Academy grad returns to the mat for chance at becoming a champion

1st Lt. Clayton Gable (right), 2nd Space Warning Squadron supervisory statistician, wrestles at the Armed Forces Championships February 20, 2016, at Naval Base Kitsap, Wash. Gable wrestled for the U.S. Air Force Academy and continues to wrestle for the All-Air Force wrestling team. (Courtesy photo)

1st Lt. Clayton Gable (right), 2nd Space Warning Squadron supervisory statistician, wrestles at the Armed Forces Championships February 20, 2016, at Naval Base Kitsap, Wash. Gable wrestled for the U.S. Air Force Academy and continues to wrestle for the All-Air Force wrestling team. (Courtesy photo)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Coming from a small town in southern Pennsylvania, 1st Lt. Clayton Gable, 2nd Space Warning Squadron supervisory statistician, grew up in a family that had a heritage in wrestling.

"My dad was the head wrestling coach at the high school and one of the most successful wrestlers in our schools history, as well as a Division 1 wrestler," Gable said. "Therefore, it was always sort of assumed I would end up pursuing wrestling."

Gable played an array of sports growing up but excelled in wrestling, which became his sole focus junior and senior year of high school.

His talent in wrestling was recognized by a variety of Division 1 colleges including Stanford University, Maryland University and Campbell University, however there was in school in particular that attracted him.

After placing at nationals his junior year of high school, Gable was contacted by the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"At the time, I had no idea what a service academy even was," Gable said.

Their pursuit of Gable for the wrestling program would eventually lead to his commitment to the Academy.

"I liked the coaches during the recruiting trip and the wrestlers all seemed like people I could get along with," Gable said. "I was sold because it seemed like a very cool place to go to school and an opportunity to do something that none of my other friends were doing."

Gable wrestled at the Academy at 165 and 174 pounds over his four years there. He started all four years and placed at the Western Wrestling Conference tournament every year on the team. His junior year, Gable was ranked within the top 30 in the country for his weight class.

His accomplishments as a collegiate athlete were more impressive when considering the additional responsibilities of an Academy athlete.

"It was pretty challenging being a student athlete at the Academy," Gable said. "There were definitely some things we had to contend with that our competitors didn't have to.  It took me the first couple years to be able to find the balance between school work, being an athlete, and still doing my military requirements."

Although Gable performed at a high level over his four years at the Academy, he still believed he hadn't reached his full potential as a wrestler.

"I never reached my goals of qualifying for D1 Nationals," Gable said. "I felt like my college career didn't end on a great note because I had a pretty bad concussion that kept me out for three months of the season."

Three years after graduating from the Academy and leaving wrestling, Gable got another chance to try out for the All-Air Force wrestling team.

"When I heard about the opportunity to wrestle again and felt I was capable of competing, I couldn't pass it up," Gable said.

Gable took advantage of his opportunity and made the team in the 190 pound weight class, which is nearly 15 pounds heavier than what he wrestled at in college.

Learning how to wrestle at a higher weight presents it challenges, but Gable is excited about his new opportunity to excel.

"Clay is a very talented wrestler," said Floyd Winter, All-Air Force wrestling head coach. "At the Armed Forces Championships last February, he lost his match by one point. The Armed Forces Wrestling Championships is one of the best wrestling tournaments in the United States. Had he won his match, he would have medaled. I expect him to win a medal at the 2017 Armed Forces Wrestling Championships and compete in the National Championships."

Gable's goal for now is to improve on his 2016 season by working hard in the off-season in order to excel during 2017.

"My goal for now is to win the Armed Force Wrestling Championships in the next couple years," Gable said.