Have you ever loved something so much that you would let it kill you?

You don’t care so much about your body, your physical health, as you do that one thing. Could be a person. Could be a place, or a thing.

My thing was a sport.

Wrestling.

I found the sport that I would fall in love with when I was a sophomore in High School. I was late to the game, as some people had already been wrestling for more than 5 years, and I was just getting started. Mentally, I was in a very low place. I was depressed and looking for a way out. To say that I was suicidal would be to overplay the situation, but I was definitely on that road.

We can talk about the reasoning a different time, but the truth is that I had nothing in my life that was worth pursuing. I had no mission.

Enter Coach Josh.

Josh was my history teacher, and he was also the head wrestling coach. One day, as I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from school, I walked in the gym and he was there holding 3 mats together with his feet, so that two guys could drill. I sat next to him and helped him hold the mats for a while, and he told me that he would like to see me come out for practice sometime.

It was just the kind of thing that a young 15 year old kid, lost and needing direction, needed.

I showed up a few days later to a preseason conditioning, where we ran 2 miles worth of 100 yard sprints. We then went to the mats and drilled for an hour and a half. It sucked.

But I loved it.

A couple of weeks later, 3 of us got into Coach Josh’s van and drove 2.5 hours to a tournament. My first match ever, and it lasted all of 15 seconds. In those 15 seconds, I was lifted off the ground, dropped back down on the mat, and pinned. I have a picture somewhere of the guy lifting me.

I was smiling the entire time.

I can’t explain it, but for some reason, I had found my thing. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time.

– – –

Wrestling destroyed my body. I would cut 15 pounds three days before a match, and then gain it all back the day after. This repeated every week for 3 months.

My legs are messed up, I have had 2 concussions, and my fingers hurt when I grip things. I don’t know if these things were caused by wrestling, but I would say that it definitely contributed.

I got lucky. I witnessed injuries much worse than anything that I received.

At one point, my grandpa asked my mom when she was going to “put a stop to this nonsense. That boy is gonna hurt himself!”

Thank God my mom knew better. Who knows where I’d be if she had made me quit.

– – –

I was never very good at wrestling. I was focused way more on the team benefit than my own. I never cared about winning a personal conference championship. I never cared about winning state.

I would lose 20 pounds because Josh told me that the team needed me at a lower weight class. I would wrestle a guy 15 pounds heavier than I was, because the other guy that was my weight had a better chance of beating the guy in my weight class. I would sacrifice everything for my team.

One time I got a concussion at the only home meet of the season. The way meets are set up, you would wrestle a team, and then wrestle another team. Each guy got 2 matches and scored team points so that the team as a whole could win.

I got a concussion in the first match. I went on to win that match, which I still brag to my friends about (“I won a match and don’t even remember it! What did you do?”). However, I had a second match that day. I was sitting in the emergency room after having just gotten a CT scan, and learned that my team had lost the second overall match, by a total of 3 team points. The forfeit that they had to give up in my place cost them 6 points. I was completely crushed.

– – –

The only thing that I cared about was getting championships for my team. I helped our team get it’s first conference championship in 25 years. I helped them get the first back-to-back championship in 50 years. I drilled with the first state placer that my school had since 1965. I was there for every single one of his matches that year.

When I look back on my wrestling career, I am extremely proud of the things that I did for my team. I couldn’t care any less about the personal accomplishments.

Wrestling taught me how to handle adversity, and it taught me how to keep my head down and handle business. It taught me how to push myself to the limits and be able to come back from extremes. It was the single greatest catalyst in making me into the man that I am and the man that I continue to strive to be.

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