So Wrestling season has arrived. When I was in high school, I was repulsed by the sport of wrestling. I remember as a cheerleader that one season they asked us to cheer some wrestling matches. It’s a different way to cheer – sort of sitting on the gym floor – slapping, clapping, chanting. But honestly, I was so horrified by the look of the guys in their singlets rolling around on the mat that I think I blocked most of the experience out. At that age, I just did not dig it. At. All.
When I met my husband and we began dating, we went through the usual exchange of personal information and past interests and hobbies. At the time he was somewhat of a local racquetball beast and was league champion. I was filled with pride over his athletic prowess. A definite attraction for me. In fact, I could tell you straight up that most of my “boyfriends” growing up were athletes for the most part and I absolutely loved attending their games and cheering them on from the sidelines. Basketball. Football. Rugby. Soccer. Hockey. Softball. I was into it. But one day while at lunch with my husband (who at the time was just a date) – he informed me he was a wrestler. Eww. Thank God he was playing racquetball instead now and I did not have to be his high school sweetheart enduring that sight.
Eventually we married and our first child was born. A son. My husband was thrilled. “Yes! I have a wrestler!” I remember thinking, “Over my dead body.” Then our second child was born. Another son. My husband again, “Yes, another weight class!” I believe I said out loud, “It’s not happening.” Then Son #3 was born and my husband responded with “What a line up!” It was an open debate now. I would argue how they would not be wrestlers and how grotesque the entire thing was. Then my 4th child was born – a daughter. My husband’s response? “Yes, the team manager!” I knew I was up against something much bigger than myself.
All three boys started attending a local summer wrestling camp at an extremely young age. They would put on their athletic shorts and tennis shoes and head to camp with their water bottles. In between relay races and duck, duck, goose – the coach began teaching my boys wrestling techniques and drills. Single leg takedown. Shuffle shuffle. Look for your half. Get to your belly! Watch your hips!
I went to watch their first matches on the last day of camp. They couldn’t have been older than 4, 5, 6 years old. I had the video camera and was ready to film them. I wasn't completely horrified anymore – I was adjusting to the fact that this was something they were giving a try. Although I secretly hoped that it would be short lived and after this camp they would be done.
But the most ironic thing happened. My boys took that mat with their opponents and I became a mother bear. The thought of another kid putting his hands on my son and grinding his face into the mat set me off! The next thing I knew I was yelling and cheering for my son like I have NEVER cheered for anyone or anything in my life. Not only did I want my son to win but he better punish that kid for what he tried to do earlier on in the match. TAKE THAT! A wrestling mother had been born.
At this point in our lives 10 years have passed. My husband has been coaching for all of those years and I his team mom sidekick. We run the local junior league team. I have written dozens and dozens of newspaper articles, snapped hundreds of pictures of pins, handed out uniforms each year – heck I’ve even designed the wrestling uniforms. I have planned celebration banquets and organized numerous tournaments. I have spent 15 hour stretches in a wrestling gym watching 6 mats rotate wrestlers throughout the day. I have run back and forth with pieces of paper writing bout numbers and watching the boards rotate matches. I have watched many things happen on a wrestling mat. I’ve seen bloody noses plugged with gauze and cotton while those wrestlers continue on. I’ve seen bones snapped. I’ve seen wrestlers throw tantrums. I’ve seen tears and screams – I’ve heard cries of pain and passion. I’ve watched fathers and coaches completely lose it in the emotional turmoil of a wrestling match. I’ve seen mothers on the mat hysterically screeching for their baby boys. I’ve watched grandmothers become cougars ready to pounce on their grandchild’s opponent. I’ve sat with anxious mothers while their sons were assessed by a medic. I’ve hugged wrestlers that were overwhelmed with their losses. One thing I know is certain, most times, everyone involved leaves everything they have out on that mat.
When my oldest son was in 3rd grade I was watching the wrestling match that injured his MCL in his knee. I saw his forehead hit the mat. I saw pain in his face. I watched him muster all his strength to stand, sweat pouring from his temples, as he went to step onto that leg and it completely collapsed unable to support any weight. His coach ran out to the mat. His father went to check. I think the pain of the forfeit was worse than the actual injury. That 8 year old was determined to leave the mat alone. He would not be helped or carried. After visiting the orthopedist, he would be in a full leg cast for weeks. I’ll never forget that match or the dignity that my 8 year old had already learned in leaving the mat on his own strength.
