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'First place grit': Collin Weltzien retires as Wisconsin State FFA president

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Collin Weltzien delivers his retiring address as outgoing Wisconsin State FFA President during the organization's online convention July 10.

Collin Weltzien passed the torch to new Wisconsin State FFA President Joe Schlies this week, but not before passing on his own advice and praises of his peers.

Weltzien's speech, called "Champions," praised the efforts of the Wisconsin FFA's more than 21,000 members in achieving their goals and pursing their cause for agriculture. He said the one thing it takes to be a champion, even if you have a good cause and good effort, is to have "first place grit" and to get back up even after getting knocked down.

"You can have first place effort, you can have first place cause," Weltzien said. "But if you don't have first place grit, you will still come up short, because a champion understands that growth and comfort cannot coexist."

Weltzien emphasized his competitiveness and his desire to win, never lose. But he said that, in the spirit of being a champion, the first rival you have to defeat is yourself, not your opponent. And if you still end up in second place, you're still a champion as long as you gave it your all: "we should always play to win the game of life."

He reflected on his family's competitive nature as a child, describing the constant rivalry between himself, his dad and his two brothers during 2-on-2 basketball or a game of cards. No matter who won, someone would always end up chucking the ball at the wall or the cards on the floor, he said. Weltzien explained this background is what made him  want championship in his life.

"Try tolerating your little brother running around the house screaming at the top of his lungs. It came to the point where my parents would try to let us win, just to prevent the madness," Weltzien said. "Sometimes that only made things worse. For my entire childhood, I was thirsty for every possible opportunity to declare myself a champion."

He first realized the true definition of champion, beyond what's in the dictionary, during his senior season of baseball in high school. Weltzien said his team was the underdog of the game, but ultimately they lost, and that was that – his baseball career was over. But Weltzien knew that he had given the game his all and come into it with first place grit, and that was what really mattered.

"Being a champion is about a lot more than winning a trophy, plaque, ribbon or medal," he said. "It's about being the first to practice and the last to leave. It's about working hard, even when nobody's watching. ... Second place ain't bad if – and only if – you gave your first place effort."

Weltzien originally represented the Arcadia FFA chapter before being chosen as state FFA president. He is the fourth generation of his family farm Weltzien Farms, where he learned to feed calves, milk cows, vaccinate and move cattle, do field work and assist in daily operations. He currently attends University of Wisconsin-River Falls studying agricultural business. 

He said one of the biggest lessons his presidency has taught him was how rewarding it is to watch others grow as he witnessed them complete their personal and professional goals over the past year.

"I consider myself the luckiest man in the world because for the last two years, I've had the honor of serving the members of the greatest youth organization from the greatest state in the nation and the greatest country on the planet while representing the greatest industry known to man. I don't know what else a man could ask for."