February 25, 2011 by David Gillaspie
Reilly And The Iowa Girl Wrestler
Home schooling won’t teach you how to forfeit a wrestling match at the biggest state tournament in the country.
Religious views that hold women in greater esteem than a Hindu does a sacred cow won’t teach it either.
It’s not about touching awkward places, yet this is the view you get when one of the greatest sports writers in history finally steps on the Iowa high school championship mats.
Someone please tell Wrestling Rick Reilly that the sport is all about awkward touching. Guys don’t fall down out there on their own.
It’s an awkward sport. Watching new wrestlers figure it out is like watching birds fighting for the same branch; there’s lots going on but none take the roost.
The first time you witness someone smoothing the awkward out of wrestling you see a poetry of motion and start understanding why it’s such a celebrated sport around the world. Not a pretty, or easy, or daring, or delightful, enlightening, or even an insightful sport, it’s just two peak athletes testing the limits of human endurance so you don’t have to. Just knowing someone’s doing it is enough.
Remember the last long tennis match, or what marathon runners look like at the finish line? They’ve used all the energy they’ve got. Wrestling gets there faster. Full blast always tests the welds.
Did the young Iowa man know what he was in for before he showed up at the state meet? One look at the brackets and he had to see a girl’s name.
Maybe he didn’t know it was that particular girl, but he did know she was that particular wrestler, the one who showed up to beat him, just like everyone else in his weight class.
And that’s what she did.
It was confusing to many off-the-mat spectators, so Wrestling Rick Reilly helps them understand by demonstrating a few common wrestling takedowns. It’s nothing to be afraid of, boy or girl.
He’s a gamer. He’ll take a stand.
Rick warms up and settles into his ready position.
“You’re the crow,” said the 140 pound JV girl who grips his right elbow and steps forward and down to demonstrate a fireman’s carry.
Tonya pulls Rick off balance with the weight she puts on his elbow.
He flops across her shoulders so fast that she accidentally sends her upper-cutting right hand into an awkward area before dumping him hard to his back. No ice packs allowed. It happens in practice and matches.
Rick’s a sports guy, he knows the risks. He can take a bump and a bruise.
“Need a minute, here,” he said.
After a shake down, Rick stands in his ready position, or close to it. Tonya locks her hands on both his elbows with her thumbs way inside and starts turning Rick’s arms outward while they circle.
“What are we showing now?” he asked.
“Head and arm,” Tonya said.
“These are my two arms, and you’re hurting them,” he said. “Is this the way to treat a crow?”
She jerks one arm and head fakes toward Rick’s knee. He jumps back.
“We don’t usually say things like that,” she said.
“The team. This is an elbow tie to a body lock.”
She releases her grip and pummels through Rick’s arms to wrap him up in a jarring hug just to show she can. She does it again, batting her arms through his arms.
“Whoa,” he says.
Tonya drops her right hand to Rick’s elbow and blocks his shoulder with her left. She pushes the shoulder and pulls the elbow and rag-dolls him until he gets annoyed.
“Okay, then,” he said, “let’s go.”
Rick suddenly lunges forward with a ripping left arm underhook. Tonya pulls him toward her while she swings her left hip forward. Her right hand clamps on Rick’s underhook elbow. She swings her left arm in a tight arc, aiming her bicep just under his ear.
For the second time Rick collapses too quickly and Tonya has to hurry her move, her head and arm. If you like thumpers, you’d like the sound of this one.
Rick fell off balance when Tonya pulled him in instead of pushing him away like he expected. He needed a moment to recover, which is all she needed to lock his elbow to his neck and pivot. In one quick chop and drop, Rick went airborn.
If you’ve never hung a picture, imagine a nail head sticking out of a wall about a quarter inch. Now imagine a slotted piece of metal big enough to fit over the nail head at its widest and snug on the nail at the narrow end.
The head and arm works the same territory. Tighten it fast and everything else follows.
Lock the elbow to the neck and turn your hip; shrink the head and the arm into one ‘hearm‘ and cinch it. Rick’s forward motion made him fly high on take-off. The downward pop at the top was sharper because he flew too early. It was like a super powered oblong somersault.
Rick felt what it means to be on the mat. What he felt isn’t what everyone feels, but he shares the experience of the unexpected.
When a girl shows up to wrestle, it’s still a surprise to some, even though they are part of the U.S. Olympic team.
When a girl shows up with an impressive record, you’re in the no-win room. If she beats you, you lose; if you beat her, you feel like a loser. This is where Wrestling Rick Reilly takes his biggest throw.
Champions do what others don’t do. That’s wrestling.
You weigh in, decide you’re better than the rest of the weight-class, then go out and prove it.
It’s not about lifestyle, home school, strong faith, or boys and girls.
It’s wrestling, always been, always will be. Now Wrestling Rick Reilly knows.
He gets this stuff.
The girl could have backed down in the commotion of competition. She’s a girl, everyone would understand. But she’s an Iowa girl wrestler and she didn’t, and that’s the beauty of the moment.
She did what her opponent wouldn’t do and showed championship form.
She got her matches. That’s why she showed up. That’s why Mr. Reilly showed up too.
Did the wrestling bug bite Rick Reilly? Will he use a wrestling metaphor in his future work? It’s a good idea.