Son #2 had many hard years when he first began wrestling. In fact, for the first 3 years that he attended camp, he didn’t win one match. He always lost. But every year the coach gave him the “Best Attitude” trophy. He never gave up. With each loss, he worked harder – more determined than ever to win. Who would have ever thought that Son #2 would go on to be an amazing wrestler and champion? Two years ago I watched Son #2 wrestle the championship match at Regional's with a fractured elbow. He was all heart.
Wrestling is the most character building sport I have ever witnessed. There are two wrestlers on a mat. All eyes are watching. There is one winner and one loser. Clearly defined. No team to back you up. Nothing to blame and no one to blame but yourself. Someone is always faster, stronger or maybe just wants it more. You have to love the heart of a wrestler. And those wrestlers have a respect for each other that is unlike other sports. The support that wrestlers give each other is outstanding. I’ve watched my boys wrestle matches that were like a death to the finish and leave the mat arm in arm with their opponent – hug each other and say “Great match.” Each ready to completely collapse with exhaustion but truly inspired by the other’s ability.
There were great years that all 3 of my boys wrestled and my husband coached. I loved that time. Nothing was greater than 3 sons in the lineup. Besides it made all of those hours of hanging around worthwhile. I used to think about those parents that were at a tournament for 12 hours to watch 1 child wrestle 3 matches. At least – with 3, I got my money’s worth. When Son #1 graduated from our team and headed to high school, I recall that my husband and I were sad but definitely excited for what was to come. After all, isn’t that why we had coached and run this recreational league? To prepare them for the high school experience? Last year having Son #2 and Son #3 together on the team one last season together was definitely special. Especially since we know what it is like to watch one leave the line-up. Saying goodbye to Son #2 at the banquet last year was hard. Especially for Son #3. He is left to wrestle alone without his brothers this year. The last brother left to carry the torch. He has never been on the team alone without a big brother there to look up to. He is now the big one. Hard to grasp actually. He was always the baby on the team. I can remember when he was the 50lb on the A team…tough as nails – winning big! He is now my 7th grader. Two more seasons until he joins his brothers at the high school. Two more seasons until my husband and I hang up our junior league wrestling hats and welcome a new young couple with aspiring little wrestlers ready to play Dogpound.
Son #2 is about to embark on his high school wrestling career with his first matches tomorrow. This is a completely different beast. The strength of these boys is not anything faced in junior leagues. I remember when Son #1 was a Freshman and he took the mat at 5’ 1” and 125lb. and his opponent stepped onto the mat looking like he had driven the team bus there. I knew he had to weigh 125lb like my son, but his build and stature were like that of a man as he was a Senior. The strength factor is unequivocal.
It is so hard for me to believe that he is a Freshman in high school, weighing in at 122lbs. It has been an amazing journey getting here. His dressers are cluttered with dozens of trophies. Racks of dozens of medals hang on the wall. We’ve laminated wall charts where he took the championships. But that is all behind us now. All wins and losses have been erased. Clean slate. Fresh start. Tomorrow Son #2 will wrestle his first high school Varsity match and to me - it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, because I’ve seen it all from the beginning. I know how far he has come.
I have been there to watch and record his story up to now. From that little boy that lost match after match year after year. To the wrestler that I watched stand on the podium last year as 2nd in the state. So much more happened during those 10 years than trophies and medals. There was confidence. There was belief. There was dedication and attitude. There was hard work and sweat. There was tenacity and hope. There were goals and aspirations. There were injuries and disappointments. There was the transformation of 3 wrestling brothers as they worked their way up the weight classes together and practiced on each other in the basement for hours. There was the metamorphosis of a once disapproving turned full blown wrestling mom. There was love of the sport and commitment to family.
There was my husband in the corner on the mat coaching his son for the past ten years… but not tomorrow – he’ll be sitting in the stands. Go get ‘em Son #2…