When my now 18 year-old son came to me in second grade, clutching a gold sheet of paper that announced upcoming wrestling sign-ups, I hid it where no one ever looks: in the hamper. No way did I want my little boy to be part of a sport that was so primal…so…so…barbaric. He was just a baby!
Three hours later, my husband strode through the door and announced excitedly: “Guess who I just signed-up for wrestling?”
I threw up.
People who know our family know that wrestling is as much a part of the Heck Lifestyle as meatballs, white cookies and whining. Members of the expanded male branch of the family tree were all wrestlers; it’s in their DNA and, as these things tend to, the compulsion for it trickled down to the next generation of prehistoric animals.
I’ve started dating my husband at the age of 16. That’s when I first became exposed to the sport. I actually cannot believe I dated him during The Season of Starvation because, apparently, hunger really just brings out the nasty in a wrestler. You can eat. But you can’t swallow. Ideally, you can eat ice cubes and air, but not much else. (Half joking).
In other words, he was a big, fat dud as a boyfriend.
And look how that all ended up.
Now, we have pro-created and produced a whole new assembly line of wrestlers. It was unavoidable. I don’t make large babies. They, in actuality, are mutants, and there are very few sports in which they can participate without getting killed. Wrestling is it and they embrace it with passion, a half-nelson and an ankle pick.
After years of being immersed in this wrestling world, I can tell you this: everything you need to learn about life, you can learn through wrestling. I believe there is no other sport that teaches a child the main cornerstones of life in such a way that it truly dictates what kind of adult they are to become…physically and mentally. (Mostly mentally. Because once they are allowed to eat again, wrestlers sometimes cannot stop eating well into adulthood, and, well…let’s just say there are a lot of larger wrestling coaches out there. Not ours, though.)
Wrestlers are a special breed of human being. Dieting down to a specific weight class is not for the faint-hearted. If I could lose weight the way these boys lose weight, I would be one happy, svelte librarian. It’s grueling. An ethical coach encourages a specific, nutritionally-sound technique. Usually, because they’re boys and they’re idiots, they don’t listen to reason and do it their own, stupid way. But I will tell you this – it’s the resolve and dedication to get to your assigned weight class that shows what these boys are made of. Girls may be made of sugar and spice and everything nice; wrestlers are made of metal.
Wrestlers condition their bodies every single day of the season and if you’re a Heck, it’s imperative you spend every other day of the year conditioning, as well. Booorr-rrring.
But the mind-set they form throughout the season is hard to shake in the off-season. The stamina, the gumption and the pride of it all overflows to every other aspect of their lives. This is something they can’t buy at GNC; they have to percolate it within themselves.
Wrestlers’ physicality is remarkable and their ability to maintain the endurance necessary for six minutes of bruising and battering is significant. If you put any other kind of athlete on that mat, without a team assisting him, I guarantee you, they wouldn’t last through the first 90 seconds.
There is no other athlete that pushes himself to the edge with such mental prowess and physical strength as a wrestler. You either have that drive or you’re a football player. Ha. Ha.
A wrestler gets knocked down and always, always, gets right back up, not unlike my Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, circa 1970. It’s called survival of the fittest and this philosophy is just not common among kids anymore. Unless it involves their cell phone and a data plan.
Humility, focus, drive, determination and an honest sweat – these are the gifts we hope our children will wrap up, hold tight and travel with well into adulthood. The ability to singularly excel and still maintain their humbleness while pushing to attain their goals is a direct result of their life on that mat.
Sadly, last week, the brain trust behind the IOC, met privately somewhere in Stupidville, apparently got drunk and disoriented and voted to remove wrestling from the 2020 Olympic line-up. Wrestling, which has been an Olympic event since 1896, is going the way of croquet.
Socrates said: “I swear it upon Zeus, an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.” My brother wouldn’t agree but there’s no arguing with Socrates.
What the rationale is for removal of this sport, which is a display of endurance and focus of the most Herculean magnitude, from the Olympics, I cannot hazard to guess. But, someone decided it is more important to retain the events of race walking or rhythmic gymnastics (involving leaping and ribbon-twirling) or dressage. Dressage! I mean, horses over wrestlers? What would Socrates say to that?
I know what Dan Gable, Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, would say: “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
I don’t know if it will be easy, but I know my boys are equipped to handle any big, hairy, sweaty obstacle that comes their way in life. I don’t think you can say the same for a ribbon-twirler.