Educational Studies & Creative Writing Major
Edel Vaca is one the most accomplished student-athletes to attend Knox in
recent years. A senior educational studies and creative writing double major
from Chicago, Illinois, Vaca has been nationally ranked in wrestling by the
NCAA Division III three times -- most recently, he was ranked 15th in the nation in the 2010 preseason-named the Prairie Fire Performer of the Week three times, and received the 2010 Cleaveland Bridgman Award for outstanding performance in an individual sport. But wrestling has done more for Vaca than simply bring him accolades on the mat -- it has given him access to life-changing experiences.
Vaca grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, and he made a conscious effort to stay off the streets when he started high school. "I promised to dedicate most, if not all, of my free time to sports, including wrestling. Even if I didn't like a sport, I joined," says Vaca. "From six in the morning until six at night, I'd be doing something. I joined clubs, anything to keep myself out of the dark."
By his sophomore year, Vaca knew he didn't have the time to dedicate himself to all of the sports and activities he had joined, so he chose those activities that he enjoyed the most. Wrestling made the cut and, ultimately, led him to Knox.
While competing as a sophomore at the state wrestling sectionals, Vaca caught the eye of Knox's head wrestling coach, Tony Islas. "He got into contact with my high school wrestling coach and told him that Knox would be a good fit for me," explains Vaca. "This was the first time I ever heard of Knox College. Coach Islas called me at least twice a month from then on to see how I was doing."
"What first struck me about Edel was his ‘scrappiness.' He was a fighter. And it turned out that he was a very good student," says Islas. "I consider myself a good judge of character, and, in his case, I hit the Knox lottery."
The "scrappiness" Islas saw in Vaca came into play outside of the wrestling arena. Vaca says his first year on campus was tough. He felt out of his element -- he grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, and English wasn't his first language. Vaca turned to his coaches for guidance. "They stressed that College was different and that I was going to be homesick. After they talked to me, I realized that I came to Knox to take myself out of my comfort zone -- to take a risk, try something new, be somewhere very diverse. I've learned a lot from it," he says.
Both Vaca and Coach Islas have high hopes for his senior wrestling season -- to make it to nationals and to win. "Rankings mean nothing unless you meet that expectation," says Vaca. And he sets a similar bar for the wrestling team as a whole. "I have even higher expectations for the team than for myself. We have a great first-year class coming in."
Thanks to hard work, Vaca was able to attend Knox, challenge himself in and out of the classroom, garner national attention, and expand his horizons. After graduation, he plans to teach and to coach, hopefully, outside of the United States. "If it weren't for the teachers and coaches in my life, I would be out in the streets, up to no good. They had such a huge impact on me in so many positive ways. I want to be able to make the same difference to future students that was made for me."