Champion at LIFE
Bachelor of Science
In many ways, Mack Beggs is a typical college student. The 20-year-old is a sophomore at Life University and a student-athlete on the Life U men’s wrestling team, competing for the first season at the collegiate level after redshirting last year. Mack is also Health Science major, studying hard to excel academically.
He came to LIFE from Euless, Texas, where he met his high school sweetheart. The couple is the now engaged and maintain a long-distance relationship. He won back-to-back Texas state wrestling championship during his last two years in high school, going undefeated in 92 straight matches and 156-24 for his high school career.
But Mack is also unique. He’s transgender and continues to fight for the right to compete in the sport he loves as the man he now is. Before the first match of the Life U men’s wrestling season, Mack took a few minutes away from practice to sit down with us to discuss his life at LIFE, the season ahead and where he sees himself going in the future.
For people who don’t know you and don’t know your story, what would you tell them? What do you tell them?
I just tell them I’ve always been athletic. I’m a wrestler. I started wrestling in my freshman year of high school, but I did pole vault. I was the goalie on the soccer team, I did basketball and volleyball — I did everything. My family always comes first to me, always. I bleed the colors of my family, and I’ll always stand for my family — no matter what. I’ll always stand behind my brothers. And I think that’s why I took to wrestling really well — that tight-knit environment. Obviously, you go against each other every day, but at the end of the day, that’s your person, that’s your teammate.
Why did you choose Life University?
It’s the people and the knowledge that LIFE gives. The teachers are super, super nice. It’s an environment that you want to be around. I want to be there in the classroom. It’s not like something I’m dreading every single day. Even the online classes are cool.
And then, the people on campus — it’s LGBT friendly, everyone’s friendly to each other. It’s nature-y. I’m an outdoors person — I like going around the trails, I like seeing stuff around here [near the Eagle’s Nest]. It’s super beautiful.
It’s as if LIFE’s internal environment and external environment kind of match, in a way?
Yeah. I thought I was going to struggle a little bit when I was coming onto the team. Everybody was like, “Are you worried about being on the team? Are you afraid that people are going to treat you irregularly, and not like the way that you want to be treated?”
And I told them all, “Honestly, at the end of the day, I couldn’t care less. If I get beat on every single day, and it makes me a better wrestler, then so be it” But I would have to say honestly that this group of wrestlers and this team are probably the closest I’ll get to what I had on my high school team. And that says a lot, because I had a lot of people I was close to on my high school team.
Tell me about your hometown and your high school atmosphere.
It’s definitely different. I lived in more of a suburb area, and to me, I thought it was really small. Obviously, when you go to the cities in Texas, you think you’re out in the middle of nowhere. But here, you have your own space to grow; you have a fresh place to start. It’s kind of like the start of your life, and I feel like I had that chance and that fresh start to begin something I should have started years ago. It’s the one thing I tell myself every day, no matter what happens — At the end of the day, no matter what I’m doing, as long as I put my best effort into everything that I do, I know I’m going to excel in anything I put my mind to.
Now that you’ve been here a year, how are your studies going? What are the courses that have really benefitted you and interested you the most?
In Winter Quarter, Bio II definitely engaged me. I didn’t pass, but I definitely enjoyed it very much. I even told the teacher, “I know I’m probably not going to pass this quarter, but I just want to tell you this is probably the most fun class and the most enriching class I’ve gotten since I’ve been here.”
You’ve talked a bit about how you feel like LIFE may be where you belong academically. What have your teammates and coaches been like, and the University as a whole?
They definitely have the best interests for me. The other day, my friend was like, “I gotta ask you a question here. You’ve got so much going for you.” And I said, “Yeah, I do — I know I do.” Because the stuff that I’m doing, I could really get paid for it, if I wanted to. I could become a pro athlete, do something with that. He asked, “Do you really want to be here, on this team?” I looked at him and said, “First of all, I wouldn’t go through as much stuff as I’ve been going through — I wouldn’t be here right now. I want to be here.”
And if I didn’t want to be here, I already would not be here. There would be no point in me trying to come back; there would be no point in me trying to get an education. If anything, I would do online classes and not leave home. But there’s just something about competitions. There’s just something about getting those life lessons and those life teachings, and actually living in the moment. That’s so much different than doing something you really didn’t have to work for.
What does this season look like for the team, and for you personally?
