When All Else Fails, Wrestling Saves The Lefever Home

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Nancy Lefever with Riley (R) and the twins. (Courtesy Nancy Lefever)
Nancy Lefever with Riley (R) and the twins. (Courtesy Nancy Lefever)

The trouble began not long after Nancy Lefever’s twin boys started to walk.

"Conner and Reece pulled a grandfather clock on top of them when they were 18 months," Nancy says. "They had to have stitches and everything. And from that point on, at least once a year, one of my guys had to have stitches or broke a bone or something. It was nonstop."

But the real fun began when Riley, born just two years after his brothers, became old enough to join the shenanigans.

Jumping Off Point

"We had a little balcony over our living room. And we’d go up to the top of the balcony and jump off onto our couches," Riley says.

Time to send the kids outside. Probably no dangerous balconies there, right?

"In our backyard, we had a pool," Riley says. "And we also had a balcony over our pool."

Sounds dangerous. But no need to worry. There, as always, to ensure the boys’ safety was Nancy’s husband, Kent.

The Lefever boys in their natural habitat (Nancy Lefever)
The Lefever boys in their natural habitat (Nancy Lefever)

"He threw them from the deck into the pool," Nancy says.

When they got older, they also launched themselves from the balcony over the pool.

"It was a pretty good jump. And we’d probably get it by a couple inches, but to us that was like clearing it," Riley says.

"There were times when I drove home from work, and I would see them," Nancy says. "I just wanted to drive on by and pretend like I didn’t live there."

Nancy Lefever

In one side-splitting episode, Nancy’s guys waited for her to get home. Conner writhed in mock agony on the concrete deck as if he had missed the water. Riley remembers getting yelled at for that one. And then there was their Harry Houdini escape act.

"They used to love to tie each other up with rope — their hands, their feet, everything — jump into the pool and see how long it took them to become untied," Nancy says. "The boys’ friends would come and see these kids in the water and start freaking out. It’s like 'Oh, no, no. He’s got plenty of time. Don’t worry about it.' And if I jumped in to try to save them, if I thought they’d been down there too long, oh, then they were mad at me…"

And who wouldn’t be mad at a killjoy mom like Nancy? But sometimes she got a little mad, too.


"There were times when I drove home from work, and I would see them," Nancy says. "I just wanted to drive on by and pretend like I didn’t live there."

But she had to come home. If she didn’t, who’d repair the house?

"Ohhhh, yes. I was constantly repairing holes in the walls," Nancy says. "And it was just, like, 'Ooops! Mom will have to fix that. Ooops! Mom will have to fix that.'"

"There was one time when I was wrestling with my brother, Conner," Riley says. "And we weren’t even really wrestling that hard it seemed like. But one of us tripped and fell right in front of our TV, put a big hole in the wall right in our living room."

"Right beside the television," Nancy says. "So everyone that came in saw it. And I finally said, 'OK, I’m done. I’m not fixing it anymore. People can come and they can see exactly how destructive you guys are.'"

Signing the boys up for every available sport hadn’t done much to stop the mayhem. Their barbarian zeal had reached critical mass. So had Nancy’s frustration.

Wrestling Takes Over

"Once we got older, around middle school, my Mom just was sick of it," Riley says.

"We got a wrestling mat in our basement," Nancy says.

"So it became our little wrestling room," Riley says.

"And they started wrestling," Nancy says. "When they weren’t at school and they weren’t outside, they were practicing in the basement."

Riley and his twin brothers were still putting holes in walls downstairs, but they were also learning a sport that would soon lead them away from the furniture and the pool and into middle school gyms. Nancy must have loved that the boys were now wrestling elsewhere. Right?

"I hated it with a passion," Nancy says.

"My Dad loved it," Riley says. "She thought we’d get hurt. Thought something would happen."

Something did happen. Lots of good things. All three boys became successful high school wrestlers. In 2012, Conner and Reece were named captains of the Wabash University wrestling team. Two years later, Riley followed them to Wabash and developed a reputation for toying with his overmatched opponents.

Riley Lefever (R) attempts to take Bobby Steveson (L) down in the 2013 IHSAA State Championships (photo credit Nancy Lefever)
Riley Lefever (R) attempts to take Bobby Steveson (L) down in the 2013 IHSAA State Championships (photo credit Nancy Lefever)

"He would take them down, let them back up," Nancy laughs. "Take them down, let ‘em back up. Take them d…and I’m sure half the time, the other kid would just think, 'Oh, please, just pin me. Get it done and over with.'"

"That’s what my family always think I’m doing," Riley says. "They think I’m just messing with guys, trying to humiliate ‘em. But in all honesty, to me, it’s just wrestling. I’m trying to get the most out of every single match."

"And I was, like, 'Riley, don’t do that, that doesn’t look nice!'" Nancy says. "He said, 'Mom, wrestling isn’t a sport to be nice.'"

Nancy says she finally learned to appreciate wrestling when her boys were in college. She even learned to love it. She became the Wabash wrestling team’s unofficial photographer. But Nancy was in for yet another surprise.

The Warrior Poet

"When he went on to major in English, it’s, like, 'Ewwwww, is that really what you want to do?' And he says, 'Yeah! I really enjoy it, mom.'"

Riley was already a successful student-athlete. He became a poet.

"A lot of people would see it as a contradiction," Riley says. "You know, a rugged sport, a combat sport, versus poetry, which is, sort of, seen as a high art. I guess you, sort of, think of, like, people sitting at their desk, writing poetry with, like, a pipe, or something like that. But I don’t think of it that way."

And it shows in his poetry. This poem’s called "The Seventh Circle of Hell is Violence":

I challenge you to go seven minutes versus another man.
To fight in every position and give him an inch.
To battle control of each on your feet…take him down to hell.
You know he’s just gotten himself into hell.
Because every wrestler knows you can’t really win if you can’t escape from the bottom.

Nancy Lefever say she appreciates Riley’s poems and the discipline it takes to write them.

"Yeah, it’s funny sometimes when I read them, and I’m thinking, 'Wow, my son actually wrote that. I’m impressed!'"

And nothing gets destroyed. In fact, a lot of things have been built. Reece is a full time assistant coach for Wabash wrestling. Conner is working for a logistics company.

Riley Lefever and his 91-year old grandfather. (Nancy Lefever)
Riley Lefever and his 91-year old grandfather. (Nancy Lefever)

In March, Riley won his fourth NCAA title. Only one other Division III wrestler has ever done that. He graduated in May with a degree in English and a 3.43 GPA. The following day, Wabash University celebrated the first annual Riley Lefever Day.

Now, he’s hoping to make the 2020 Olympic team. And he’s getting married in August.

As for Nancy, she doesn’t want to get too far ahead of things, but…

"I’m hoping for a granddaughter sometime, since I’ve never had daughters myself," Nancy says. "But in my heart, I really am looking forward to the day when I can see a grandson out there on the wrestling mat."

Considering Nancy Lefever’s experiences as the only woman living in a house full of man-children hell-bent on self-inflicted injury and home demolition, should she really be wishing for grandsons?

This segment aired on June 24, 2017.


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Gary Waleik Producer, Only A Game
Gary Waleik is a producer for Only A Game.



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