Thank Your Robin


October 19, 2009 by David Gillaspie


You learn more if you pay attention, but still learn if you don’t; touching a hot stove burns; jumping off a roof hurts; doing hard things right never gets any easier.

Is it hard to make a pile of money the right way?  Bernie Madoff made it look easy and now expects to cruise through prison unscathed?  He hasn’t even spent his first holiday season in the can, or a cycle of memorable events he won’t attend that pile up year after year until he snaps under the weight. 

Winning a Super Bowl looks hard, though Tom Brady didn’t seem to notice.  The guy racked up titles like he’s walking down the street.  Then we see it go away after an off-balance roller snaps his knee and he’s out a year.  The experts say he’s still not making it look like a walk, but he skated on Tennessee.

The big secret you forget while struggling with your hardest problems?  Everyone else is doing the same thing.  Just like you, they are trying to figure things out, trying to ignore distractions,  keeping an eye toward the future.  It takes a particular skill to do it well. 

It Takes Practice.

The best practice for figuring out things fast is a wrestling practice room.  That’s where you learn to figure things out with others; where you learn to stay clear of the guys who’ve already figured things out real good and like working the new guys over.

Wrestling allows for an element of thuggery without it being a component of the sport, like hockey.  A practice room has to have a thug element equal to the sport; we’ve all seen the nice kid’s face wrenched up during a match?  He’s not a thug, but his face at that moment reflects the stress you see on rioters, looters, and your ordinary attack dog.  

It’s there in every practice.  If the stars in the room have too much attitude, everyone else in the room suffers.  Each practice is one extended stomp, which also describes the feelings most beginners relate to the sport.  Stars with attitudes make sure the new guys understand the pecking order they’ve built.  Break it down at your own risk.  It’s an iron-rule that doesn’t get enough attention. 

If The Stars have a good attitude, the sport grows. 

One guy had some kind of attitude that still gets to me.

Robin Richards walked into the practice room for his senior season.  He was different than the year before, had some sort of make-over.  The jeans were gone, t-shirt too, replaced by wide striped bell bottoms, stirrup boots, and puffy sleeved shirts halfway unbuttoned.  It was 1971, years before disco, but Robin jumped the gun. 

It wasn’t the first time.

He jumped the gun the year before, too.  As a junior in high school he won the Oregon Triple Crown and a Greco Roman silver medal at the Junior Worlds in Japan.  Now this, a fashion plate.  He looked thirty, a long jaw, a five o’clock shadow, lanky receding hair.  He looked older, European.  International travel matured him, a gentleman in the places he wrestled.  New Zealand and South Africa probably still talk about him.  He was like that.

He could have pummeled the room in ’71, a guy who could take everyone at any weight.  This was before learning about Robin Reed beating everyone way back in the day, or Dan Gable probably winning three gold medals in the same Olympics if he wrestled the weight classes on either side of him.  Maybe four golds.

More than his record or style, Robin Richards brought a blank stone face to wrestling practice and matches.  No expression.  Was he nervous?  Tired?  Was he anxious?  He practiced controlling his breathing so you couldn’t tell.  He never huffed and puffed through practice or runs, dispatching his opponents with an odd nonchalance. 

The rest of the team tried doing the same, but they were nothing like the original.   

The odd thing about this stone faced Robin?  He wasn’t mean-faced, just no sign of emotion, opinion, nothing.  He was a good guy.  He helped the new kids.  He made them feel like wrestling him made them better faster, and it did.  He probably believed it too, but you couldn’t tell. 

From the other side, wrestling him felt like Dead Man Walking.  The guy beat everyone in the world except some Russian in a disputed match.  He was the best influence in the room, but it was hard not seeing him like a hand grenade with the spoon flipped. 

His was a thick-boned body, legs big enough for someone twice his size.  On another person those legs would plod; on Robin Richards, speed skater legs meant strong and quick.  Not to mention flexible.  Someone so stumpy shouldn’t bend so far.

You’ve seen guys who can’t miss, athletes destined for the top.  Maybe they all have similar qualities shared by successful stars in other sports.  If the best basketball player is Michael Jordan and the best football player Jim Brown; if the best baseball player is Alex Rodriquez and best soccer player Pele, then Robin Richards was all of those and more in high school.  He had all the tools. 

He also had a blood clot in his arm that put him on blood thinners for life and took him out of wrestling his third year of college.  Where does such a guy go then?  What does he do?  Repeat after me: find a girl, settle down, start a family and be happy.  What else?  Robin teaches middle school PE.  He transmits wrestling into the minds of youngsters who look at this physical specimen without saying a word. 

He answers the unasked question of “How can I be like Robin” with lesson plans and action.  They run, he runs.  They jump, he jumps.  And he smiles, finally unfrozen.  Middle schoolers huff and puff through their timed mile and see Robin Richards’ smiling face huffing and puffing next to them.

It’s a face they’ll remember the rest of their lives.  You learn things when you pay attention; touching a hot stove hurts; jumping off a roof is too far to fall; doing hard things right doesn’t get any easier.  You’ll remember wrestling the rest of your lives.  The hard things about it don’t get easier, but eventually you’ll get it.

“Wrestling is hard.  That’s all.  Don’t make it any more than that.  Harder than this or harder than that, I don’t know, but every time something impossible comes up I say it: wrestling is hard, this is impossible, that’s all, so let’s figure it out.  It’s a comfort.” 

What does ‘getting IT’ mean if not using diverse experiences to solve complex problems?   

Isn’t that the definition of a wrestling match? 

If that’s what ‘GETTING IT’ means, then thank wrestling. 

Thank your Robin.


2 thoughts on “Thank Your Robin

  1. David says:

    As good of a wrestler that Robin was he was an even better person and teacher. RIP

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Robin was a married guy with kids. He looked like he just stepped out of a Sergeant Rock comic book. I think of some of the teachers I had and they don’t really match up with him. Like all married guys I credit his wife for everything. Even though I credit everyone’s wife for everything, which is fair, Mary Richards is quite a lady who’s known some real characters. I’m betting her and Robin’s kids will be some real characters too.

      Thanks coming in,

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