In his three seasons as a member of the varsity wrestling team at Cascade High School, Chris Borsheim won exactly one tournament.
When his coach, Rollin Wilson, pointed that out at the end of Borsheim’s senior season, Borsheim didn’t believe him.
“I thought, ‘Ahh, that can’t be true,’” Borsheim said. “Then I started thinking about it and I’m like, ‘OK, let me figure this out. I know he’s wrong probably somewhere.’”
As Borsheim waded through three years of memories he recalled some second- and third-place finishes, but no district titles, no regional titles, not even a championship from one of the invitationals the Bruins attended.
“If I would have had to bet a million dollars that I had won (another) tournament,” Borsheim said, “I would have said ‘Yes.’”
The only first-place medal in his collection was the one he earned in February of 1989.
The one designating him a state champion.
Good but not great
In high school wrestling, state champs usually possess overwhelming strength or flawless technique. More often than not, they have both.
By his own admission, Borsheim was blessed with neither.
“I wasn’t a great wrestler, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was good, but there were so many good wrestlers at that time period.”
What he did possess was a strong work ethic and a laser-like focus on a goal he set for himself as freshman: He wanted to be a state champion.
That desire was born of a sibling rivalry. His older sister Vicki won a state high jump title for Cascade in 1984. She would go on to a highly successful track and field career at the University of Washington and narrowly missed making the 1992 U.S. Olympic team. In 2013, she was inducted into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame.
Young Chris wanted to be like his big sister.
“I didn’t know about that at the time,” said Vicki (Borsheim) Beskind, who now lives in Arizona, “but he told me later. I felt honored that I was his inspiration.”
When Borsheim was a freshman, coach Wilson asked each of his wrestlers to set a goal for the upcoming season. Most of the responses were relatively modest: make varsity, win a certain number of matches, be team captain.
“I wrote one thing down,” Borsheim said. “It was to win state.”
That was a pretty audacious goal for a kid with just two years of wrestling experience who wouldn’t even make the varsity his freshman season.
“Everybody kind of laughed at me, a freshman who wants to win state,” Borsheim said.
One person who didn’t laugh was coach Wilson. If one of his wrestlers wanted to put in the work to be a state champ, Wilson would do everything in his power to help him achieve that goal.
“Rollin was always very supportive,” Borsheim said. “(He) always believed in his kids.”
Never got pinned
Borsheim didn’t start wrestling until he was in seventh grade at Evergreen Middle School in Everett.
He and a buddy wandered into the Cascade gym one day and happened to catch a match involving the Bruins’ Scott Katz, who would go on to be Cascade’s only two-time state wrestling champion.
After watching the contest, young Borsheim was hooked. “That’s want I wanted to do,” he said.
Although he didn’t have formal wrestling experience, he was no stranger to the physical and competitive demands of the sport.
“I have a theory on that,” Beskind said. “He grew up wrestling his (older) brother, Tim, so he was training his whole life, even if it wasn’t in a formal setting.”
Borsheim’s first match in middle school was against Adam France, an experienced wrestler who would go on to win a state championship at 135 pounds for Marysville Pilchuck High School in 1989. Everyone in the gym expected the newbie to get pinned — Borsheim included.
Borsheim lost, but didn’t get pinned. A notable streak began that day: In his six years of wrestling, Borsheim was never pinned, though he came close. During a tournament his sophomore or junior year, he found himself on his back early in a match. He spent the rest of the period fighting and squirming to keep his shoulders off the mat.
“I remember looking over and my whole team … was kind of looking at me like ‘Is this going to happen?’” Borsheim said. “That was the worst 40 seconds of my wrestling career.”
Borsheim’s strengths on the mat were his endurance and his incredible flexibility.
He trained hard during the offseason and in practice, all with the intent of being in better condition than any of his opponents.
Brien Elliott is the head wrestling coach at Everett High School. He was an assistant with the Seagulls in 1989 and knew Borsheim from a Young Life group they both were involved in.
“He was in great shape,” Elliott recalled. “He had a great tank. He never got tired.”
Borsheim also had extremely flexible shoulders — Elliott called them “double-jointed” — that allowed for his arms to be bent in awkward and painful-looking ways. It wasn’t unusual for one of his matches to be temporarily halted because a referee thought Borsheim was injured.
“He got so many ‘potentially dangerous’ calls against his opponents because the ref thought his shoulder was broken,” Elliott said.
That genetic oddity allowed Borsheim to develop a move his teammates dubbed “The Borsh.”
Normally, reaching backward to grab an opponent is a no-no in wrestling. The opponent can take hold of the arm and use it as leverage to drive the wrestler to his back.
“It’s something that’s not done,” Elliott said.
