For three years, Tanner Farmer was a starting offensive lineman on the Nebraska football team.
His success on the line as a starter in the Big Ten earned him looks in the NFL and Canadian Football League. Even though his professional football dreams didn’t pan out, Farmer knew one thing about himself: he wasn’t ready to be done utilizing his athletic gifts.
“I enjoy the pursuit of maximizing my physical and mental potential,” Farmer said. “I enjoy the process of thinking: How far can I push myself today? Can I bring myself to the point where I have to give up because I can’t go any farther?”
His first opportunity after his collegiate career concluded in 2018 was in the world of coaching. Farmer volunteered as a graduate assistant for the football team at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, and while on campus he developed a relationship with wrestling head coach Levi Calhoun.
Farmer said wrestling was his second love in high school behind football, so he was eager to help out the wrestling team any way he could. Farmer was a two-time Class 2A heavyweight champion in Illinois at Highlands High School, and went undefeated his junior and senior seasons.
Farmer was planning on joining the wrestling coaching staff after football season was over. However, one conversation with Calhoun about how NAIA eligibility worked revealed that Farmer had one semester of eligibility left, giving him a second chance at the sport he originally gave up for football.
He hadn’t wrestled since high school but was willing to put in the work to be competitive again on the mat.
“As soon as we determined he had eligibility his face lit up and he was ready to go,” Calhoun said. “He had to make weight and get back into wrestling shape, but he worked hard and fought through it all.”
Calhoun could relate to Farmer’s situation, having started four years at defensive line at Baker University, an NAIA school in Baldwin City, Kansas, before joining the school’s wrestling team. The shared experience of going from college football to wrestling helped develop their relationship and made the transition easier since Calhoun knew what it takes to get back into wrestling shape.
Farmer had instant success on the mat at Concordia, going 26-1 as a senior and finishing as the NAIA runner-up at 285 pounds. He won four regular-season tournaments in 2019-20 and was named the Great Plains Athletic Conference Wrestler of the Year.
Despite the success, Farmer was still unsure what his next move would be after the season until Calhoun brought up the idea of Greco-Roman wrestling, a form of wrestling where only upper body attacks are allowed. Farmer was put into contact with his former high school trainer, Bryan Medlin, at the Illinois Regional Training Center to train in the discipline with the hopes of qualifying for the Olympics.
Even though Farmer’s ultimate goal in Greco-Roman wrestling was to win an Olympic gold medal, he did not think his chance would come until 2024. That changed when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were delayed until 2021.
“This postponement worked in my favor, for some guys it's a bummer because they could be one year further from their prime,” Farmer said. “But it gave me the opportunity to compete at this level as early as possible.”
After getting accustomed to Greco-Roman wrestling, Farmer competed at the Team USA Last Chance Olympic Qualifier, winning his weight class and punching his ticket to the Olympic Trials.
At the Olympic Trials, Farmer lost his first match by decision to No. 3 seed Jacob Mitchell. Even though he injured his shoulder in the loss to Mitchell, Farmer still competed in the double-elimination tournament on Sunday, losing by fall to Don Longendyke. Despite the disappointing result, Farmer hopes to learn from the experience.
“It was extremely valuable to me. I’ve never been on that high of a stage before,” Farmer said. “Being able to mentally learn from it will be valuable for the future, because I was super nervous going into the trials. This showed me I needed to manage my mentality better going forward.”
Farmer said the nerves got the best of him at the Olympic Trials, but he’s experimenting with different ways to calm his nerves and get into the right headspace moving forward. He believes that will come as he gets more adjusted to the sport, and he has started setting his sights on future goals.
The World Team Trials begin shortly after the Olympics, and from there Farmer hopes to make the World Championships roster and use that international competition experience when his next shot at the Olympics comes.
“There’s three World teams between this Olympics and the next Olympics. My goal is to train and put myself in a position where I’m the guy, not just for America but for the world,” Farmer said. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to compete again and I’m aiming for the top.”