Coach K to receive Medal of Courage Sunday, Oct. 27
In the late 1980s, Kinen made a name for himself as a standout athlete in baseball, football and track and field, but his true passion was wrestling. After graduating in 1988 from Atlantic High School in Atlantic, Iowa, Kinen joined the wrestling team at Dana College in Blair, Neb. He wrestled for two years before knee and leg injures sidelined him. For the better part of four decades, Kinen has wrestled countless battles. In 2009, he began his toughest battle yet.
In the fall of 2007, Kinen started to experience decreased mobility in his feet. For the next year, he endured numerous MRI scans, surgeries, physical therapy sessions all in hopes of finding the origin of his problems. In November 2008, doctors diagnosed Kinen with primary lateral sclerosis.
In January 2009, Kinen drove nearly 344 miles from Chillicothe to Rochester, Minn., for an appointment with medical specialists at the Mayo Clinic for further testing. Kinen said he has vivid memories of that trip.
"I left on a Monday night after practice," Kinen said. "It was snowing. Most of I-35 north of the Iowa border was 100 percent snow and ice packed. Up by Mason City, (Iowa) there was a huge pile up with cars and trucks about three miles long. Semis were facing the wrong way in the ditch and I thought 'I better stop at the rest area.' It had been snowing so much that I had to cut through snow drifts down to the sidewalks to make it to the restrooms. The snow was waist high."
After purchasing some snacks, Kinen returned to his truck and attempted to get some sleep around 3 a.m. When he woke at 5:30 a.m. to warm up, temperatures outside his vehicle had dropped to 13 below zero. Kinen said leaving the rest area was not recommended, but he was determined to make it to his 9:30 a.m. appointment in Rochester.
Following the Tuesday morning appointment, Kinen remained at the Mayo Clinic for an additional three days for additional testing. It was during his time in Minnesota that Kinen was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body due to the degeneration of the upper and lower motor neurons. Individuals affected by the disorder may ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movement.
Despite the diagnosis, Kinen continued to coach wrestling through the 2011-12 season. During his tenure at Chillicothe, Kinen coached two teams to top 15 finishes. In addition, 37 individual state qualifiers, 12 state medalists and one individual state champion were produced during the Kinen era. To this day, Kinen travels to every match, home and away.
On Sunday, Kinen will receive the 2013 Medal of Courage from the Missouri Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The Medal of Courage is presented annually to a wrestler or former wrestler who has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, which may be physical, mental or other handicaps. Kinen will be honored during the Hall of Fame banquet in Columbia, Mo.
"It's hard to describe," Kinen said when asked how he felt about being awarded the Medal of Courage. "It is truly an honor to be receiving this award. Wrestling has taught me to never give up. Never quit. The way I've always looked at it, there is is no reason to complain. There is always someone that has it worse off than you."
On Friday evening, Kinen will be honored during halftime of the home football game versus St. Joseph Benton. The game has been designated as a blackout game with fans encouraged to dress in black. The Chillicothe Booster Club has sold nearly 900 Team Kinen 'Never Quit' T-shirts with proceeds going toward expenses incurred during Kinen's fight against ALS. Donations will also be accepted during the game.
"I was truly lucky to find a great community like Chillicothe," Kinen said. "A lot of people go through life hating their jobs, but I was lucky enough to find a job that I enjoyed every day. I played games and had fun with my students. It's one of many reasons you can call me the luckiest man alive."