August 9, 2011 by David Gillaspie
What do you say to a four-time state high school wrestling champ?
Start with, “Where’d you go to college?”
Ask how they did in college.
If they say they placed 3rd in the nation twice before ending with a title their senior year at Southern Oregon, you’re talking to someone who knows the drill as well as anyone.
“Are you coaching?”
That’s the next question. A four-time state champ with a national championship hanging from their belt has an impact on high school wrestlers.
No coaching for now. Instead, this wrestler decided on an early start in the business world.
“Do you get the bug to get back on the mat?”
It’s a fair question given the recent moves of Cael Sanderson. Here’s a guy who goes undefeated for life, takes Penn State to the promise land, and he’s still not done.
If Dan Gable says everything is easier after wrestling, when does ‘after wrestling’ start?
Maybe the right answer is “never.”
Leave too soon and you’re a quitter; leave too late and you tarnish your legend.
That’s how it works in boxing.
Take Muhammad Ali for example. Do you prefer the early Ali who whipped up on opponents after he changed his name from Cassius Clay, who carried fighters into later rounds instead of finishing because he wanted to make them say his new name?
“What’s my name?”
Whomp, whomp, whomp.
“What’s my name?”
Is it that Ali, or the one Larry Holmes pounded to a pulp later? Holmes was a great champ, but he still says he didn’t get the respect he deserved because he drilled a legend like he was beating a bag of meat.
Which Sugar Ray Leonard do you like, the one who knocked Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns through the ropes in the fourteenth round, who forced the great Roberto ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran to utter his famous words “No mas” during their fight and walk away in the middle of a round; the Sugar Ray Leonard who came out of retirement to beat the unbeatable ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler?
Or the aging Sugar who got hit in the head so hard that his retinas detached.
Stay too long in most sports and you pay a painful price.
How long should a wrestler stay on the mat? All through high school? College? Post college wrestling?
It depends on whether you’re winning or not, or if you overcome your losses.
Then ask how much is enough. A wall full of national titles? A box full of world titles? A safe with Olympic medals?
Learn your lessons, then learn them again for good measure. Wrestling has a way of telling you you’ve had enough. Chronic injuries, lack of facilities and training opportunities, money, family pressures, the list is as long as the excuses you make to feel right.
The truth is, and you know it’s true, wrestling is the most humbling of sports. You know the end is near before you get there. But your opponent doesn’t know you’re near the end.
In a strange twist, it’s not the end because you take everything that worked in wrestling and apply it to the rest of your life.
The four-time state champ with a national title knows he has the gift. That doesn’t mean he has to wring it out until he can’t compete. He went out on top.
Find your ceiling and start knocking holes. Then let your record stand on it’s own.
(Don’t forget to finish your degree.)