POCATELLO – Canyon Mansfield circled left, prowling like a lion who knows he just spotted dinner. His right arm locked in at a 90-degree angle between the neck of North Fremont’s Carson Packer. His left arm came from the backside and squeezed the right quad in the same way. Everyone watching knew it was over. Mansfield dug his white shoes into the orange mat, lifted his body and drove his Packer into a pin.
He ripped off his headgear, shook some hands and waltzed to the sideline — a victor, once again. Canyon’s father Mark Mansfield had been standing on the corner for the entire one-minute, 15-second match, his hands on his hips. Usually a vocal guy, he spent those 75 seconds seconds merely observing. In a purple long-sleeved shirt and black sweats, his head tilted and his body slouched to the right as he gazed at his son during Saturday's Dick Fleischmann Invitational.
Canyon reached the hardwood and Mark patted him on the back. They talked through the match. Every moment, every decision, practically every movement. Mark wrapped his right arm around Canyon like he was giving him the Heimlich, going through moves he made throughout the match and adding commentary. Then Canyon and his dad switched roles and the son talked his dad through his decisions, using Mark’s advice to tinker with his moves.
Those moments are fleeting. Mark knows it. And he’s not thrilled.
Mark, a Century assistant wrestling coach, was in Nampa last month, sitting off to the side as the Diamondbacks warmed up before a match at the Rollie Lane tournament. He spotted Canyon. Then he zoned out. His eyes weren’t closed, but he wasn’t following his son anymore.
He was watching himself tell a near-infant Canyon all the steps to a warmup, remembering how obedient and eager his son was to learn. Then he was watching his seventh-grade son run around the mat, not the most coordinated kid but a hard worker. When Mark snapped back, 18-year-old Canyon was in front of him again, the senior with a chance to be a state champion. He was coordinated. His warmups were put together. They were beautiful.
“And I missed the 7th-grade version,” Mark said. “With the seventh-grade one, you’re just getting started. You don’t want it to be over. He’s just having a good time. He’s just a kid.”
Life was simpler back then for the Mansfields. There was no trauma yet. No questioning of mortality. No celebrity. No political activism. No understanding of what the heck a cyanide bomb was.
Canyon and Mark have told the story so many times that it doesn’t take much questioning to extract the details.
Canyon, then in eighth grade, was home with a cold for the second-straight day. At about noon, he got bored and took his dog, Kasey, an energetic 3-year-old golden Lab, for a walk. Canyon brought along a ball to throw as the pair walked up the hill behind the Mansfield’s house on Buckskin Road in Pocatello. A little ways up the hill, Canyon chucked the ball and noticed something odd sticking out of the ground. The Mansfields had lived in that home for a decade. Canyon had climbed up the hill hundreds of times. Mysterious things weren’t normal. To Canyon, it looked like a sprinkler head sticking up from the ground. The top part was covered in odd sticky stuff, almost like pine tar.
Kasey ran by Canyon’s side as the 14-year old bent down and touched the weird-looking sprinkler. He pressed down and heard a pop. Orange gas sprayed into his left eye, burning and smelling like rust. Canyon ran over to a patch of snow and started washing out his eyes and cleaning the orange dust off his clothes. Then he heard a mumbling off to the side. Kasey was trembling, likely having a seizure. Canyon rushed over. His dog’s eyes were glassy. Blood started to run from Kasey's mouth. Canyon shouted for his dog to keep breathing, to stay with him.
He sprinted down the mountain and yelled for his mom, frantically trying to explain what happened. But, really, he didn’t have a clue. Just orange gas and a dying dog. Canyon and his mom, Theresa, called Mark and rushed up the hill to try and help Kasey. He was lying still by the time they reached him. Canyon pressed his little hands on the fur he had so often petted, trying to give Kasey CPR. Mark tried the same a little later, to no avail.
