Drake Kiefer was 3 years old when his father asked if he would be interested in trying out wrestling. An energetic child with a penchant for roughhousing, Drake took to the sport instantly, sparking the beginning of what has now become a Kiefer family tradition.
Drake’s wrestling career began at the Brighton Youth Wrestling Club under the tutelage of coaches Eric Heinz and Phil Sailas shortly after his father’s suggestion. Drake progressed through the youth ranks quickly, but his passion for the sport extended well beyond the walls of the BYWC practice room.
Enter Drake’s younger sister, Emmy. Two years Drake’s junior, Emmy was drawn to wrestling as well and, before long, the two were engaging in near-constant grappling duels that spilled out into every corner of the Kiefer family home.
Emmy proved to be a natural as well, rising through the ranks to become one of the top wrestlers in the state – all while competing primarily against boys.
“I was born into [wrestling] I guess,” said Emmy Kiefer. “[Drake] was already wrestling, so it was just like, ‘Let’s wrestle,’ and it’s been our sport since we were born.”
Emmy and Drake now compete as two of the top wrestlers at Riverdale Ridge High School in Thornton.
The Kiefers share the distinction of recording the first-ever wrestling wins for their respective genders at Riverdale Ridge, with Drake securing the first boys win in school history in 2018 and Emmy following suit for the girls in 2020. Emmy, now a sophomore, competed on the boys squad last year and has been a part of the inaugural Riverdale Ridge girls wrestling team this year. Fittingly, Emmy secured another mark in the Riverdale Ridge record book, winning the first girls wrestling match in school history earlier this year.
Drake, now a senior, is sporting a 9-0 record so far this season and was recently ranked as the fifth-best class 3A wrestler for 132-pounders by On the Mat Magazine. Emmy has amassed a 9-1 record this season while captaining the Riverdale Ridge girls team. She is fifth in the class 4A rankings for 100-pounders, according to the magazine.
In addition to being each other’s sparring partners in the practice room and at home, the Kiefer siblings are also each other’s biggest cheerleaders. The family wrestling tradition has – perhaps unsurprisingly – been passed along to younger brother Drew, a seventh-grader at Rodger Quist Middle School.
“I want the best for my sister,” said Drake.
“I want the best for [Drake] and our little brother [Drew] too,” said Emmy. “It’s brought us closer, and we’ve always been close. So it’s not like something where it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh. I have to go to practice with my brother, I don’t want to go.’ But we’ve always been close, and it’s definitely helped us bonding-wise.”
While the frequent home “practices” often make for a chaotic household, the discipline and work ethic required to succeed in the demanding sport of wrestling have instilled
values in the Kiefers that they might not have found in another pursuit, according to Drake and Emmy’s mom, Jennifer Kiefer.
“There is never quiet or calm in our house,” said Jennifer Kiefer. “They ‘practice’ non-stop. None of the home practices are ever structured. It’s just chaos.
“Wrestling has provided our kids with a level of discipline, structure and work ethic that they wouldn’t find through any other sport – you get out what you put in,” she added. “We believe they will use this mindset throughout their lives in whatever they choose to pursue.”
A physically and mentally challenging sport, wrestling requires a high degree of focus from its top competitors. The sport carries a relatively high burnout rate, with factors like wrestling’s individuality and the practice of weight-cutting playing a part.
Riverdale Ridge boys wrestling coach Phillip Neitenbach said those who stick with it – especially lifelong wrestlers like the Kiefers – are able to do so because of their own discipline and the support of their teammates.
“The sport of wrestling is extremely physically demanding,” said Neitenbach. “So, we put our wrestlers through a lot in terms of conditioning and the discipline of drilling. So, I think just the grind of it is more than a lot of students can handle and the students who can I think it brings the team very much close together.”
Emmy Kiefer added that developing a healthy mental approach to the sport is a crucial part of any wrestler’s development.
“Wrestling is a big mental sport,” said Emmy. “If you go out there saying, ‘Oh my gosh. This kid is good, I don’t think I’m going to win,’ you’re going to lose because you’ve got to be confident in your wrestling, your skills, and your technique. So, a lot of it was just preparing, like, ‘I can beat this kid, I can do this.’”
Emmy has been put in the unique position of having to transition from the boys’ team to the new girls team this year. Wrestling is a male-dominated sport, with College Wrestling Recruiting reporting that 94 percent of high-school wrestlers in 2017 were male, compared to just 6 percent female.
This year marks the first time Emmy has competed on a girls’ wrestling team. She previously had only competed on boys’ teams. She said the experience has been bittersweet because while she is glad the school has a team that specifically focuses on girls wrestling, it’s been difficult losing some of the camaraderie she built with the boys’ team.
“Me and the boys’ team were all really close so it was kind of like, ‘Oh I can’t really practice with them, I can’t cheer them on,’ and it sometimes felt like I lost a part of it,” said Emmy. “But at the same time, it was good because new girls came to the team so I could build new relationships with them.
“So, it was kind of a bittersweet deal transitioning to the girls’ team,” Emmy added. “But it’s nice having a girls’ team and girls’ coach. One thing with wrestling is girls and boys wrestle completely differently. We have completely different styles. And a lot of people don’t really notice that until you get on a mat with a girl, and then you go wrestle a boy real quick. So, I enjoy having a girls’ team. I think it’s good for us and for the school.”
Outside of wrestling, the Kiefers enjoy raising and showing livestock. All three Kiefer kids have raised and shown livestock at the Adams County Fair, and Drake and Emmy showed their steer at the National Western Stock Show. Emmy has had the grand champion hog at the county fair twice and has occasionally been obliged to skip wrestling practice to deliver baby pigs.
For the Kiefers, raising and selling livestock is not just a hobby. The proceeds of their livestock sales go towards their respective college funds.
Drake said he hopes to be a game warden one day, while Emmy has her sights on a large animal veterinarian. Both Emmy and Drake said they would be open to wrestling in college if the opportunity presents itself.
“Raising livestock has taught me to be humble, work hard and to do everything to the best of my ability,” said Emmy. “I’ve learned that if I am going to try anything, I need to give 100 percent effort. This goes for school, wrestling and raising livestock.”