There's an urgency for LaPorte wrestler Landon Blackburn this season, and being a senior is only a part of the reason.
Personal experience has taught him to take nothing for granted.
His dad Jay, whose childhood athletic pursuits were limited by polio, is his biggest inspiration. Then there's his uncle Dave. A hall-of-fame fast-pitch softball hurler, he won several gold medals in the Maccabiah Games before losing a leg and nearly dying in a horrific car accident in 2010. He returned to Israel last summer as a paralympian.
"Life, even at 18, is going too fast," Blackburn said. "I don't want to let a single moment go by without taking full advantage of it. I want to make every moment last. I'm ready to finish as strong as possible."
An undersized (225-pound) heavyweight last season, Blackburn went 32-16 and qualified for semistate. His options for 2013-14 were cutting down to 220 or bulking up.
He chose the latter. Bolstered by a high-protein diet, he packed on over 50 solid pounds through tireless training, twice a day, six days a week, with weightlifting coach Todd Basich.
"The biggest thing we trained was explosion — power cleans, squats, bench press," Blackburn said. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him being there for me, helping me get through the struggles, to become the wrestler I am today."
Blackburn also made the long drive to Calumet High School to sharpen his skills at the Midwest Wrestling Academy.
"Honestly, he's been self-driven since I met him as a youngster," LaPorte coach Louie Kuzdas said. "Our sport is so difficult. There are no guarantees. There aren't many people any more who go to his levels. He's one in a million."
The only time in the summer when Blackburn wasn't working out or training was a two-week stretch in July when he represented the United States in the Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event featuring 9,000 Jewish athletes from around the world. Wrestling men in their early 30s, Blackburn finished third in the 120-kilogram (264-pound) class for freestyle and Greco-Roman.
"Words can't really describe it," said Blackburn, who attended the games in 2009 with his uncle. "I got to experience the whole state of Israel. There's nothing better than walking in with 1,000 American athletes."
All the pieces have come together this season for Blackburn. He's ranked 13th in the state at 28-2, his only losses to Merrillville's unbeaten Shawn Streck.
"He's a kid who's always positive, who works hard every day," Kuzdas said. "I've told him ... the list is almost a mile long of kids who don't get where they deserve. Hopefully, the culmination will be making the state finals and he's able to prove what he's got."
Barring upsets, Blackburn will face Streck a third time in Saturday's Duneland Athletic Conference championship. He's also eyeing a fourth match in the finals of the Merrillville Semistate next month.
"That's where I want to be," Blackburn said. "I want to beat him really bad. My biggest goal right now is to be sectional, regional and semistate champion and to place as high as possible on the podium at state. That would be the perfect scenario."
A good finish will also help secure Blackburn an opportunity to wrestle in college, where he plans to major in physical therapy and minor in music. A drummer in LaPorte's pep and lap bands, he's also part of a two-man band, Proverbial Sun, outside of school.
"He's a well-rounded young man," Kuzdas said. "I'd bet he'll be somebody who's successful down the road. He finds out what his goals are and puts his mind to it, to how he needs to get there."