Writer vs Wrestler, The Final Match

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May 27, 2010 by David Gillaspie

Every wrestler knows one thing for certain: there’s someone, somewhere, doing more than them.  The greatest champions know this.  It settles somewhere in the back of their mind while they stomp their way across the planet.

Did Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Karelin see Rulon Gardner on his radar?  Why would he?  Going undefeated in thirteen years of international competition might have given him a blind spot. 

Did he study his opponents?  He holds a Ph.D in physical education.  He knows how to study, but he turned the page on Rulon and paid the consequences.

Did Dan Gable see Larry Owens?  Not as well as Larry Owens saw him. 

“All I worried about was what (Owings) was doing to me, instead of what I was doing to him.  When you start worrying about that stuff, you’re going down the wrong path.”

Gable knows the path, and so does everyone who’s crossed it.  His loss in his final college match is the gift he handed to all wrestlers: If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. 

Not everyone overcomes the unexpected, that’s a whole other path to walk, and Gable knows every step of the way.

Wrestlers of all stripes do the work asked of them.  The greats do more because they know that somewhere, someone is doing as much or more than them, and it drives them.

The driver is the key.  All athletes have some drive, but wrestlers seem to forget the brake pedal.  When they take that same drive into what they call the real world, strange things happen.

Ken Kesey knew about drive.  He wrestled in high school and college, the now ruined University of Oregon Duck Wrestling.  He went to Stanford on a Stegner Fellowship, perhaps the Gold Standard of writing programs in the west.  That drive produced great books, maybe the best logging novel ever with Sometimes A Great Notion.

Somehow Kesey turned American culture for back points and changed the world view of millions and millions of people who knew nothing about wrestling and cared even less. 

Did Wallace Stegner put the writing drive in Kesey at Stanford, or was it wrestling?  Considering Stegner did his graduate work at the University of Iowa, you fill in the blank.

Somehow wrestling and writing all link to Iowa, which links to the great writing-wrestler John Irving. 

Joan Smith writes in salon.com: John Irving’s high-school wrestling coach, Ted Seabrooke, told him that “talent is overrated. That you’re not very talented needn’t be the end of it.” Seabrooke also told him: “An underdog is in a position to take a healthy bite.”

She quotes Irving: “If I couldn’t learn to spell, I would keep a list of my most frequently misspelled words — and I kept the list with me; I had it handy even for unannounced quizzes.  Most of all, I rewrote everything; first drafts were like the first time you tried a new takedown — you needed to drill it, over and over again, before you even dreamed of trying it in a match. I began to take my lack of talent seriously.”

This is the guy who wrote a novel called The 158-Pound Marriage; a guy who built a wrestling room at his house; a guy who’s literary heroes, Smith writes, include Charles Dickens, Robertson Davies, Salman Rushdie, George Eliot, Gunter Grass, Kurt Vonnegut and Graham Greene. 

Now you have a summer reading list.

Smith ends with “But most of all, Irving is still angry. He hates critics because he does not believe that they make themselves familiar enough with the work of the writers they review.”

Is the opinion of a writer about critics any different from the wrestling world’s opinion of those who diminish the sport, or the schools that drop the sport for the sake of convenience? 

Send your answers to the comment box.

If Ken Kesey and John Irving are the best definition of Wrestling-Writers, what defines you?  Wrestling-Son?  Wrestling-Brother?  Wrestling-Friend?  Wrestling-Daughter?  Wrestling-Parent? 

As long as it begins with Wrestling you can’t go wrong.

Listen to Dan Gable:

“More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride.  Some have wrestled without great skill – none have wrestled without pride.”

He knows it; you know it.  Ken Kesey knew it; John Irving knows it.  Let it drive your goals.  

There’s someone, somewhere, doing more than you?  I don’t think so.

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