Wrestler Evan Cheek didn’t let cancer stand in his way

By Michael Comodeca

Evan Cheek has faced tough opponents on the mat throughout his wrestling career, but met his most dangerous foe of all away from it.  

During the summer of Cheek’s sixth and seventh grade years, he started to experience sharp stomach pains making him unable to drink and walk due to the pain. After a series of tests, Cheek was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

As young child, Cheek and his best friend Brady Barnett got into wrestling from playing little league baseball together. They are still teammates to this day, with the two of them wrestling at Cleveland State together.

Cheek continued to play little league baseball and motocross from third grade until about sixth grade. If Cheek didn’t wrestle, he would have probably gotten back into motocross, but no other school sanctioned sport.

However, when Cheek started to wrestle in third grade, he won his first couple of tournaments and qualified for the state tournament that year. The sport came natural to Cheek, and he fell in love with it from the very beginning.

Cheek grew up in Milan, Ohio, and has one sister named Madison and a half-brother named Loren.

Growing up in the birthplace of Thomas Edison, Cheek went to Milan Edison High School. During his high school career, Cheek had a lot of success wrestling.

He has the fourth most victories in Ohio history, which is recognized by the Ohio State Athletic Association. In his senior year in high school, he won the state title over the two-time defending champion. That was one of many highlights of his illustrious high school career.

Coming out of high school, Cheek had many Division I programs recruiting him to their schools. However, he chose Cleveland State over all of them due to the familiarity of the program.

Cheek knew the coaching staff because he wrestled at Cleveland State on Sunday’s during the summer for club practices. He also wrestled with alumni of Cleveland State, where he built a good relationship with Ben Willeford and other students within the program.

Cheek, being from a small town, chose Cleveland State because the school is seen as the little brother compared to other schools within the state.

“I like being the underdog and coming to Cleveland State,” Cheek said. “I knew that I would always be looked at as the underdog, and to me, that presents a challenge that I’m willing to break through.”

Cheek was an underdog while facing cancer, but in true underdog spirit, he went toe to toe with cancer and came out with his hand raised.

The cancer was not only in Cheek’s stomach, but also in his appendix as well as his large and small intestines. Luckily, during the first week of his seventh-grade year, he was able to have all the cancerous areas removed. Since then, Cheek has not had any reoccurrence and has been able to continue wrestling without any issues.

Cheek will graduate in 2020 with a criminal justice degree, but still has not figured out what he will do with his degree. As an active person, he does not want to get stuck working behind a desk all day.

Cheek is an open book to his family, friends and teammates. They know all about his duck hunting, fishing and even his work as a semi-professional tattoo artist. That is an inside joke between he and his teammates.

Throughout his college career, Cheek has tasted success from the moment he walked on campus. In his freshman year, he recorded a 15-11 record and finished third in the Eastern Wrestling Championship in the 133 lbs. division.

In his sophomore year, while competing at 141 lbs., Cheek went 27-10, including a 5-1 record in the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL). He won the Storm Open, and taking second in the Ohio Intercollegiate Open and third in the Cleveland State Open.

To date, Cheek’s most successful season was his junior season in which he won 24 matches and was 19-3 from Jan. 1 until the NCAA tournament.

Cheek had success in many tournaments throughout his junior year, including placing seventh at the Southern Scuffle. He was the only unseeded participant to place at 141 lbs.

Cheek won the Purple Raider Open, was named the EWL wrestler of the week after posting two victories over two highly ranked opponents. He also posted a runner-up finish at the Warriors Winter Open.

Two of Cheeks’ major accomplishments this season came at the end of the year when he defeated Brock Zachrel from Clarion University. Zachrel was undefeated until Cheek pinned him to win the EWL 141 lbs. division and secure a birth in the 2018 NCAA National Wrestling Championships. The championships were held in Cleveland, Ohio at Quicken Loans Arena.

Beating Zachrel was special for Cheek because he was the wrestler who knocked him out of the EWL tournament last season. Even though winning the title was the most important thing Cheek accomplished that day, he still wished some of his teammates could have made it with him to share the experience.

The prize for winning the EWL and making it nationals was facing off against two-time national champion Dean Heil from Oklahoma State University. Heil was born in Brunswick, Ohio and attended St. Edward’s High School in Lakewood, Ohio.

Heil, in his two previous seasons, had only one loss. Cheek did not let that bother him because at nationals, it’s a new season for both wrestlers, no matter how great they are when they step on the mat.

Cheek says that on any given day, he can win against anyone.

“Heil is a great opponent and has some of the best accolades in the country. For me, it means nothing,” Cheek said. “Coming into the tournament, everyone is great, and I look at it like everyone has a 0-0 record and anything can happen. I know I am capable of winning if I wrestle to my fullest abilities.”

Although, the results of the match between the two did not go Cheek’s way as he lost 4-2, he did have a chance to win the match in the final seconds.

Later that evening, Cheek lost his wrestle-back. This is the losers bracket for wrestlers to determine third place, and so on, in weight classes. Cheeks’ defeat ended his run and chance to win a national title at 141 lbs.  

Cheek is very excited about his senior season and wants to build on the success he had in his junior year. He knows that he will face some tough opponents, but none tougher than his fight with cancer.