A 41-year-old wrestling coach from Galesburg, Ill., died of an apparent heart attack while participating in the Quad-City Times Bix 7, officials confirmed.

John Chapman was taken from the course by Medic EMS, said Craig Cooper, spokesman for Genesis Medical Center. He was unresponsive at the time.

He collapsed at 15th and Brady streets on the downhill of the Bix course, at about the sixth mile of the race. Medic officials said he went into cardiac arrest.

Chapman was the wrestling coach at Galesburg High School and a star wrestler himself at Galesburg and Monmouth College.

“He was a tough, hard-nosed competitor who grew up around a wrestling mat, following his father’s footsteps,” said Bam Pustelnik, a former United Township High School wrestler and coach who competed and coached against Chapman and his teams.

“We were a weight class apart, but we worked out in the summertime together and put everything he had into it, as did his teams. His wrestlers, no matter how successful they had been, were always in great shape, would give 100 percent and were respectful competitors. They were a reflection of the approach John brought to the sport.” 

Chapman holds several school records and was a three-time state qualifier in wrestling, according to Mike Trueblood, sports editor of the Galesburg Register-Mail.

He went to Illinois State University and then transferred to Monmouth College, where he was a two-time all-American wrestler, finishing second in the nation his senior year and sixth his junior year.

Trueblood described Chapman as probably the best wrestler ever to come out of Galesburg High.

His wife, Jody, who also participated in the Bix 7, is a track and cross-country coach at Galesburg High School. Chapman was a father to two children, Carly Jo and Tyler. He competed in the Bix in 2009 as well.

“It’s a shame. I just can’t believe it,” Bix 7 race director Ed Froehlich said upon hearing the news.  “We’re very sorry to hear about it.”

Ralph Henning, athletic director at Galesburg High School, said counselors will be called in to help students grieve. Many just spent a week with Chapman at a camp.

“The bottom line is it just happened so suddenly, so out of the blue,” Henning said.

At the wrestling camp in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Chapman was dreaming big with his star wrestler Cole Spinks.

“This year is going to be our turn,” Chapman told the incoming senior, Spinks recalled. “We are going to state. ... We make the decisions. It’s our year.”

Spinks first met Chapman as an eighth-grader. His cousin was a wrestler under Chapman, and the Galesburg coach allowed Spinks to stop at practices and show him wrestling moves. In the coming years, that relationship would grow stronger.

“He was more than a coach to me. I could come over to him for advice. He was like a dad to me. He was like that to a lot of us,” said Spinks, whose father, Corina, died in 2002. “He could bring us up when we were down the most.”

Mike Noll, Chapman’s assistant at Galesburg and longtime friend, said Chapman built a tight bond with most of his wrestlers. “He would find a way to make the kids feel special,” Noll said, crying. “He didn’t just get on kids for their wrestling, but for their life decisions. But there was a lot of forgiveness with that man.”

His father, John, was a longtime wrestling coach at Galesburg. Eleven years ago, his son took over the program and asked Noll, who wrestled under his father, to be his assistant.

“I don’t know if we would even have wrestling if not for John. Not everybody realizes that basketball and baseball has lots of people to coach and help with the youth programs, but with wrestling, we don’t have that,” Noll said. “He would go work 50 hours a week at Target and then we’d have two and a half hours of practice and then we’d spend another two and a half hours with the youth program.”

Chapman simply loved wrestling, said Kevin Puebla, former wrestling coach at Augustana College.

“I always thought he was a hard-nosed kid. I thought he was tough. I would have loved to have him on my team. He loved wrestling. He’s never been away from the sport.”

There have been two other known deaths of participants in the Bix 7.

In 1997, Charles B. Crowe, 62, of Moline, died while walking the race. Medical officials said Crowe likely died of a heart attack. That was the hottest race in the Bix’s 36-year history.

In 1985, John Moreland, 26, of Davenport suffered heat stroke during the sixth mile. He died a month later.


(Craig DeVrieze, Joe Engel, Ann McGlynn, Dan Bowerman, Don Doxsie, Steve Batterson and Zack Creglow of the Galesburg Register-Mail contributed to this report.)