RICE LAKE — Toughness is a word defined objectively to the greater mass of people.

That’s not to say there’s no room for subjectivity. Here’s an example: Rice Lake senior Chase Schmidt probably has more of it than most.

The soft-spoken and unassuming Warrior, coming off back to back state tournament appearances that didn’t end quite as he wished, felt discomfort that just didn’t seem to go away in his right knee during the summer training months. 

He pushed through, but even so, when early season workouts came about, the pain was still there. So finally, his brother and assistant coach, Josh, convinced him to go get it looked at. The MRI result? A torn meniscus. 

“He’s so tough, he’ll never quite give you a gauge on how he’s actually feeling,” Josh Schmidt said. 

So it came decision time. The doctor said it could get taken care of right away, but that would require a substantial absence from wrestling and the threat of missing the season. Schmidt is a driven guy. So he opted for an alternative probably not many would take. He would increase his threshold for pain and wrestle through it. After all, there were goals he had to achieve.

“I really didn’t want to miss anything,” Chase Schmidt said. “Coaches talked to me about missing a couple of tournaments. I didn’t want to. I wanted to go get another bracket.”

We’ll never quite know the pain Schmidt truly endured all winter. Only he’ll know that. But he turned in a season that even exceeded his own expectations.

He finished 38-3. The explosive athlete won more than 20 of those bouts via pinfall. He was a sectional champion. The Big Rivers wrestler of the year. And he went on a run at the state meet that will forever be etched in Rice Lake history. He won his quarterfinal and semifinal bouts in convincing fashion in the Division 2 152-pound bracket. Schmidt marched his way to championship Saturday and made West Salem’s Devin Bahr, considered by many the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the state, work in the championship match before falling for a silver medal. 

Not too shabby for someone who physically probably didn’t have much business performing at the level he did.

“Your body can do a lot more things than what your mind thinks you can do,” Schmidt said. “ You just have to overcome what your mind is telling you.”

Throw in one more accolade for the Rice Lake kid who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’s the Leader-Telegram’s 2017 All-Area wrestler of the year. 

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Schmidt’s never one to seek the spotlight. 

In fact, to those who have met him but don’t know him, it might be hard to believe he excels so much in such a grueling, aggressive sport just because of his shy and humble nature. 

Schmidt began wrestling before kindergarten and fell in love with the sport. He studied opponents’ moves. He would critique his own. 

When Josh Schmidt came back from serving in the military, he joined the Warriors coaching staff just before Chase got into high school. He knew how quiet his brother could be. But after Chase’s sophomore season, one that saw him go 37-9 and earn a trip to the state tournament, he could see more confidence emerge from his younger sibling.

“He just had to believe in himself,” Josh Schmidt said. “He came out of his shell a bit more.”

Chase Schmidt became the face of the wrestling program. He got more and more comfortable with who he was and wound up speaking to people he had never met after meets, thanking them for coming and supporting the Warriors. 

That confidence carried over to the mat. He became the pace dictator the deeper he got into high school. Schmidt didn’t waste much time going after his opponents.  After the opening head lock, if he felt his guy off-balance, he’d go right for a throw. And his double-leg takedowns that sent the other guy high in the air drew oos and ahs from spectators. 

Still, his calm demeanor meant he could take disappointment. Like his junior year in the state quarterfinals, when he had a lead on Freedom’s Seth Vosters before he got caught and pinned. He walked off the mat visibly upset but not shaken. And he turned that into motivation for a giant senior year that not even a torn meniscus could slow down. 

“It really showed where I could be and pushed me to be better and better with my technique and endurance,” he said.

Schmidt wrote a goal list and handed it to his brother with four bullet points. No. 1 was he wanted to improve leg riding. No. 2 was to win the sectional. No. 3 was to place at state. And No. 4 was to have four or less losses. All those boxes had a check mark at the end. 

Once again, he let a tough loss be a learning point. At the Dunn-St. Croix/​Big Rivers Challenge on Feb. 4, he got beat by two-time state champ Brock Schlough of Boyceville. And when Josh Schmidt got to practice the following Monday, he noticed the silver medal hanging up in his little brother’s locker with a note that read: “Saturday, you were the second-place loser. How does that make you feel?” 

It wasn’t intended for anyone to read. Chase Schmidt didn’t want a crowd of people comforting him after the loss. It was just a reminder that there was no time to stop. 

“That’s just who he is,” Josh Schmidt said. “He’s just so driven.”

He didn’t lose again until the state finals. And the knee? Josh Schmidt suspects three-fourths of the team didn’t even know about it. 

Now, the uber-tough Warrior has his name up in the Rice Lake wrestling room three times to mark each of his state trips. He’s got second-place next to his name for this year, one of very few to have that high of a place in school history. 

“It means the world,” Chase Schmidt said. “It’s awesome and a privilege.”

His next chapter will have a setting at either UW-Eau Claire or UW-Stevens Point, where he plans to extend his wrestling career. He finally had surgery after the season to repair a knee that got more and more torn with every match he wrestled. 

But that scar on that right knee, which is covered up by swelling at the moment, will always symbolize the time in his life he sacrificed comfort for pride.