Larry Happel, Sports Information Director
PELLA—Tanner Zimmerman’s fascination with pottery didn’t immediately resonate with his Central College wrestling teammates.
And they don’t necessarily share his eclectic passions for Iowa farm life, learning Spanish or pursuing a chiropractic career. But most quickly conclude that regardless of where Zimmerman charts his distinctive path, they’re going to follow.
“He was voted to serve on our wrestling leadership council for the last two and a half years and got the most votes of anybody we’ve ever had,” coach Eric Van Kley said.
This despite Zimmerman, a 197-pounder, seldom appearing in the Dutch varsity lineup. Yet he’s integral to the program’s continued rise to prominence, Van Kley said, serving as a team captain.
“He probably has the loudest and most impactful voice of anybody in our program,” he said. “The guys respect him at every level. They respect him as a student, as an athlete and, most importantly, as a leader and friend. We’re a much better wrestling program because of Tanner Zimmerman. He’s truly leaving his fingerprints on our program.”
It’s a role Zimmerman embraces.
“What I like the most is giving back to my teammates, especially this year since we have such a young team,” Zimmerman said. “Age 18-22 people are really impressionable and I feel like if you can set a good example for people who are younger than you and work together, you can get the best results. That’s what keeps me in it.”
What began as a fascination with pottery sparked by a high school art class turned into a somewhat lucrative side business. He crafts and sells vases and bowls, along with dozens of what he terms “Tanner mugs.”
“I used to do custom orders but this past fall I kind of realized it was a little too much being at school and managing the orders,” Zimmerman said. “So I cut those off. I make whatever I’m feeling at the moment. I kind of go through phases of what I like to make.”
He generates all the business he can handle through his Facebook page.
To Zimmerman, who carries a 3.97 grade point average, what seems like an unlikely connection between toiling in an art studio and the wrestling room is natural.
“I just like to do a lot of activities with my hands,” he said. “I’m a tactile person. Pottery is like that and wrestling is a hand-to-hand sport.”
Wrestling has enhanced his pottery skills as well.
“A lot of pottery, especially as things get taller, is about stability,” Zimmerman said. “Wrestling gives you grip strength, which helps when you’re pulling walls up and keeping things nice and stable when you’re making real tall, delicate pieces.”
Zimmerman purchased his own pottery wheel that he anchored in his parents’ garage, along with clay from Minnesota and glazes from New Mexico. The largest and priciest component of his operation is a kiln, which is not exactly standard equipment on Iowa farmsteads, but remarkably, a neighbor had an older one that Zimmerman tried.
“After a year it fizzled out but in that year I made enough money to buy a new kiln,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman’s hobby initially drew some puzzled looks from teammates.
“When they first learn about it, they’re kind of skeptical,” he said. “But then they see that I’ve actually made it work and that I take it seriously. After that they’re like, ‘That’s awesome. Can I get one?’ Or,‘My mom needs a birthday present.’”
Central’s Campus Activities Board even asked him to lead a weekend class and there were Dutch wrestlers among those who signed up.
Zimmerman is taking an advanced ceramics class from professor of art Brian Roberts after spending a couple of years learning his craft largely through trial and error.
His focus is his biology major, though, while maintaining his Spanish skills as he prepares to attend Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport.
“I really want to help both English and Spanish speakers in about a 50-50 amount so I can keep in touch with my Spanish but also help a broader pool of people who need it through chiropractic,” Zimmerman said.
That desire was sparked by his semester in Merida, Mexico through Central’s highly regarded study abroad program in 2018. It included time living with a local host family, a semester highlight and an opportunity he endorses.
“Not only does it build a connection down there but you actually get more in tune with what daily life is like there,” he said. “And if you’re trying to learn the language, it forces you to speak it. Language is all about how often you can practice.”
His skills were enhanced through an internship last summer with Proteus in Des Moines.
. “They help migrant farm workers from Mexico and South America,” Zimmerman said. “We put on health clinics for them. That was a really cool opportunity where I was able to use my Spanish every single day and we traveled a lot, too. We would meet up with different work crews and help them out. Some (of the doctors) speak Spanish but some of them don’t and they would need a translator. I would do a lot of the vitals and labs, ask people questions and stuff like that.
“(Studying in Mexico) took my Spanish to a whole new level. And then I got that job this summer and my Spanish has soared from there.”
Wrestling helped get him there as well, said Zimmerman, who partly attributes his near-perfect grade point average to the mental discipline developed in the Central wrestling room.
“Wrestling is a sport that teaches you a lot about hard work and how to keep your mind in check when you’re under pressure,” he said. “That’s really helped me as a student, especially during finals week, which is always kind of a stressful time.”
And, on the morning of a final exam, a Tanner mug filled with coffee helps, too.