Carrying on


After wrestling through the toughest season of his life, Cyclone Kyven Gadson enters 2014 inspired by his dad’s legacy

One of the best pieces of advice Kyven Gadson ever got from his wrestling coach, who was also his father, was never to let outside distractions affect him on the mat. “’Clear your mind, come in here, and try to get better.’ That’s one thing he always said,” Kyven remembers about Willie Gadson (’77 phys ed).

Last wrestling season, Dad’s advice was put to the ultimate test. Kyven faced the 2012-2013 season knowing Willie could die any day of lung and bone cancer, would be unable to come watch him wrestle in person, and — because he was also his son’s longtime coach — believed wholeheartedly that Kyven should focus on his wrestling and not worry about “Pops” back in Waterloo.

When you come into the wrestling room, anything that’s going on outside of it, don’t bring it in.

Those words gnawed at the injury- and tonsillitis-plagued sophomore as he fought through the season, collecting wins at 197 pounds that he knew would make his dad, a two-time Cyclone All-American and Big Eight champ, proud.

“The last time he saw me wrestle in person was against Old Dominion on Nov. 25, 2012,” Kyven said. “Then, after that, he just kept telling me not to come home. You know, during the season there’s a tournament every weekend and I wanted to come back home, but he didn’t want me to. He wanted me to focus on wrestling.”

So Gadson focused on wrestling, continuing to fight through the pain of illnesses and injuries and continuing to rack up victories. He placed fourth at the Midlands Championships in December. February rolled around, and Gadson was undefeated in dual meets. The Cyclones were playing host to Arizona State Feb. 1, and one of the Sun Devils’ assistant coaches had wrestled for Willie Gadson at Eastern Michigan University. So, while he was in Iowa, he traveled up to Waterloo to see Willie.

“I was going to go with him, but I had class,” Kyven said. “He posted a picture on Facebook [of the visit] that I saw right before the meet, and what I saw wasn’t my dad. I hadn’t seen my dad since November, and now his neck was really skinny and his eyes looked big and I felt so bad about myself because I hadn’t been home.”

As soon as he finished the weekend with wins over opponents from Arizona State and Oklahoma State, Kyven went home to see Willie.

“I was like, ‘Dad, you need to let me know. Every time I ask you say everything is fine, but when I saw that picture it threw me. I don’t even know how I won the matches.’ I just told my mom and dad, ‘If my wrestling falters, it falters. I don’t want this to be some abrupt thing where Dad just dies and I didn’t get to say anything or see him.’”

Renewed by the conversation with his parents, Gadson went back to Ames and focused on wrestling again. He returned to Waterloo the weekend before the Big 12 championships. That Sunday, Willie was moved to the hospital and Kyven saw the writing on the wall: The rest of his father’s life would now amount to a matter of days. Kyven kissed Willie and told him he would bring him back a gold medal from the conference meet.

Willie Gadson watched his son’s Big 12 matches from a hospital bed. Although he had stopped talking a few days earlier, family members say he moved with his son. He was still with them, still cheering Kyven on.

Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Okla., Kyven was having a hard time. “I won my first match and then I [drew] the Okie State kid again. But I just didn’t feel like myself,” he says. “I didn’t feel explosive. I just felt drained.” After narrowly beating his opponent, Kyven crumpled in the corner crying.

“[ISU] Coach [Kevin] Jackson said, ‘You know you have permission to go home if you feel like that’s where you need to be.’
I think he played reverse psychology on me, though,” Kyven said, “because he knew I wouldn’t go home because that’s not where my dad would want me to be.”

Kyven remembered his last conversations with his dad and made peace. He regrouped. He won the Big 12 title. As soon as he got off the bus from Oklahoma, Kyven drove home to Waterloo, clutching his championship medal. He was able to give it to his father before he took his last breath.

“I told him, ‘Hold on if you can; we’ve got another one to get at nationals.’ He was unresponsive, but I think he heard me,” Kyven said. “I’m pretty sure he heard me.”

The week of one of Willie Gadson’s favorite events – the NCAA wrestling championships, he was laid to rest. Since the 2013 event was being held in Des Moines, family members and friends came from all over to honor Willie Gadson and the sport he loved. After Kyven pinned his opponent in the first match, the crowd gave an extra roar. The wrestling community is tight-knit, and they knew what Kyven was going through. They knew how proud his victory would make Willie.

