With high school wrestling in the rear view, it’s time to reflect. Four years of late nights, early mornings, and an innumerable amount of sweat, blood, and tears…it’s certainly been a wild ride. The memories made and lessons learned are beyond invaluable and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. There’s no greater teacher than the sport of wrestling, and there’s no better way to describe it than an enlightening experience. I could rattle off dozens of ways wrestling has enriched my life, but I think the best way to do the sport justice is to discuss the three characteristics that it exemplifies most—the three ways wrestling has changed my life forever.
Everyone thinks they can push through the pain until their body starts snapping. I thought I was pretty tough—I’d trained in martial arts for the better part of my life—but that all changed when I began wrestling.
Each and every practice pushes your body to its absolute limit. Weight training before the sun rises, ceaseless conditioning out in the blazing heat, and countless hours getting your face smashed into the mat as the sun sets…it strains the mind and body like you wouldn’t believe. Broken fingers are buddy taped together and busted elbows are briefly iced as the grind continues. It takes tremendous mental fortitude to push through the pain.
In the last eight months of my wrestling career, I was physically pushed more than I’d ever thought possible. In preparation for Junior Nationals, I tore my LCL and sprained my PCL and MCL. My knee was effectively shredded, and my prime college recruiting time was lost. Determined to come back better than ever, I dedicated myself to a speedy recovery. After several months of physical therapy, I was back on the mat and on the warpath. I pushed my mind and body harder than ever before, and began to see the fruits of my labor paying off…only to tear my other LCL only a month before season.
Devastated, I seriously considered quitting the sport that’s taken so much from me. Wrestling had crippled my body twice and taken more of my soul than I’d care to admit. It was a cruel thing to love, but I loved it nonetheless, and began working on my recovery once more. After two months of intense physical therapy, I was chomping at the bit to return to competition. In my first tournament back, I received a serious concussion and was once again benched due to injury.
Beaten, broken, and utterly out of willpower, I was on the verge of ending my wrestling career for good. What kept me around was my friends, family, and coaches. They knew me better than anyone, and knew I couldn’t live with myself if I went out as a quitter. Regaining my composure, I rallied and finished my senior year as the strongest season of my career, with a 53-4 record and a state finals appearance.
If wrestling teaches you anything, it’s perseverance.
Everyone thinks they’ve trained hard until they’ve trained to wrestle. Sprints up the bleachers don’t seem too difficult? Put the big guy on your back and go again. Regular practice only made you a little sore? Be back at five am and shoot your face into the wall until it goes numb. You think you finally understand how wrestling works? Head over to a club practice and watch as a middle schooler utterly dismantles you with his superior technique. Every practice is a shear test of will; every shot, every sprawl—it’s all as if Coach is daring you to quit. Never quit.
If you want to be the best, you have to learn to train like the best. Pick the biggest, baddest guy in the room, and challenge him every single day. Take your beatings, wipe up your blood, and learn from your mistakes. Ever so slowly, that big man won’t seem so big anymore. He’ll start beating you less and less, the matches will get razor close, and eventually, you’ll find yourself the victor. Don’t celebrate—you’ve won nothing yet. All that means is you’ve outgrown your opponent and it’s time to train elsewhere.
Training to wrestle isn’t like most sports. Taking beatings is the key to success, and that means traveling as much as possible to find people to dish out said beatings. If you feel you’re the best in the room, then you’ve already gone wrong. Training to wrestle will build you up to the highest of highs only to send you toppling the second you reach a new level. It’s discouraging, it’s unfriendly, and it requires the strictest of disciplines. Every aspect of your life must be treated as training; your meals, your free time, and even the position in which you sleep must be carried out with the utmost discipline. Those who thrive in wrestling have mastered an iron will and superior discipline.
Everyone thinks they know their friends until they go through Hell with them. It holds true that in most any sport, your teammates tend to become your best friends; through trials, tribulations, and relentless training, it’s hard not to develop a bond with those around you. All those aspects that draw you close—that truly bring fellow athletes together—are exemplified through wrestling.
The lows hit the hardest. Showing up at five a.m., stepping onto a treadmill wearing three layers of sweats, desperately trudging forward for hours on end in the hopes that you can make weight…it’s one of the most helpless and pitiful feelings a kid can experience. Going through something like that can break anyone…but not if they have a partner. Knowing that someone is sharing that abysmal feeling with you is all you need to get through that last sprint, last rep, last mile. Shared misery brings people together like you wouldn’t believe, and no one knows that better than wrestlers.
The friends I’ve made wrestling these past your years are as numerous as they are amazing. Be them training partners, coaches, or even old opponents, it seemed that no matter where I went there someone awesome to meet. I’ve traveled around the country with the men I call my friends, and through our travels we’ve only grown closer. I’ve gone through Hell training with the men I call my friends, and through our struggles our bond grew stronger. I’ve gone to war with the men I call my friends, and through our victory we’ve gained eternity.
The most valuable thing I’ve earned through wrestling is an interconnected group of brothers whom I wouldn’t trade for the world. More than anything, wrestling is a brotherhood.