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Yesterday I went to the annual wrestling awards banquet at my alma mater, Ridgewood High School. Every year my family has the distinction of honoring a Ridgewood wrestler with the Philip A Ross, Jr. award. The award is in honor of my father was President of the Ridgewood Junior Wrestling Program for 25 years. The recipient of this award doesn’t have to be the best wrestler. He just has to meet two criteria: has come through the junior wrestling program and demonstrate the characters that make a good wrestler: positive attitude, good work ethic and the ability to move forward in the face of adversity. It should be to no surprise that the same qualities that make good wrestlers make good people.
Wrestling is a thankless sport. As far as high school sports go, it is by far the most difficult and the most demanding. It invades all aspects of your being, affects your family and your friends. You are taught to sacrifice and endure training of Spartan proportions. And for what? There is no big contract or signing bonus for your success. If you are talented and lucky enough you may be one of the less than 1% to receive a scholarship to college.
Training for wrestling is more like Special Forces survival training than anything else. To prepare for the rigors of a mere 6 minute match takes thousands of hours of practice, running, lifting weights, climbing ropes, buddy runs (with your partner on your back), sprint laps, calisthenics and anything else that will increase your performance.
On top of that, you have to make weight. To every wrestler, a scale is not just a scale. It’s the judge. It is the gateway to your success. If you don’t make weight all of your hard work and sacrifice are for nothing. During match day you will heck your weight 3 or 4 times. You’ll eat standing on the scale. You will chomp ice cubes, rinse and spit at the water fountain and track every ounce and calorie that goes into your mouth.
Your family and friends are well aware of this because you are not in a good mood. You sit and watch as food gets needlessly wasted and thrown out. You are shocked at the amount of food commercials you see on TV. You can’t believe that people actually can go out, go to McDonald’s and order whatever they wish! You can’t be talked to or reasoned with (at least until after weigh in).
The training, the weight control, the intensity and for a chance to test yourself against another who has endured the same amount of pain or sacrifice. When you train, you picture him training- it drives you to do one more rep, one more round and one more time.
Why would some one in their right mind endure such a god-awful, Spartan lifestyle in a sport that will only leave them broken-hearted? That’s right, broken hearted. Chances are your career will either end with a loss or an injury: either way, it’s not on your terms. At the end of the season there is only one man standing at each weight class. All of the rest have been sent packing.
So again it begs the question, why on earth do you do this? First of all, there is no sweeter feeling than having your hand raised. I’ve scored touchdowns in big football games and I’ve won big wrestling matches, and I’ll take the feeling you get after a big win in wrestling any time.
The answer is simple. The more sacrifice, the greater the reward. The harder you work and prepare, the more meaning the outcome. There’s s nothing more definitive and complete that beating another man on the mat.
Wrestling is life. Life is hard; to be successful requires time, sacrifice, compassion and love. Wrestling prepares you for this. You love of wrestling and meeting the challenge drives you. Your compassion for your team mates inspires you. It teaches you that things are sweeter when they are worked for (nothing is better than that that first meal after a weigh-in).
It teaches you to be self reliant. Alone on the mat, there’s no one to depend on but you.
It teaches you accountability, there’s no one responsible for your actions except you.
It teaches you to work with others; you need to practice with a partner and a team.
It shows you how to make the best of your abilities: your speed, your agility, your brains and your guts.
It teaches you that even your own life will not end on your own terms.
This is why I meet someone who’s spent some time on the mat I know them, or at least a part of them. Immediately, I give them the benefit of the doubt. Because any high school kid who is willing to sacrifice so much for what would be perceived as so little will be there when they’re up against it. This is the guy I want in my foxhole.
In a world where it’s cut and run and shaft your buddy, I’ll put my money on the guy who takes the road less traveled.
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write by Devon Whitis