Kyven finished sixth at the 2013 national championship, joining his father on the list of Cyclone All-Americans. Although the tournament was even harder than he’d anticipated and didn’t result in the national title he’d hoped for, Gadson felt a sense of calm and relief at its conclusion. He would have another chance next year, and his father’s wisdom would guide him through it.

“Dad came from South Carolina and grew up picking watermelons, picking cotton,” Kyven said. “He didn’t come from the best background; his parents were divorced, and putting food on the table was a struggle. Thanks to my dad, I always had clothes on my back and food on the table. He always told me to work hard. He didn’t raise me to make excuses and say ‘I can’t focus because my dad died.’ If you only see the negative, you can’t get positive out.”

“I’m just trying to get positives.”


This story was written by Kate Bruns, associate editor, and was originally published in the winter 2014 issue of VISIONS magazine.

Masters of Creativity: When the Trees Came


The first tree grew in a fallow Iowa field – some new, strange oak, small as a fingernail clipping, within hours the size of a rib, and so on, until it towered over the empty acres as gray front clouds screamed eastward and whipped topsoil into dervishes that whirled with dry lightning, like some ancient marauding army. The next day a second tree grew and knit its branches with the first. The day after, there were four.

The migrant farmhands found the trees while sweeping for plastic cups, condoms, and bonfire ashes spotting the ground like fairy rings. The trees’ branches so wide, their trunks straight and dark as children’s creyones marrones, their leaves sparkled like scales in the midday sun.

“Hector, llama al hombre,” they said to the one who spoke the best English. Hector grumbled, but he called the owner. The Iowan.

When the Iowan, a man who fancied himself a Texan, stepped down from his black and chrome pickup, he tipped back his ten-gallon and said, “Well, I’ll be.”

The farmhands stood outside the tree’s shade, chewing bread and bologna. The Iowan scratched his forehead, spit. “Tractor. Andele!”

While a hawk rode thermals overhead, the Iowan levered the throttle. Chains clanked, tires spun, the chassis groaned, but the tree’s leaves didn’t rustle. The Iowan swore and got back in his pickup.

“Well, get on! Y’all get that out. Andele!” he shouted again and keyed the ignition.

The undercarriage burst into flames. Before the Iowan could lever the door open, the truck exploded in a ball of heat and spiraled steel. When the fire died and the smoke blew away, the wreckage revealed a small tree. The farmhands placed their seed caps over their hearts. Hector raised his phone and took a picture.

Forestry professors came in vans stamped with mascot birds. They lifted their sunglasses at eight identical trees, their branches tangled, their leaves like chainmail. “Thought only four.”

The farmhands nodded. “Creo que son respiración.”

The professors sketched and measured. The leaves supported weight. Drill bits pressed against the trunks exploded into silver splinters.

By the next day, sixteen trees. Thirty-two the following.

They backhoed, exposed spreading roots. NBC7’s Gabriela Washington reported a chainsaw had snapped like a whip, severing a distinguished professor’s leg. The story showed up on Buzzfeed and quickly fell beneath “Fallen Child Stars,” “Tabby and Croc: Besties,” “39 Ways the Internet is, like, Amazing.”

Planes dusted the two infested acres with dioxins and triclopyrs, which ran off the leaves like rain. Trees sprouted through the county highway and the neighbor’s farmhouse, its roof first crumpled like foil, then sheared in half by the canopy.

Two weeks after the first tree, the National Guard blocked roads and closed airspace. They backhoed, laid Semtex, and waited for the roots. The ground shook, but the roots kept moving.

“It’s the table that can’t be scratched. My wife hopes it takes over our living room next,” joked one late-night host.

The president and Iowa governor stood together, while tanks lined I-35. Longhairs strummed guitars at roadblocks, sang, “Peace Train” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Dreadlocked Earth Firsters screamed reckoning and broke through the barricades, running into the trees.

Cars crawled southbound from Des Moines, air conditioners fought to filter and cool the exhaust-choked air. Children watched through back windows and parents huddled over smartphones – the cell towers along the evacuation route wrung-out for bandwidth – as a dark metal bird flew toward the trees’ center and rained fire from its belly.

