PENDLETON — Family is far more than a metaphor around the Pendleton Heights wrestling program.
As Indiana Hall of Famer Katie Downing — a bronze medalist at the 2005 World Championships — returns home on a cross-country trip this week, she'll be accompanied by former assistant coach Eric Kriebel's nephew.
The pair — traveling to Pendleton by car from Downing's current home in Monterrey, Calif. — also plan to make a stop in Denver to visit Kriebel's sisters.
Downing is moving back to her hometown for the first since she left for college at the University of Minnesota-Morris in 1998. She's since lived in Pennsylvania, Colorado — to train with the U.S. Olympic team — Oklahoma and California.
After retiring from wrestling, she believed she was settled in for the long haul in Monterrey.
Then she received word of the 55-year-old Kriebel's unexpected death in April. And her whole world changed.
"It's kind of the best and the worst reason to be back," Downing said. "Krieb got to be one of my best friends. (His death) kind of rocked me."
She was not alone. The news rocked the entire Pendleton Heights wrestling family, and its effects still are felt today.
While Downing was visiting her old wrestling room after the funeral, Arabians head coach Dave Cloud hatched an idea that altered her plans. The best way to honor Kriebel was to replace him.
Downing never before had stood in that room without Kriebel by her side, and she knew returning to it on a full-time basis could bring back fresh emotions every day.
And, yet, there was never any real doubt about her decision.
"I knew I would say yes immediately," she said Saturday during a cellphone interview from her now temporary California home. "But I wanted to do my best to sit on it a little bit, just to not make a major life decision in the middle of grief. But I always knew I would say yes."