April 19, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Two kids wrestled in a Greco-Roman tournament, one yesterday, the other seven years ago. Neither was happy with how thing turned out, but they should be.
Both come from sports families. The younger one has a wrestling family from Iowa with an Iowa state champion uncle and a brother who finished third in Oregon. The older one comes from a weightlifting family with age-group world record awards in the trophy case.
The two have more in common than athletics, more than wrestling.
Seven years ago I watched a kid forfeit his district championship match due to injury. He caught the flu before the state tournament where he competed at half-strength.
As a friend of the family I heard him talk about the disappointment. He questioned whether wrestling was even worth the effort and time if it ends the way it did for him. This was a kid with more to give to the sport, a kid who would move on with unanswered questions.
Was he good enough?
As a one time state Greco-Roman champ, and Greco all-American in high school, I proposed the true test for him: The state Greco-Roman tournament. I explained my plan of attack. Go in and chop your opponent’s arms down every time he reaches, then wrap him up when he gets too close and take him for a ride.
He liked the plan. We found clinics and practices, watched a big open tournament where the winners qualified for the national team try-outs and the losers left their shoes on the mat. We talked about attitude and what the sport wants from its participants.
It came down to one rule, that if he wants a better memory from wrestling, he needs to wrestle memorably, like a man possessed. He needs to imagine bigger consequences of competition, where a win puts his family in line for a better apartment, and a loss means they are out on the street. Since we’re talking about a suburban bedroom community, I had to use a little extra color to paint this picture.
The kid went out and won a few, lost a few. Toward the end, with his last match coming up, I reminded him to let the referee do his job. The ref will warn him if he’s too rough. And he was. He got the warning, then the point, for being to physical. He lost on points, but came off the mat with an expression of satisfaction you don’t see in winners or losers.
What was that expression all about?
Flash forward to yesterday in the same gym. The freshman lost two matches and came off the mats bent out of shape. He said he never wanted to wrestle Greco-Roman again. But he had a look. What he meant was he would never lose to another Greco guy. He said he didn’t know what he was doing out there. What he meant was he would figure Greco out and come back for his redemption matches.
How do I know this? The kid from seven years ago wrapped up his wrestling career, graduated from high school and headed out for college, but not just any college. He got a full academic scholarship to USC. Upon graduation he received a ten thousand dollar parting gift given to Renaissance Scholars, students with very different majors. His was a tricky science degree coupled with Russian.
After USC the Greco kid from seven years ago was admitted to the Columbia University School of Medicine. From tearing it up in the state Greco tournament, to tearing it up at USC, to taking his show from LA to Manhattan, he now talks about being a Special Forces doctor. That’s a full head of steam.
Yesterday’s Greco man plays piano beyond his years, sings in the school choir, and takes wrestling as seriously as a kid with Iowa parents ought to. I saw the same fire burning in each of them. Will the disappointment of a Greco tournament be the spring-board to launch him toward greater achievement?
One way or another, a Greco-Roman tournament guarantees a launch. Now it’s all about the good landing.