When the dust and heat rolled away the trees were only leafless, like a web of synapses. The bombing continued.

The president appeared on television nightly. He fingered his flag pin, showed us the bottom of this thumb, and said, “America will defeat the trees. America will win.”

Perched in the booster seat in his parents’ Volvo, James Brumfield fingered through Elmo’s Big Car Ride as his parents shoveled bulging suitcases into the hatchback. Each time he looked up from Elmo’s adventure across the Mississippi and through the West, James scrunched his face and thought very hard about why his neighbors had decided to hack down the trees planted in their St. Louis sidewalk. James never decided on a reason, he just went back to Elmo, while in adjacent parking lots piles of young elms burned.

Looting was isolated at first. After Des Moines, young men in Cleveland and Chicago ran down the sidewalks, arms filled with TVs and laptops. Two days later the trees crossed beneath the Mississippi’s waves, and leafy rivers toppled and repaved Omaha and Kansas City. Cows in Ohio watched pointed saplings rise around them. Americans streamed toward the coasts.

Erma Thomas survived Katrina in an attic. When trees pierced the asphalt beneath her window on Dallas’ Southside, Erma packed a picnic and went to Wilson Park. Over the buildings, pillars of smoke rose and mixed with clouds. Families abandoned their skewered cars with what they could carry. Erma sat on a bench and ate.

On the coasts refugees clamored onto boats and passed children into outstretched arms. Parents dove into the oily water and followed ships to sea.

Others met on beaches, watching the approaching wall. They shared stories and sipped Budweisers, toes in the sand. The sun crossed the sky and the trees grew taller. Branches flexed and knit until the last spots of sunlight shrank into nothing.

In orbit, the International Space Station continued in automation, beaming pictures of the spinning planet. It did so whether or not somewhere on Earth, beneath the leaves or on the Atlantic, on some hard drive, some monitor, someone saw its photos, all white, blue, and green.

ImageAbout the writer:
Logan Adams is a freelance writer, Northeast Minnea-politan, and 2013 graduate of Iowa State’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. Find lists of his work at



ImageAbout the artist:
Rahele Jomepour is an Iranian illustrator who was featured in 200 Best Illustrators World-wide in 2010. Her works have been selected for several international awards including the 3×3 Illustration show, New York, 2013; Fourth Picture Book Award, Korea, 2012; and Theater Illustration and Poster Design, Venice, Italy, 2011. Her illustrations have appeared in books and magazines in Iran and Portugal. She currently lives in Ames, where she is completing an MFA in Integrated Visual Arts at Iowa State.

Winter 2014 VISIONS Cover Story: Masters of Creativity

Even in this “university of science and technology,” we find ourselves surrounded each day by stories about the humanities: art, music, theatre, English, the social sciences. Our faculty are leaders in these areas; our students excel.

In this issue, we highlight a select few: graduate students (and 2013 graduates) in Iowa State’s master of fine arts programs in Creative Writing and Environment (in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of English) and Integrated Visual Arts (in the College of Design). These students ask questions, take risks, experiment, innovate, and, ultimately, create.

Iowa State’s three-year MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment emphasizes study in creative writing – poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama – that encourages writers to identify and explore in their stories and lyric impressions the complex influences of place, the natural world, and the environmental imagination. Through a program of study that includes a rigorous combination of creative writing workshops, literature coursework, environmental fieldwork experience, interdisciplinary study, and intensive one-on-one work with a major professor, the program offers gifted writers an original and intensive opportunity to document, meditate on, mourn, and celebrate the complexities of our transforming natural world.

The MFA in Integrated Visual Arts at Iowa State is a distinctive and unique interdisciplinary program offering integrative study among a combination of the following areas: ceramics, computer applications, drawing, textiles, illustration, jewelry/metalsmithing, painting, printmaking, photography, furniture design, and areas outside of art and design. The program offers unique opportunities for collaboration with diverse students and faculty from around the world in art and design programs that represent a wide spectrum of professional activities. This dynamic interdisciplinary environment allows students to develop a personal visual language, refine media skills, and work on projects addressing social and environmental concerns within a global context.


