In March, 2012, Cody Sharkey was nearing the pinnacle of his wrestling career.
Then a junior at Winters Mill High School, Sharkey was just three wins from a wrestling state championship.
But a torn meniscus in his left knee forced Sharkey to default in his state quarterfinal match, ending his undefeated season.
One year later, Sharkey completed his mission.
The Westminster resident completed a 44-1 season by winning the state title at 152 pounds with a 15-3 major-decision over Sam Willingham of South Carroll at Cole Field House in College Park.
It was the culmination of a year of rehabbing his knee followed by success in the most competitive weight class in Carroll County. The closest pursuers to the 2012 county and regional champion were Willingham, who finished 36-5, and North Carroll's Billy Fritz, who closed with a 38-7 record and finished fourth in the state.
"I was thinking about how my coaches, my parents, and my friends supported me," Sharkey said of the moment that he won the title. "I appreciated about how much they pushed me to get where I am now."
An unselfish team player, Sharkey finished as the winningest wrestler in Winters Mill history with a 138-28 mark. Twenty of his 44 victories ended in pins.
His only loss was an early-season decision to McDonogh School's Toby Hague, who finished second in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association Tournament.
But Sharkey's life isn't all wrestling.
The son of Anthony and Therese Sharkey set an example in the classroom as well. He carried 3.5 unweighted and 3.9 weighted grade point averages into his final semester of high school.
"I made sure that school was the top priority," he said. "I went to practice every day, then went home and got my homework and studying done."
He also found the time to complete more than over 300 hours of community service.
That overall performance made the Winters Mill senior the choice as the Carroll Eagle's Winter Sports Student-Athlete.
"I put so much work in last year, and to come up short because of the injury made me push harder to get it this year," Sharkey said. "I got all the strength back in my leg, and this year, I got what I came for."
Sharkey's work ethic made the difference in his mental and physical recovery from the injury. He combined squatting exercises with running, and began wrestling in August for a Gettysburg club team known as the Gladiators.
"Cody works all the time," said coach John Lowe, in his ninth year as the Falcons' head coach. "Not only is he one of the hardest workers in the room during the season, but he's still going when spring and summer come along. He's driven to be great, and having his knee go only made him more focused."
In the most successful season for Carroll wrestling in several years, Winters Mill was clearly the class of the county, region and state. The Falcons clinched a third consecutive Class 2A/1A state championship this winter, easily outdistancing second-place Owings Mills by 33.5 points.
Sharkey's championship was one of several outstanding performances for the champs, who became the first Carroll team to have three individual champions since the 2008 South Carroll squad.
Senior Wes Cook (145 pounds) won his second consecutive state title, and Chase Cullison earned a state crown at 170 pounds.
Junior Jake Utz was state runner-up at 285 pounds.
"(The school record) is definitely a big deal, because we had guys on the team like Wesley (Cook), Chase (Cullison), and (former state champions) Justin Kozera and Myzar Mendoza," said Sharkey, who followed older brothers Danny and Willy in the Winters Mill wrestling program and whose father was a county champion at Westminster High School. "They were all great wrestlers, and it's quite an accomplishment for me."
Lowe said Sharkey's methodical and steady approach set an example for his teammates, particularly the squad's younger members.
"His teammates could see his intensity in both the practices and the matches," Lowe said. "Cody never disappointed, and came up big for us in every match."
His intensity wasn't always there. Sharkey started wrestling at an early age, then stepped away from the sport until the fifth grade.
"I just didn't like it," Sharkey said. "I was a little kid, and fighting other kids just didn't seem fun to me."
But he came back with the Mat Rats, a local youth wrestling organization where Sharkey learned toughness and how to rebound from an occasional loss. By the time he got to Winters Mill, he was an improved, but not yet complete, wrestler.
"He was second in the county in a weak weight class as a freshman," Lowe recalled. "Cody barely made the regionals and lost his first two matches. Last year, he didn't lose at all, and this year, he didn't lose to a public school kid all season."
Sharkey's busy wrestling and academic schedule didn't deter him from being an active contributor to the Westminster community. He has racked up 309 community service hours, far beyond the minimum of 75 needed for graduation.
"It makes me feel good to do something for the community," said Sharkey, a member of the National Honor Society. "But it's also fun. A lot of my hours came from working as a counselor at summer camps at East Middle School and the Sports Complex in Westminster. I also directed some wrestling tournaments and helped out at practices for the Mat Rats."
Sharkey plans to major in engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, next fall. He also intends to continue wrestling with the school's club program that participates in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association.
"I really like math and science," said Sharkey, who is taking a pre-calculus class at Carroll Community College as part of his school day. "With engineering, you get to do a lot of hands-on work, and I like to see the process of making things, of putting it down on paper and seeing it come to life."
Lowe understands that Sharkey's future success will be determined by his work ethic.
"He's going to succeed, because he knows how to work," Lowe said. "He knows what both success and failure feel like. I would not be surprised if he winds up being a multiple All-American at UMBC. He could be a national champion before his career is over."
About this award
Since the fall of 2007, The Carroll Eagle has recognized a Carroll County student-athlete at the conclusion of the fall, winter, and spring sports seasons. Students who compete at the varsity level for a Carroll County public school are eligible for consideration, based on academic achievement, athletic achievement, and a record of service and good citizenship in the school and community. The publication also honors an overall Student-Athlete of the Year at the end of the school year.