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Original Issue

Up Off the Mat Athens hopeful Daniel Cormier carries on after his young daughter's tragic death in a car accident

Still sweating from an hourlong workout at the New York Athletic
Club last month, Daniel Cormier did what most proud fathers do
when the subject of their children comes up: He reached into his
wallet and pulled out a picture of his daughter, Kaedyn. "Look at
her. She had a smile, huh?" he said, making a crooked face at the
wide-eyed three-month-old in the photograph before breaking down
into tears.

The picture had been taken in late May, about two weeks before
Kaedyn was killed in a car accident. And here was her 24-year-old
father, one of the country's bright young medal hopes for the
Athens Olympics, trying to pull his life back together at the
world wrestling championships in New York City, where he would
advance to the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual silver
medalist, Ali Reza Heidari. "Just the fact that Daniel could get
himself to worlds, after what he's been through, is incredible,"
says Cormier's coach, John Smith.

On June 14, the day Kaedyn died, her mother, Carolyn Flowers, had
arranged to have Kaedyn ride with a friend as they convoyed
toward Killeen, Texas. (Cormier is not married to Flowers and
lives with his wife, Robin, in Stillwater, Okla.) After the cars
got separated, Flowers phoned Cormier to tell him something was
wrong. While they were speaking, she flagged down a state
trooper, told him her name and asked if there had been any
accidents. "I couldn't hear what the trooper said," Cormier
recalls. "I just remember she dropped the phone and started
screaming." Cormier hung up, called a Texas Highway Patrol office
and learned that the car carrying his daughter had collided with
a semi truck. She was the only fatality.

It was not the first tragedy in Cormier's life. In 1986 his
father, Joseph, was shot and killed. Nine years later, Daniel's
best friend died in a car crash. "In the past I'd always relied
on friends and family," Cormier recalls. "This time I went into
my room, laid down in the dark and literally cried myself to
sleep. For two weeks I didn't want to wrestle anymore, but I
didn't know what else to do to start healing."

USA Wrestling granted Cormier a deferral from the world team
trials in late June. On July 1 he went back to the gym, but he
tore cartilage in his rib cage three days later. He ran and
lifted light weights to stay busy, but he didn't wrestle until
taking on Dean Morrison in a best-of-three series on July 25,
with a berth in the world championships at stake. Cormier lost
the first match 4-1. "He was horrible," Smith says. The coach got
in Cormier's face between sessions and asked him, "Do you want to
go a whole year living with that performance?" Cormier rallied to
win the next two matches.

In August he won a gold medal in the 96-kilogram (211.5-pound)
weight class at the Pan Am Games, scoring two pins and winning
two other matches by a combined score of 18-0. In doing so, the
5'11" Cormier demonstrated one of his main strengths as a
wrestler, scoring points while on his feet, rather than on the
mat. According to Smith, if Cormier can overcome his penchant for
allowing his legs to be attacked, he's as good a bet as anyone
for Olympic gold.

There's still work to be done before the Olympic trials begin in
May, however. "It isn't like wrestling has taken away the pain,"
Cormier says. "I just haven't fully grieved yet. I have my wife,
my teammates, now the press to talk to. When the season stops and
my wife's at work and I have to be by myself, then I'll really
have to fight the pain all over again."

There is a CD by Vivian Green that Cormier used to play for
Kaedyn whenever she'd stay awake crying. "One song and she'd fall
asleep," he says. "She'd be at peace. Now I listen to it

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: SIMON BRUTY (2) HEAVY WEIGHT A still grieving Cormier beat Brazil's Antoine Jaoude before finishing fifth at the world championships.


Daniel Cormier is rated No. 1 in the 96-kilogram (211.5-pound)
weight class in the U.S. Here are the top-ranked Americans in the
other freestyle divisions.

Stephen Abas Fresno, Calif. 121 pounds
Eric Guerrero Stillwater, Okla. 132 pounds
Jamill Kelly Stillwater, Okla. 145.5 pounds
Joe Williams Iowa City 163 pounds
Cael Sanderson Ames, Iowa 185 pounds
Kerry McCoy Bethlehem, Pa. 264.5 pounds