Cover Story: The Blackbird Problem

I never feared birds until one staked a territorial claim on my favorite bike path. Red-winged blackbirds aren’t large, compared to, say, falling branches, lightning, nuclear missiles, or other things that might unexpectedly drop from above. Most have a pleasant if raspy song that I had grown accustomed to hearing around the fields and woodlands of central Iowa. I never heard this one sing. He was a little feathered bomb with talons.

That particular stretch of bike path had been closed off for construction for several months, and when it reopened in June I was pleased to have my shortcut to work restored. The path wound between a soccer field and the campus coal-fired power plant. A narrow strip of sycamore trees and a drainage ditch marched parallel for a hundred yards or so. On cold mornings, steam rising from the cooling towers smelled, inexplicably, of maple syrup – even the hard-hatted man who gave tours of the power plant couldn’t explain why – and the blades of a lone wind turbine, newly constructed, would scissor out of the cloud.

I never got a good look at the blackbird. I assume he perched among the leafy summer foliage of the sycamore trees, eyeing his targets from above. There would be silence and then, suddenly, his shadow fluttering on the sidewalk just over my shoulder, all wings and frantic excitement, and I’d feel the thunk thunk THWAP as he slammed into my helmet multiple times, claws extended.

Passersby had various means of dealing with this problem. Helmets were much more in evidence among the bicyclists, who could be found in knots around campus when five o’clock rolled around, discussing tactics and alternate routes. Pedestrians had it worse, and more than one simply flung their hands over their heads and ran for it. One enterprising fellow took to carrying sticks, which he banged overhead in an effort to distract the blackbird from targeting his scalp.

After the first two or three days of relentless one-bird mobbing, my heart started pumping with useless adrenaline as I approached the urban jungle of the blackbird’s territory. I’d brace myself for impact – thunk thunk THWAP – as I pedaled furiously toward University Boulevard and freedom.

I admit it: I was scared of the bird. I started to wonder how long it would be before he learned to abandon helmets and go for the exposed skin of the neck, or worse yet, the eyes. Advice gleaned from the Internet suggested I should stare directly at the bird or bark like a dog; instead I kept my head tilted downward, gaze fixed on the pavement where the telltale shadow would appear.

He was perfectly democratic in choosing his victims, undiscriminating between bicyclists and pedestrians, red helmets and blue ones, height or weight or any other factor that might make a two-ounce bird think twice. I began to wonder how much of his energy he spent dive-bombing the unsuspecting public. Did he have time to find food? Court a mate? Build a nest? Certainly I never heard him sing.

I began taking a different route home from work, when I wasn’t in a hurry. It gave me time to contemplate the little strip of habitat that the blackbird had claimed his own, squashed beside black smokestacks and furnaces that consumed an average of 390 tons of coal each day, some shipped by rail and barge from as far away as Colorado. It wasn’t much of a prize, the long-stemmed grasses straggling along the ditch, the sycamore trees all in single file to fit the space allotted.

Then again, a more selective soul might find little to love in Iowa these days – even the remnant squares of prairies abandoned in pioneer cemeteries had begun to fall under the plow – and maybe little to love in all of America, as national parks turned into tourist traps, and highways, cities and carbon billowing out of power plants wrenched landscapes into geometries meant to fit human desires.

Surely the blackbird’s fierce protection had something in it to admire, something to emulate: his crazy passion for the place where he found himself, his full-bodied love of it. Surely I could learn, as he did, to value the in-between places, the silver thread of ditchwater, a single row of trees.

One July day in the waning summer no shadow came fluttering up over my shoulder on my daily trek to work. I never knew where he went – whether he found a new tree and new unkempt ditch to protect, or fell prey to a prowling housecat, or simply gave up. He never returned. I found that I was sorry.

ImageAbout the writer:
Melissa L. Sevigny is a writer and poet from Tucson, Ariz. She graduated in spring 2013 from ISU’s MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment. Melissa has worked as a writer in the fields of sustainable agriculture, water policy, and planetary science.



ImageAbout the artist:
Elita Pan was born and raised in China. She is now a graduate student in the Integrated Visual Arts program, where her focus is on painting and drawing as well as graphic design. Her work is inspired by Weiwei Ai, Henry Matisse, Anselm Kiefer, Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, and Hung Liu.