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McElwain showed a lot of heart on the wrestling mat
Daniel McElwain
Daniel McElwain enjoyed a success-filled final season of wrestling at Ceres High School in 2017-18 despite being slowed by a serious heart condition.

The Ceres Courier caught up with former Ceres High School standout wrestler Daniel McElwain on Oct. 19.

McElwain, 21, revisited the past prior to talking about the present and future. 

A serious heart condition couldn’t keep McElwain off the mat during his senior year of high school in 2017-18.

He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) after having knee surgery in June of 2016.

“You feel like you can’t breathe,” McElwain said. “You get a headache and discomfort in your neck. It feels like somebody is pounding your heart with a hammer. My dad has the same disease.”

McElwain’s heart rhythm had to be reset seven times.

“There were multiple times my heart bothered me,” said McElwain, who missed his entire junior year after tearing all of the ligaments and dislocating the patellar tendon in his left knee at football practice. “Being young and dumb, I didn’t say anything to my coaches. I pushed through and continued wrestling. It was very foolish of me to do that. I’m very thankful God didn’t let anything happen to me.”

“It took a lot of courage to do what he did,” said Steve Festa, McElwain’s wrestling coach at the prep level and in junior high. “Everyone knew the sacrifice he was making.  It was inspiring. He made the choice to keep pushing. He wanted to wrestle. It was important to him. If we felt like it was a risk, we wouldn’t have supported that decision.”

McElwain had heart surgery on May 30, 2019. 

Doctors used cardiac ablation to treat McElwain’s irregular heart rhythm.

“That’s supposed to fix the problem (AFib),” he said. “I haven’t had any issues at all other than right after the procedure which they said was normal. My heart was traumatized because of the surgery.”

McElwain compiled a 2-2 record in the 215-pound weight division at the 2017-18 Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships.

He placed first at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and third at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV event.

He claimed a title at the Ceres Invitational and was named Most Outstanding Upper-Weight Wrestler for the tourney.

He brought home medals from the Pat Lovell Holiday Classic (seventh place) and Tim Brown Memorial Tournament (eighth).

McElwain also helped the Bulldogs continue their winning ways.

Ceres High defended its championship at the WAC Tournament.

“It’s hard to define what the most enjoyable part was,” he said. “I enjoyed all of it. I’ll forever look back with fond memories.”

“My schedule didn’t allow me to continue wrestling in college,” McElwain added.

McElwain wrestled for Festa for the six years, including four years at Ceres High and two seasons at Mae Hensley Jr. High.

“He was one of our team leaders (senior year),” Festa said. “It was incredible, the strength he showed on the mat. He laid it all on the line. He didn’t wrestle half-speed. He was a gladiator.”

McElwain planned on becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) prior to changing career paths.

McElwain is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, brother, uncle and cousins. They’re carpenters.

He attends trade school through American River College in Pleasanton.

“Right now, I’m a stage one apprentice,” he said. “I’ll be a journeyman in four years. I’ll be considered a master of my trade.”

McElwain commutes five days a week to the Bay Area for work.

He’s employed by Webcor Drywall.

“I’m working with my dad, brother and uncle,” McElwain said. “We’re building a 13-story hotel in San Francisco off the Bay Bridge.”

When McElwain’s not at work, he’s an active member of two ministry groups.

 “I always claimed I was a Christian in high school,” he said. “It wasn’t until life happened when I came to Christ. That was my first year out of high school.  It’s definitely made me a more mature person. I apologized to the people I wronged in high school.”

McElwain joined the Turlock-based Chi Alpha student faith organization in November of 2019.

“We meet and talk about Christ,” he said. “We reach out to people on campus (at Stanislaus State).”

McElwain started attending Modesto’s Family Christian Church in June of 2019.

“I fell in love with the preaching and worship they have,” said McElwain, a youth leader. “It’s a whole different environment. It’s changed my life. I don’t want to go out and party. I want to be a good example.”