Aaron Meister remembers something Tamyra Mensah told him back in 2011 when he and another former Wayland Baptist wrestling coach, Johnny Cobb, were trying to convince the budding grappling star to become a WBU Pioneer.
Meister recalls Tamyra saying, ‘I have a heart of gold, Coach.”
Mensah wasn’t referring to her abundant kindness and loving personality, which the world is quickly discovering, but Mensah’s heart-of-gold reference had to do with her very real intention of winning Olympic gold on the wrestling mat.
Fast-forward 10 years and Tamyra Mensah-Stock does, in fact, have a heart of gold.
“We’re all pretty proud today,” Meister said after Mensah-Stock claimed the gold medal in the 68kg women’s freestyle event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Cobb, who started the WBU wrestling program in 2010 after being hired by then-athletics director Dr. Greg Feris, remembers being impressed with Mensah the first time he saw her compete. It was at the Texas state high school championships in Houston, where Tamyra was winning the last of her two state titles, that Cobb told Meister, his then-assistant coach, “We’re going to get those kids. Whatever it takes. That is a talent, right there.”
Cobb was targeting both Tamyra and twin sister Tarkyia, who convinced Tamyra as sophomores at Morton Ranch High School in Katy to give up track & field and go out for wrestling.
“I knew her and her sister were pretty special,” Meister remembered. “Then when they went and placed at nationals that solidified it. I knew they could be pretty good.”
Cobb figured it could be a challenge to land the Mensah twins, since Wayland’s program was only a year old and much more established programs like Oklahoma City University, Campbellsville in Kentucky, King University in Tennessee and Missouri Valley were interested, too.
“We did really well getting in the mix with those guys,” Cobb said.
Cobb and Meister both said being in Texas gave Wayland a leg up on the others, since at the time Wayland was the only college in the state to offer wrestling.
But it was more than just that. Cobb said it was the school’s family atmosphere, and he made sure the Mensah family knew Wayland would care for them.
“I did everything I knew to do to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take care of you,” Cobb said. “I think she knew I meant it, and that’s what we darn sure tried to do the entire time they were at Wayland.”
“After her visit she was pretty well set. We had to talk things over with her mother, and I think she felt like Wayland would be home and the coaching staff cared about her.”
Said Cobb, “They don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care, and Tamyra was one that that certainly would apply to.”
“It just seemed like after the visit (Wayland) was the right place for them,” Meister said. “We tried to sell them on making history, and in that sense Tamyra is a true Pioneer. She came in and told us what she wanted to do, and Coach Cobb and I did everything we could to get her where she needed to go.”
Tamyra went on to win a pair of Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association titles at Wayland in 2014 and 2017, in between training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She won the U.S. Olympics Trials that year but because the U.S. didn’t qualify her weight she wasn’t able to compete in Brazil.
After winning the World Championships in 2019, in addition to numerous other titles, and after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed due to COVID-19, Mensah-Stock won the U.S. Olympic Trials again this year and went on to win all four of her matches in Japan to claim gold.
Cobb and Meister wished they were there to see it happen in person, but due to COVID-19 restrictions spectators are not allowed at the Games. Cobb, though, was in Mensah-Stock’s corner at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon.
“That was a real honor,” said Cobb, who after retiring from Wayland in 2014 became a volunteer coach for Mensah-Stock’s Titan Mercury Wrestling Club. He’s been helping her ever since. “I’m glad I got to help some with the Xs and Os, but she obviously was in really good (coaching) hands at the Olympic Training Center. She couldn’t ask for more.”
Mensah-Stock is actually the second gold medalist Cobb has coached, having also groomed Brandon Slay at Amarillo Tascosa High School before Slay went on to win gold at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Meister, now the wrestling coach at Friends University (Kan.), said he is “beyond proud” of his former Pioneer. He admits to getting emotional just thinking about everything Mensah-Stock has done.
“I’m blessed to be a part of her journey. When you have a true passion and joy for the sport of wrestling and you can help people, it’s a great thing,” he said. “It’s been fun and a dream come true. It’s completely awesome when somebody has a dream and accomplishes it. That’s such a beautiful thing.”
Looking down the road, Cobb isn’t sure what lies ahead for Mensah-Stock, but her arrow couldn’t be pointed any higher.
“She’s a little bit of the face right now for USA Wrestling, for sure on the female said,” he said. “With her only being 28, and with the next Olympic cycle three years away as opposed to four, at 31 she could make a real run at another Olympic medal.
“I anticipate that will be her decision, but I know she’s also anxious to start a family. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Whatever Mensah-Stock decides to do next, the 72-year-old Cobb will be proud of her.
“For me it’s like a second daughter situation with T. There’s always been a real close relationship there, kind of like coach/dad.
“Tamyra is just a shining light for everybody. She’s a very sincere, very vivacious young lady. She never met a person she didn’t like.”