But Borsheim could get away with it because his flexible shoulders didn’t allow his opponent to gain the usual leverage. Borsheim would reach back, grab his opponent’s head, then go for a leg, landing his unsuspecting foe in what he called a “reverse cradle.”
If he got both the head and the leg, Elliott said, it was over.
Borsheim earned his first varsity letter as a sophomore. As a junior, he made his first trip to the state tournament. He advanced to the Class AAA semifinals at 129 pounds, where he faced Jason Chester of Inglemoor. It was an eye-opening experience.
“(Chester) just dominated that match like I didn’t expect,” Borsheim said. “It was kind of a wake-up call that you’ve got to be prepared physically and mentally.”
Chester went on to win the state championship. Borsheim, meanwhile, came away with valuable insights he would put to good use a year later.
“I think that every match you learn something,” he said. “Whether you dominate a match or get your butt kicked, you always learn and kind of develop new strategies.”
The semifinal loss taught him that while he had put in the work physically, he needed to improve his mental approach. He had lacked “that burning desire to say ‘Look, I’m going to dominate this match. I’m not going to let anything stand in my way.’”
That wouldn’t happen again.
In Borsheim’s senior year, the state wrestling tournament moved to the Tacoma Dome and for the first time was known as “Mat Classic.” Borsheim entered the event with a sparkling record but was far from the favorite.
“I think everyone expected him to place in the top five,” Elliott said. “But I don’t think anyone expected him to win it.”
Borsheim won his opening-round match 8-6, earning him the right to face the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA 129-pound weight class, Chris Dicugno of Auburn. Dicugno had beaten Borsheim earlier in their careers. This time, Borsheim won, 5-4.
“Everybody that I ever lost to I have beaten except for Adam France,” Borsheim said. “He’s the only guy that I have never beaten, and it still bugs me.”
In the semifinals, Borsheim pinned Chad Kohler of Sumner.
In the finals, he faced Lyman Cheyney from Rogers High School in Spokane. The first two periods did not go well for the Cascade wrestler. At the start of the final two minutes of his high school career, Borsheim trailed 6-1.
At that point, he nearly resigned himself to a runner-up finish. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, second place isn’t that bad,’” he said.
But no sooner had that negative thought crossed his mind than he swatted it away. “I said ‘What are you thinking, man? You worked your butt off to win this thing, so what are going to do?’”
Time for “The Borsh.”
Starting from the down position, Borsheim defied the rules of wrestling, reached back to grab Cheyney’s head, then went for a leg. He locked up Cheyney and rolled him onto his back for the pin. Less than 20 seconds into the third period the match was over.
Borsheim was a state champ.
“It’s really unusual to win a state title because of your flexibility,” Elliott said.
Thirty-one years later, Borsheim said he’s most proud not of the medal he won, but of how hard he worked to achieve a goal.
“I always think to myself, ‘Would I have been as proud of myself if I finished second or third (but) worked just as hard?’” he said. “I’d still be proud that I worked that hard. There was a lot of effort, a lot of commitment.”
The match marked the end of Borsheim’s career. He heard from a few coaches who wanted him to wrestle in college but chose to hang up his singlet.
“I didn’t want to wrestle in college,” he said. “It was never really a goal of mine. I knew the kind of commitment I would put myself through to do that and I just didn’t want to do that. That’s a level where you’re sacrificing so much.”
These days Borsheim, 48, lives in Snohomish.
It’s been years since he took in a high school wrestling match in person. The last one he attended was with Scott Katz. Through the years the two became good friends. They bonded over their shared wrestling experiences and their work. Borsheim is a real estate agent in Lynnwood and Katz was a loan officer. They went to a Cascade-Snohomish match not long before Katz’s death in 2012. Borsheim cherishes the memory of that night.
“It was one of the best times I ever had at a wrestling match, just talking to him, talking about wrestling and life,” he said. “It was a cool moment.”
These days, Borsheim’s most enthusiastic sports viewing involves his nine nieces and nephews. Among them are Vicki’s son Sam Beskind, who plays basketball at Stanford, and Tim’s daughter Ella Borsheim, who won the state Class 4A girls cross country title for Bellarmine Prep in 2018.
“I love watching those guys compete,” said Borsheim, who has no children of his own.
This weekend, hundreds of boys and girls will travel to the Tacoma Dome to compete in Mat Classic XXXII. The vast majority are like Borsheim: good but not great wrestlers. They would love nothing more than to duplicate his remarkable achievement of three decades ago.
What advice would he give them?
“Never doubt, keep focused on your goal, work as hard as you can,” Borsheim said. “If you do that, you’ll always be proud of yourself regardless of the results. But more times than not, the results will be positive.”