How far are you willing to go to be the best in your sport?
For Falcon senior Aydin Rix-McElhinney, that meant moving from Maine to Colorado after qualifying for the state tournament and winning the All-State tournament as a rookie.
“After that year, I went to Fargo as a freshman, and it was an eye-opener for me,” Rix-McElhinney said. “That’s when I reinvented myself and knew I wasn’t getting the exposure in Maine that I could get.”
Rix-McElhinney made the decision at age 15 to move to Colorado alone, train at the Betterman Elite Wrestling Academy, and live with trainers Joe and Deanna Betterman. He studied at the Springs Studio of Excellence while wrestling at Falcon High School.
“It was a big decision for sure, but I knew what I wanted and I know where I want to be,” Rix-McElhinney said. “I just knew I couldn’t win this in Maine.”
As important as the decision was for Rix-McElhinney, all he brought with him were clothes. Moving across the country without family was a difficult decision for his parents to accept at first.
“They were upset at first,” Rix-McElhinney said. “Just the fact that I was leaving so early, they kind of thought they had a few more years with me before I went to college, but they knew that was what I needed. They know that wrestling is my passion and my life, and they want me to take it to the next level.
After spending three years living here, Rix-McElhinney said the biggest difference between living in Colorado and Maine was the community dynamics.
“We’re very spread out for the most part and we’re all friendly, but there aren’t a lot of neighborhood settings,” Rix-McElhinney said of her hometown in Maine. “So I think education and finding ways to be entertained when you’re younger plays a big role.”
All Rix-McElhinney wants to do is become the best wrestler he can be, and so far the move has paid off. He is currently 25-0 after placing first in the Cheyenne Mountain Classification Clash last Saturday and helping Falcon win the Northern Colorado Christmas Tournament on Dec. 18.
“He’s doing so well now because he’s aiming for higher things – aiming to be an Olympic champion one day,” Betterman said. “It’s something we preach at our club. We want children to reach a high level and everything else to fall below. If you just aim to be a state champion, you might fail, but if you achieve the title of national champion, being a state champion will happen.
He’s only lost one match since arriving in Colorado: the 160-pound 4A state championship fight against Thomas Jefferson’s Isaias Estrada.
“It motivated me a lot,” said Rix-McElhinney, “Even more for the offseason because I train all year, and I want to do things with wrestling as a career, so I used this to drive me this offseason.”
The move was made easier given that Betterman has a residential program in place at his training academy and has been doing so since 2017. There is also a familiarity between Rix-McElhinney and the Bettermans. Deanna is also from Maine and shares the same last name as her mother (Rix), although they are not related.
“Aydin is a special case because he’s known us for years since he was little,” Betterman said.
Rix-McElhinney’s decision to move to Colorado was influenced by summer camps he had already attended at Betterman Elite.
“He kept bugging my wife about training with us,” Betterman said, “He saw what we were doing here and he wanted to train full time and train with my wife. and me.”
Rix-McElhinney also has three of his Falcon teammates (Daniel Leon, Landon Drury and Nevin Smith) living with him in the residential program, training at the club and taking lessons at Springs Studio.
“There’s definitely a family vibe to it,” Betterman said. “They are all like brothers. They all hang out together, play video games, sometimes help each other with their homework.
Rix-McElhinney was able to choose Falcon as the team on the basis of not living in the District 49 area and thus being able to freely choose a school in that district.
One of the benefits of training in Colorado is training at altitude and improving cardiovascular endurance by training in the air. Getting used to the altitude is always the hardest part.
“It burned my lungs for sure,” Rix-McElhinney said.
Improving endurance is at the heart of his training at Betterman Elite. Each morning involves intense cardio training with the goal of increasing lung capacity.
“It’s definitely a very important aspect of wrestling, because if you can beat someone longer, you’re guaranteed to have the match,” Rix-McElhinney said.
It was a baptism of fire for Rix-McElhinney. His first days at Betterman Elite two years ago showed how far he was from where he wanted to be.
“There were kids just shaking me,” Rix-McElhinney said. “I wasn’t used to that. I used to be able to hold on and be able to take someone down. During my first practice there, I had just been mutilated. It was a learning experience, so I came back, just kept snacking. Pretty quickly, I was able to take these guys down. All of a sudden these guys couldn’t beat me anymore. So it was definitely a big leap and I see it every year in terms of my technique and my mentality. Everything has improved since then.”
Rix-McElhinney sees college wrestling in his future and favors Wyoming and Northern Colorado as two of his top programs. After that, he also wants to wrestle at the senior level, maybe even make the Olympics. He would also like to follow in Betterman’s footsteps and fight for the Army’s WCAP.
“I would love to, after college, pursue that path and wrestle,” Rix-McElhinney said.