As one grows increasingly adept at a sport, it is only natural for them to set their sights on larger playing fields. More competitive tournaments, stronger competitors, and locations with more significant credibility beckon to those athletes on the rise—just as they’ve beckoned myself. Wrestling has brought me all over the country in search of growth and glory. Some trips are enriching, others I could live without, but regardless there’s always something to be learned.
From sea to shining sea, there’s no place in America quality wrestling can’t take you. For training camps alone, I’ve had the privilege of venturing to the farm houses of rural Ohio, the bustling cityscapes of downtown Charlotte, and even to the beachfront slums of south Florida. High level coaches and wrestlers exist everywhere you can imagine; seeking out the best the sport has to offer in the most obscure locations possible is half the fun.
Receiving invitations to wrestle at the national level can expand a wrestler’s personal atlas tenfold. My sophomore year, Cadet Freestyle/Greco Nationals granted me the opportunity to compete clear across the country in Spokane, Washington. The very next year, I was in Virginia Beach competing in High School Nationals. This year, I hope to qualify for Junior Nationals so I can compete in Fargo, North Dakota. Experience is everything, and there is no experience more valuable than traveling somewhere new.
Traveling, training, eating—a lot of components go into competitive wrestling, but they all surround a single unifying factor: money. Eating all your meals on the road isn’t cheap and usually not very healthy either. Hotel hopping is beyond expensive—you could blow more than $150 a night if you’re not careful. Tournament registration fees, gear purchases, gas money—it all adds up.
On top of the costs, wrestling road trips can be utterly infuriating. Spending hour after hour locked in a hot, sweaty vehicle crammed to the brim with starving boys…it’s not a pleasant experience (especially if you’re one of the starving boys). Seats are cramped and bags of wrestling gear, post weigh-in snacks, and cloths for the trip are used as pillows or stacked on top of sleeping kids. You and your buddies quickly become a ticking time bomb cruising down the highway. It only takes one stray elbow, one false move, one off handed comment, and the whole car explodes. Nothing brings people physically closer together and emotionally farther apart than a rage inducing eleven hour car ride on an empty stomach.
The hardest part about traveling for any sport is missing invaluable school time. Most major tournaments host weigh-ins on Friday night and a tournament that spans the remainder of the weekend. Unless you live in close proximity to the tournament (which is almost never the case for me), you’re guaranteed to at least miss school on Friday. If the tournament is ridiculously fa r(like Scenectitty, NY was from me several weeks ago), you’re likely to miss at least half of school on Thursday as well. Say you or your teammate does exceptionally well in said tournament and makes the finals. While that’s very exciting, you’ll likely be stuck at the venue until after the awards ceremony, late Sunday night. Regardless of when you begin driving, your Monday school day is likely completely shot. Congratulations, you’re now three days behind on school work. But don’t worry, by the time you finally catch, you’ll be ready to ship out for the next tournament. Welcome to the vicious cycle of wrestling.
When it comes right down to it, wrestling is the tightest knit brotherhood there is; sharing the mats creates bonds like no other. The people you meet through the sport quickly become your closest friends, and before you know it, they’re family. Training day in and day out with nothing but a common goal in mind, sharpening each other’s iron, there’s nothing like it. Through the forging of each other’s skills, minds, and bodies, you learn to love one another like you love yourself. Even if you don’t feel that sort of extreme kinship for your travel/club teammates, there is still something to be said for the countless hours spent together in transit, competition, and the gym.
Like it or not, the people you meet along your wrestling path will stick with you for the rest of your life. If that isn’t worth a few painful car rides and some extra cash, then I don’t know what is.