Wrestler McInally makes triumphant return to the mat

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Dylan Heuer

RIT wrestler Mike McInally returned to competition following a delicate spinal procedure to replace a herniated disc. Upon his return to wrestling, he fell just short of winning the Division III National Championship.

At first glance, Mike McInally looks like your average graphic design student, standing 5 feet 6 inches and tipping the scales at 130 pounds. But the former high school athlete from Bergen, Genesee County, is a nationally ranked wrestler—with 140 career wins—and a four-time participant in the NCAA Tournament.

Heading into last season, McInally was poised to get back to the tournament and win his first title. But before his junior year, he started feeling a stinging sensation in his neck. It would flare up but dissipate without incident. By the summer of 2009, he began feeling this sensation more frequently. After visiting a specialist, he was diagnosed with a herniated disc and told he could not wrestle. McInally could let it heal on its own, but surgery was the only option if he wanted to wrestle again.

“I was distraught when I found out I needed surgery but knew it was the only option,” says McInally. “That was an easy decision.”

The surgery, called a spinal discectomy, consisted of replacing his herniated disc with a disc from a cadaver. The doctors placed screws in his head and shoulders, along with a metal plate to stretch McInally’s neck to complete the surgery. Rehabilitation would be six months long, but McInally knew he would be wrestling again in 2010.

On the mat, McInally is a whirling dervish. During his first three years at RIT, he used a potent blend of speed and power to become one of the best Division III wrestlers at the 125-pound weight class. In his first two years, McInally recorded 68 wins and 14 losses, earning a pair of NCAA Championship appearances.

As a junior in 2008-2009, McInally made his mark, winning his first 31 matches, including the New York State Championship where he defeated a handful of Division I grapplers. He advanced to the 2009 National Championship match, where a controversial call resulted in a penalty that ultimately cost McInally the title.

When asked about that match, he still cringes.

“It was the best and worst feeling of my career in that one match,” says McInally. 
“I was thrilled to be wrestling for a national championship, and had a great chance to win, really worked hard for it, but to lose 
on a controversial decision that I’ve never seen called before, and have that be the difference in the match, made it even harder 
to swallow.”

The disappointment stayed with McInally and continued to motivate him during the months of rehabilitation. He returned to the mat this past season stronger than ever, winning his first 20 matches at 133 pounds, en route to his fourth-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. 

Seeded fourth overall, he made another run to the championship match but would come up just short again, earning his second national runner-up honor. McInally remains proud of what he accomplished.

“It was disappointing to not win the National Championship, but knowing I came all the way back from the injury, knowing what a toll it took on my body and mind, was something I’ll always be proud of. It was a great final season.”

“I’ve been involved in coaching wrestling for more than 40 years, and there have only been a handful of wrestlers I’ve coached as focused as Mike,” says RIT Head Coach Scott Stever. “He pushed himself in practice, day in and day out, giving everything he had. He was tough, and only had one speed, which is full speed ahead.”