Paramedics and cops and guys in hazmat suits soon arrived. They checked out the scene as Canyon showered, laid on his couch and tried to process what had just happened. It took several hours before someone with knowledge of the device saw it and informed everyone — it was a M-44 cyanide bomb, a spring-activated device planted by the Department of Agriculture to control predators. The hope is to draw coyotes in with the sticky bait on top of the bomb and kill them with the gas. That day, though, it killed a harmless dog — and nearly his companion.
The trauma was devastating, the side effects excruciating. Though a lethal dose didn’t make its way into Canyon's system, the little bit that did manifested into unbearable headaches, moments where he couldn’t feel his arm, sleepless nights trying to mitigate the pain.
“He has pain control I will never understand,” Mark said.
Watching their son struggle was unbearable for Mark and Theresa. What added to their frustration was that no one was being held accountable. The Department of Agriculture planted a bomb a couple hundred yards from their home and didn’t tell them.
Activist groups started reaching out. Some people had devoted years and years of their life to changing laws on the use of M-44 cyanide bombs and hadn’t gotten very far. Canyon’s story was the perfect heart-throbbing human-interest tale that may finally create change, they thought. Mark was skeptical. He didn’t agree with a lot of the non-cyanide policies these organizations had.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” they told him.
So the family jumped on board. They traveled the country, going to various events, state capitals and even to Washington D.C. They were always talking with media members or legislatures, sharing their tragedy and trying to enact change. So far, they have.
“There’s actually a bill in Congress that will probably be reintroduced to make cyanide bombs illegal in the United States,” Mark said. “And I think it’ll pass. (Canyon) was instrumental. I think there were 16 states that used cyanide bombs. Now only 11 use them and in those (states), the restrictions placed on them have increased significantly.”
Mark, though, can sum it up quicker — in terms he’s completely comfortable with.
“We wrestled hard against the government,” Mark said. “As a family, we basically took the government to the mat. And we fought. And we won.”
Canyon Mansfield never stopped wrestling. He almost died on a Tuesday and was at a wrestling match that Saturday. He felt like crap, had just seen his dog die and, of course, got a victory. For a few minutes, he forgot about the incident. He was focused on technique, on hand placement, on scoring points first, then trying for a pin.
The next few weeks, though, were hard. The effects of the cyanide really started to do a number on his mental and physical health, which made making weight feel like lifting a car. Mark tried to help his son prepare for upcoming tournaments, trying to find a balance of understanding all his son had been through while still pushing him.
To hit weight before one tournament, Mark wanted Canyon to run up the hill behind their house. The memories of what happened there were still fresh to Canyon. He never wanted to trek up there again. But, for the first and only time in Canyon’s life, his dad forced him to do something.
The pair, step-for-step, bolted up the steep, rocky terrain. They hit the summit. Mark looked and his son and embraced him. Canyon can still picture it, can still hear the words his father told him.
“We’re not going to be the victims here. This is our spot. We’ve always gone here and we always will,” Mark told Canyon on the hill’s peak. "We’re not going to let anyone take it from us.”
It was something Mark had preached to Canyon since he was young, since he started jumping around on the wrestling mat in their basement, since he started trying to wrestle his older brother and his giant friends.
“For wrestling, my dad always said don’t focus on wins and losses. Always focus on doing your technique and progressing forward as a wrestler,” Canyon said. “With that kind of mindset, I can take some of that for life. (The cyanide incident), that was kind of a big loss. But working forward is what I’ve always been doing.”
“Running up that hill, it was more than just the difficulty of it,” Canyon added. “It was very mentally challenging ... That has definitely shaped me into who I am today.”
He’s shown that by how he responds to adversity.
In the middle of a match his sophomore season, Canyon broke his pinky finger. There was an injury timeout. Canyon walked to the side, taped it up and finished the match. He won, of course. Then he won the tournament. He thought he could keep wrestling, stay on the mat without going to the doctor or getting surgery.
Canyon and Mark wanted to keep the injury as low-key as possible. They started by not telling Theresa, knowing she’d want Canyon to let it heal. Then they used an old trick Mark learned while wrestling at Arizona State — to throw off any opponents, they taped the pinky finger that wasn’t hurt. Anyone looking for a cheap way to injure always went for the wrong finger, keeping the broken pinky less harmed.
