September 23, 2011 by David Gillaspie
HOW CAEL SANDERSON CARVED IT UP
The benefits of most sports continue beyond the last competition.
Swimmers, runners, and bicyclists all take their sport with them into the sunset.
The smooth butterfly stroke you see in the pool from a fifty year old woman wasn’t learned in adult swim class.
The quiet stride of a forty year old on a wooded trail seems more mountain lion than man.
The biker who stands on their pedals and shifts gears during an uphill sprint without missing a rotation and landing wishbone first on the cross bar learned it the hard way.
What do wrestlers take into their sunset? Let’s check other sports first.
What do you do at halftime of a college game on TV? Go out and throw the football. If you’re feeling it, start a game of two hand touch.
This is where dads and uncles and their friends get torn up. They take their sport into the sunset after hanging up the jock, but they don’t take good sense along with it.
Forgotten injuries make a comeback. A knee gets bent, a hammy rips, a shoulder pops, just like old times.
The rest of the game on television comes with icebags and the feelings of poor judgement enhanced by any ladies in the house who say things like, “What were you thinking?”
Men, young and old, hit the courts well past their expiration date. Guys who ought to know better strap an appliance sized brace on their carved up knees, tighten ankle supports around their feet, and slip orthotics into their Jordan-designed shoes.
Their creaky game comes right out of the fifties: dribbling while they look at the ball, one-step cuts, set shots. No spins, behind the back dribbles, or jab steps for these guys. And no full court. Depending on age, they take the ball to the half-court line, top of the key, or the foul line during transitions.
Former players line up for competitive fast pitch softball like the ladies play in school, beer league slow pitch just to hang out with their pals, or adult hardball where anyone who hasn’t been beaned gets another chance to stand in the batter’s box.
Hardball players know the risks and sharpen their cleats. They’ll run out a drag bunt and turn for second on the over-throw to first. They’ll slide once, then stand down for a pinch runner when they look down and notice their foot is twisted backward.
What do wrestlers take into the sunset?
Usain Bolt burning down the track after seven years out? Doubtful.
We’ve already seen Lance Armstrong on his farewell Tour without the yellow jersey.
Great athletes are great, then they’re not. They have a shelf life like the last hot dog in a 7-11 store; it looks the same, but you’ll never buy it.
All Cael Sanderson did was change the picture.
Jerry Rice, who some call the greatest football player ever, showed what happens at the end of a storied career. He didn’t take seven years off and comeback, he just eroded like the rest of his generation of greats until he was average. He traveled from team to team at the end, getting cut and released, then waited for the Hall of Fame to call.
Michael Jordan flew from #23 with Da Bulls, to #45 with the Wizards. The magic didn’t follow him to D.C.
What happens if Albert Pujols takes a few years away from baseball? He might be the greatest player in the game today, but is he Willie Mays? Is he Ted Williams? Could he take time off to serve his country and come back? He’s been a U.S. citizen since 2007, but he probably won’t take the Pat Tillman branch in the road to Army Ranger School.
Then there’s Cael.
He takes seven years away from his last match to lift wrestling to greater heights, as if an undefeated four year college career and Olympic Gold weren’t high enough. He takes Iowa State near the top, then Penn State all the way, before he jumps back on the mat.
Did he spend seven years in Tibet searching his soul for true meaning? Only if Ames, Iowa and State College, Pa. have become centers of universal harmony.
Did he spend seven years hoping and praying for world peace? If he did, it was on the schedule with the rest of his duties.
Instead, Cael spent seven years perfecting a message that traveled to the heart of sports.
“Yes, you can.”
You can be better than you were yesterday.
You can dream the dream and make it happen.
You can take control of your life and be an example others learn from.
Then Cael Sanderson, after walking the walk, and talking the talk, backs it up with proof. This isn’t a fat man reaching for one more go-round to reinforce faded glory. He didn’t just show up and hope for the best.
Instead, he cut weight and trained. He dropped to a lower weight so one of his guys from Iowa State had a shot of making the World Team with him. Maybe Jake Varner didn’t need the room, but was glad to have it.
Cael Sanderson takes fifth in the world and says he feels like finding a hole and crawling in. Is this similar to Dan Gable losing his last college match, then taking Olympic Gold without giving up a point before becoming the greatest coach in NCAA history?
While the future plays out, why not create a new sports award, the Sanderson Trophy. To qualify, all you need to do is leave your sport, any sport, at the top of your game, coach a team to a national or world title, then come back and win another national or world championship as a competitor.
This year’s Sanderson Trophy goes to…Cael Sanderson.
What would it look like?