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Wrestling; a sport for only the top athletes, contenders if you will. We struggle through the hardest of physical, mental and emotional beatings. I could give every detail of every match I have ever wrestled in, from match score, to the people around me, to what I could have done to make it better. You remember everything about the sport. I remember doing the same thing for four years straight before every match. When I was younger my father taught me prayers to recite every night. Before every match I go directly behind the mat, by myself, and say my prayers.
I remember knowing what needed to be done to make weight. Making weight is the first struggle of the sport. It’s a challenge to yourself before you can even compete, and not an easy task at that. Rubber suits, water pills, boiler rooms, jump ropes, sweats, all triggers to the memories of those long hours sweating off that last pound just to make weight for the match the next day. At the end of the night, I can recall having to wring out shirts just to take some sweat off of it so that it wouldn’t soak my sports bag. You remember how good ordinary things taste extraordinary after you weigh-in before the match and are allowed to eat again. Every average piece of food you eat tastes like a slice of heaven.
There is a time before the match starts that they introduce the line-ups for the respected teams. One team is in weight order on one side of the mat and the other team is on the other side of the mat. They will announce the specific weight and call out each wrestler from the team to meet in the center of the mat and shake hands. This isn’t just a chance to meet; this is a chance to size him up. This doesn’t seem like much, but just by the way this happens you can tell what kind of opponent you are up against. The way he runs out or casually walks out, lets you know how excited or nervous or confident he is, the way he shakes your hand, with a tight grip a casual slap or barely even touches lets you know how he thinks his chances are in the match, and of course the most important aspect of this is the eye contact made.
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When you’re on the mat, there is no time to stop. No timeouts, no water breaks, nothing, just you and your opponent, and because of this you remember everything about them. You realize that every move you hit has to be flawless, you can’t make mistakes because the one time you do, you remember it forever. February 2nd 2005, a league match against Glenn Mills, the score is 8 to 8 going into overtime of my match. Ten seconds are left on the clock and I lose focus. He shoots a low inside single leg, scores the takedown and wins the match. I’ll never forget that match, things like that stand out in your mind in the sport of wrestling because it’s almost as if, you gave the match away.
Of course not all memories related to the sport are tough ones, it’s the little things that are important. Like the way I laced up my shoes. Every match was the same routine, start with the left foot. The left lace started first and obviously followed by the right. When I reached the top, I would wrap them once more around my whole ankle then tie it. I would carefully lay it flat on top of the tongue of the shoe and then place the cover over gently. Left side of the Velcro strap first, smooth it along and then the right. I would use the same procedure for the right foot, and then a couple times around with tape to secure my laces.
Then there is the headgear, a necessity for the sport and something I’ll treasure forever. My headgear was pretty basic, red with white straps but every detail on it held a specific story. My headgear was fitted perfect just for me, and all of those little scratches of different colors were all from different matches. There were four on the left ear, and 2 on the right.
There’s something about the smell of a wrestling mat that just instills a feeling of confidence and courage inside of me like nothing else. I can remember walking about and smelling that crisp, sharp and refreshing scent that almost stings when you get close enough. The pungent fragrance is forever embedded in my memory.
The referee in wrestling can only have so much influence on a match. Of course he can make bad calls, but if you want to win bad enough it doesn’t matter. You remember every ref in the league and whether or not they are partial. There is one referee for the Del-Val that is about 5’6” and 140 lbs. He is a very small man, clean shaven head, and of course always wearing his black and white striped shirt. This particular ref named Mike almost refuses to call pins. I will always remember that he doesn’t like to get close to the mat to look for the pin, so he stands up over top, without clearly being able to see. So, knowing this, you also know that every time he refs a match that it’s probably going to go the entire length because he doesn’t call pins.
There’s one part of the sport that makes all of the bad things worth while. It makes the cutting weight, the long hours and the blood, sweat and tears all worth it, and that’s getting your hand raised at the end of the match. When you win, you shake hands again with the opponent and the ref will grab your wrist and raise it up to let people know you are victorious. To me this is worth the entire sport, it’s a feeling of accomplishment, knowing that you just won, you and only you can decide whether you win or lose so all the pride and glory is on you. I’ll never forget any one of the twenty-five times I had my hand raised my senior year, because to me those are the best memories you can have.
I remember my favorite part of the entire sport was during my match. Not just because I was wrestling but because there was nothing else around me. During the other matches when you aren’t wrestling you notice the crowd, you hear the screaming and yelling, the cheering and chanting, but when that first whistle blows during your match, it all disappears. Of course I can see everyone jumping up and down and I see their mouths moving, but I don’t hear a sound. It’s like being in a whole other realm, nothing affects you. You are completely focused on the task at hand, and that’s winning. After every match my father would always ask me “Didn’t you hear me yelling for you?”, and as politely as possible I would always just shrug and say “Nah can’t hear a thing.”