“If there’s anything taped up — we’re a combat sport — you attack it. If there’s a weakness, you go for it,” Century assistant coach Abe Boomer said. “You have to protect the injury and, at the same time, you have to be aggressive enough to score points.”
To make matters worse, Canyon had trouble cutting weight, which meant he was running all the time. Over time, his back started to stiffen while he jogged. Apparently, Canyon learned, he had tight hamstrings that were causing pull on his hips. Over time, that strained his back and, in the middle of his sophomore year, a growth plate in his lower back popped off.
Canyon downplayed the back injury.
“It didn’t hurt as much as some of my other ones,” he said.
So he wrestled on, finishing second in the state championship as a sophomore. The pain tolerance, the perseverance, the determination, it all seems uncanny for someone so young. He’s been through a lot. Maybe that helps him. Maybe it fuels him.
But maybe there's a simpler explanation.
Last year, Canyon and Mark were in Century’s wrestling room going against each other on the mat. As Canyon spun around, his knee connected with Mark’s orbital bone. When Mark went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, one eye was staring at the glass and the other was staring at the ceiling. His orbital bone was broken. The next day was Thanksgiving, but as a doctor, Mark phoned a buddy and had surgery before he scarfed down any turkey.
On Black Friday, Mark was seeing double — and he was on the mat at the Diamondbacks’ practice.
“He had surgery and did not miss a practice,” Boomer said. “Where does (Canyon’s) toughness comes from? … It definitely comes from Mark.”
Canyon and Mark are part of a special group. It’s the 6 a.m. club, a valued and long-standing organization. Or, at least, that’s what the pair tells everyone else. They’ve made it known to the rest of Century’s roster that they’ll be up at 6 a.m. every morning, lifting weights and doing cardio in their basement.
Only a handful of people have ever shown up.
This year, the 6 a.m. club has shifted a little. Trying to gain muscle for his first year competing in the 160-pound division, Canyon has started seeing local trainer Doran Steed every morning, focusing more on weight training.
Canyon and Mark are hoping that ends with a state championship. After taking second at the 4A 113-pound state championship with a broken finger as a sophomore, Canyon finished runner-up in the 138-pound class as a junior.
Now at 160 pounds, Canyon has one last shot to become a state champion.
“I just have to keep moving forward and keep those things in the past so I can get it this year,” Canyon said. “(After my state losses), my mom and dad would always say, ‘You have to be the hero in this circumstance. You can’t just be the normal person. You have to be the hero that keeps moving forward.'”
Canyon has experienced four years that would have thrown a lesser man to the ground, and is adamant he’s become stronger from all of it. He saw his dog die. Ran down that hill with cyanide on his shirt. Sobbed as he sat in the U.S. Capital and told legislators his harrowing story. Broke his finger on a wrestling mat and became a state runner-up with a growth plate dislodged from his back. Little things aren’t so bad anymore.
Canyon doesn’t love thinking back to March 16, 2017. But he knows almost nothing could be as painstaking as that day. Broken fingers and stiff backs can't approach that agony. Above all else, Canyon perseveres. And it all relates back to the fundamental philosophies Mark preached about wrestling.
Keep working. Focus on your progress, and keep moving forward.
The Mansfields eventually settled their lawsuit against the federal government for $38,800 in August 2020. More than two-thirds of the total was said to be for the pain Canyon endured. When the government first discussed a settlement, Mark wanted to jump at the first offer. He thought it was taking a toll on their daily lives. He worried that Canyon’s high school experience was being diminished with all the events he was speaking at. He wanted it to be done with.
Canyon listened. Then he looked at his dad and shared the wisdom he once gained on the top of a hill.
“We can’t be victims. We have to keep pushing. This is who we are. We have to make it up for Kasey. For anyone else being affected by these,” Canyon told Mark. “We have an opportunity to make change in the world. Not a lot of people have that, so we need to take advantage of that.’”