Wrestling was a massive part of my life.
From freshman year in high school to my final year in college, much of my time was devoted to this demanding sport.
It's impossible to try and convey the total experience of being a wrestler so I won't even try here.
But, I can say a few things about the sport that attempts to explain the madness.
Nothing I have ever done in life even comes close to how grueling and difficult the sport is. When you wrestle and when you step out on the mat, the person standing in front of you wants the same exact thing (to win) and would be willing to kill you for it if the rules allowed for that. There is no team around you to help. The mental toll matches can exact on you can be immense. When you lose, you can't blame anyone but yourself. And that is extremely hard to accept at first. We often try to find other people or outside circumstances to blame when things don't go our way. That option does not exist in a wrestling match. If you lose, it's because the person in front of you has worked harder than you, or is simply better.
There aren't many experiences in life that give you this raw arena to really expose who you are as a person.
We often shy away from things that leave us so exposed to measuring how we stand up to other people.
If you decide to wrestle, you will very quickly see how tough you are.
In college, every ounce of free time not spent in class or in the daily 2 hour practices was spent practicing more or working out.
Doing the bare minimum gets you no where in wrestling. Every person you will stand against will have done that.
It's the wrestlers willing to spend the extra thousands of hours in the gym or on the mat over years of time that will edge their way to the podium.
On top of all of these requirements for success, wrestling also has a thing called weight classes.
Cutting weight is a fact of wrestling and a necessary evil. As much as we all wish it would cease to exist, that simply can't happen. If you were to decide to not cut weight, all that would happen is someone hungrier than you (literally and figuratively) would be willing to drop the extra 10 pounds to the next weight class and suddenly you are wrestling someone that walks around 10 pounds heavier than you. And in the world of college athletics, most of that weight is going to a solid amount of extra muscle.
When I started wrestling, it was my freshman year in high school. By the end of the season, my record was 0-21.
I was pinned 20 of those 21 times.
I'm still not sure why I didn't just quit and switch to a sport that was more fun and involved less suffering.
I think a part of me desired something in life that really challenged me this much and didn't just award me for trying.
Before this, every ounce of my free time was spent just playing video games. It was easy. Games were full of instant
gratifications and easy wins. You didn't have to spend much time, try very hard, or put yourself through pain to
get that win.
Suddenly, I was standing before this sport that chewed me up and spit me out without anything to show for it.
In a sick sort of way, I knew this was what I had been yearning for for so many years: a real challenge.
Fast forward 9 years, and my wrestling season came to an end. I didn't achieve my ultimate goal of becomning an All-American (finishing top 8 in the national tournament) but I still achieved some cool things. My collegiate record was better than my high school record and to this day I have never met any other wrestler that this is true for. I've known many kids that are state place winners or even champs in high school and then go on to achieve .500 records their first years of college. College wrestling is a different world where everyone was a 'stud' in high school. The only thing that got me to where I was by the end was an addiction and obsession with getting better. I was not the most technical wrestler (most collegiate wrestlers were wrestling before they entered middle school and I started at 14) so I had to outwork them in all the other areas of the sport. I got myself into incredible shape in terms of my endurance and stamina. I won most of my matches by simply making the other person tired. Many of my matches started with me down in points half-way through and then I would end up winning by a wide margin come the final period.
When I look back at my time spent wrestling, not all of it is pleasant memories.
The sport hurts, both mentally and physically. Much of my body is still affected by the dozens of injuries I sustained.
Mentally, I am also still hurting. When you dedicate 9 years of your life to something and fall short of your goals,
it hurts. A lot.
I sometimes wonder what I could have done with those 9 years and thousands of hours of time spent working towards getting better.
Every day around me in graduate school or at companies I am jealous of my peers who accomplished so many things in the area of software
while I was using up all of my free time wrestling or working out. Part of me wishes I could go back, skip wresting, and use that mammoth
chunk of time to further my career goals. It's extremely hard to face the reality that the thing you spent much of your life working towards
suddenly is stripped from you and is essentially rendered meaningless. I was taught that employers would care about doing a sport because
it signalled some hard work ethic and they loved hiring for athletes. In reality, that is a complete lie. I haven't had it come up once when
fighting for jobs.
Deep down however, I still am thankful for what the sport has done for me. It took a lot from me, but I believe it gave a lot back. I would not be the person I am today without wrestling. I am tougher than I would have been and I also learned that I can withstand a lot more than I thought possible when I was younger. When you allow yourself to be consumed by a desire to achieve a goal, it's incredible what you are willing to put yourself through in order to achieve it. And even if employers don't know that, I know that about myself and that is what matters. So, if you were to ask me today if I would do it all over again, my answer would be YES. And I would dedicate even more of myself to it.