We’ve got a good bunch of guys, definitely spots have been filling well. I think we have a couple of freshman who are going to fill in spots, too. We’ve got a good bunch of guys this year, versus even what we had last year. The mentality is different; everybody’s techniques aren’t the same — they’re very different, but we’re all on the same page. We pick each other up. It’s definitely a different environment than it was last year, even though it’s a smaller group. I like it.
Were you recruited by other colleges and universities?
No, but I was looking at colleges. No one really called me, and I really didn’t get anything. I was A-B honor roll [in high school] — I didn’t have anything that someone above me or below me in placements could have had. I had good academic grades, I was in AP classes, I did theater, I did band — I did it all. And it was really disappointing to not hear back from people. I even took third in freestyle Greco [-Roman wrestling] in state, against the guys in juniors, during the summer. And it was just really deteriorating for me.
You mentioned that Life University’s women’s wrestling coaches Ashley Sword and Christian Flavin were the first to contact you.
They actually met me at a tournament and said, “So, we like what we see. How do you feel about doing freestyle?” My coach and I talked about it, and I just like freestyle better; it’s fun. Ashley said, “Do you want to come wrestle with us? It doesn’t have to be now.” And I was like, “I’ll take my time and think about it.” Eventually, some stuff happened, and it didn’t work out as well. That’s when my high school coach and I reached out to Coach Omi [Acosta, head coach of men’s wrestling at LIFE]. And at the end of the conversation, he said, “As long as you work hard, I couldn’t care less. As long as you work hard, and you put your best effort in. First, you’ve got to get grades.” I had good grades; I had a 3.7, 3.6 GPA. I have a 2.7 right now, and it’s driving me crazy.
So I was going to go in that direction, but Coach Omi and I talked, and ever since then, he’s been behind me 100 percent. The team has been behind me. He’s been supportive of me doing these things [interviews]. I went to film festivals last year for my documentaries, and he let me go do that. Those are the ESPN 30 for 30 short “Mack Wrestles” and “Changing the Game” — a feature length documentary about transgender high school athletes.
How do you think everything that’s happened over the last five years or so has helped you grow as a person? Because you mentioned you’re an introvert. A lot of people would disagree with that, but it’s only because I start talking when I’m comfortable around people. Even when I’m around my peers, I’m really quiet and I’m really to myself. I have a lot to say, I have a lot on my mind, I’m a really deep thinker and I like helping people. I like to help people more than I like to help myself, and that makes me sleep better at night — knowing that as long as I’m doing whatever I can, for others and for myself, that’s a good day for me.
What has all the media attention been like? Lots and lots of people know your story now.
It is weird, but it’s whatever; I’m like any other person. At the end of the day, if you’re doing this for yourself or you’re doing this for others, be confident in talking about what you know. I’m very confident when I talk about my story, and I’m confident in what I have to tell and the teaching behind it. I didn’t do this just because I wanted a gold medal. If I wanted a gold medal, I would have gone to PE or club or something — if I just wanted a participation award. But I want to do this for competition; I want to do this for love of the sport. When you’re in that room, everyone has a common goal to be a champion. I want to be a champion.
What does that look like for you?
Just keep on working every day — breaking myself down to where I’m crawling on my knees, trying to push myself every day in practice to where I’m calm. As long as I know I’m giving my best effort and 110% percent, and I’m coming out of that room saying, “I did everything I possibly could today. I did everything I could.” And I know I’m getting to my goals closer, to getting to be that champion.
And if not, if I’m not a champion? Then being on a great athletic team and being a part of a great program, I’m happy with that — as long as I get to put on these two shoes and step onto that mat. What would you want to tell the Life University Community and everybody else that I haven’t asked you about?
Don’t give up on your dreams. If someone says that you can’t do something, don’t listen to them because they’re not you. They’re not walking in your shoes; they’re not sleeping in your bed. At the end of the day, it’s your mind and your heart that’s going to get you where you need to be. So just grind it out, every single day — as long as you’re giving 100 percent into anything you have, to the best of your ability.
And I feel like that’s what life — and LIFE — have taught me: there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what.
Faces of LIFE is a story campaign that showcases members of the dynamic LIFE community, including faculty/staff, students, alumni and health science professionals. Interested in being featured or nominating a candidate? E-mail Natalie.Esparza@LIFE.edu. Read more Faces of LIFE stories.