” Dietzen said laughing.

That next season Anton finished with a 9-7 record in four tournaments.

He finally got his chance as a starter the following year at 149, placing seventh at the Big Ten Championships and qualifying for the NCAA Championships. This season Dietzen is 22-11 and ranked as high as 12th in the nation at 149.

The ref blows his whistle to start the second period. Dietzen gets a quick escape and soon takes down the unranked Ryan Pribble, bringing the somewhat lethargic crowd to life. The ref lies on the mat, making sure Pribble’s shoulders are down.

“One, two, three,” shouts the ref. Dietzen has pinned his opponent in only 3:26. This is just another victory his proud wife gets to be in attendance for.

Dietzen first met Celi when he was a freshman in high school. That first season on the wrestling team, Celi, a sophomore at the time, was the scorekeeper.

The two dated on and off that year. It became more serious during Dietzen’s sophomore year. They remained together for the rest of Dietzen’s high school career.

During Thanksgiving break of Dietzen’s freshman year at Illinois, he proposed.

“It came to be time to start looking for a place to live the next year – and we had been dating for a long time, knowing that we’d get married eventually – so we were like there’s no point living separately, so we might as well get married,” Dietzen said.

After that, the two of them talked to their parents who were very supportive of them tying the knot – Dietzen said the marriage wouldn’t have happened without their support.

“I think it was evident from the very beginning that they were made to be together,” said Dietzen’s mom Kathryn. “I’m a firm believer in that you cannot choose the time that your soul mate comes into your life, and I wanted them to spend their lives together in the blessing of marriage.”

Everyone else was not as accepting of the couple’s decision. Some joked, others questioned it. Celi said people who knew the pair really well were supportive.

The two married on Aug. 3, 2001.

Celi has been able to help Anton in many ways because she too was also a collegiate athlete. Whether it’s cooking a special meal or preparing an ice bath for Dietzen, Celi is always there to provide it. She also helps her husband with time management.

“It (marriage) puts things into perspective, too, when you’re really getting yourself worked up about something, no matter what. At the end of the weekend I’m going home to my wife, my house,” Dietzen said. “I have so many things going for me, this (wrestling) is just for fun.”

Both Celi and Illinois wrestling head coach Mark Johnson said it takes two very mature people for marriage to work, which is a defining characteristic for Dietzen.

Senior Brian Glynn has been one of Dietzen’s good friends over the past five years. While Dietzen doesn’t regularly go out with the team, Glynn still says that Dietzen is just as much a part of the team as anyone. Fellow senior Mark Jayne said he and the team makes fun of the married man, and Jayne calls Dietzen the ‘family guy.’

Johnson said the reason Dietzen excels at being a student, athlete, and husband is because of his dedication, as well as Celi’s involvement with the wrestling team.

Dietzen’s day at the mat is done. He is all smiles, talking to teammates as he munches on an apple, cautious with what he’s eating. He balanced his life and schedule to get where he is today; he can’t let excess pounds hinder his progress.

The final ring of the horn sounds, and the Illini have just completed a 39-0 thrashing of the Hoosiers. The children in the stands flock to the wrestlers, wanting to get anything autographed – posters, T-shirts, hats or programs.

After Dietzen pens his name, he asks the kids for theirs, and they scribble their names sloppily onto the back of the gray muscle T-shirt he wears. Celi watches with her camera in hand, talking with people, a smile never leaving her face.

After graduation, the Dietzens will move back to Dietzen’s home in Elmhurst. In the fall, Anton is going to go to chiropractic school at National University of Health Sciences, and Celi is deciding between chiropractic school and physical therapy school. When schooling is done for the Dietzens and all their debt is paid off, they plan on having children.

“Every once in a while you get a little bit like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get all this stuff done – there’s too much schoolwork and I’ve got to go work out to lose weight, and I have all this other stuff,'” Dietzen said. “And then it just comes to picking priorities and getting everything done that you can. I’m definitely not afraid to ask for help from my wife or my coaches or whoever I need it from.”