“How much do you weigh?”
“Can you get above 140? I want you to wrestle 152.”
What was I going to say? Uh, no thanks Coach, that guy’s gonna be a lot bigger than me. So, you know, that might make it kinda hard. My own inability to say no, added to the cult of masculinity that is wrestling, led to me agreeing without even having to think about it.
See, you have to be within two weight classes in order to wrestle. At 138, I was in the 140 class. Next came 145, then 152. So, there I was, with some weight to gain, a rare situation for a wrestler. Weigh-ins were a couple hours away. While my teammates went through the ritual checking of weight and panicked shedding of final ounces, I went upstairs and found the sandwich I was saving for after the meet. It was one of those giant sub-style sandwiches you can find in the deli section of a good grocery store. It was big, and it was delicious. I washed it down with a 32oz Gatorade, then I filled the bottle with water and drank half of it again. Then, I just had to wait for weigh-ins.
Wrestlers are not known for their intelligence. I did my share to contribute to that notion. Three pounds of Gatorade and water quickly led to a serious need to pee. Yet, I dared not — I needed that weight. An uncomfortable hour or so passed, until I was in line next to the other 152s, waiting my turn to step on the scale. As always, I tried to identify my most likely opponent, but I was a bit distracted by my swollen bladder. Finally, I stepped up on the scale, and when it read 141.2, I threw up a mock flex, boxer-style, then ran for a urinal.
The meet got underway, and our team was doing quite well. Win followed win, even though the opponent was a much larger school, with a traditionally much better team. As my match approached, I got up and begin warming up. Again, I looked across to try to identify my opponent. There were several wrestlers warming up on the other side, and I wasn’t used to this weight class. I still wasn’t sure which it would be. But I knew he’d be bigger than me.
Finally, it was my turn. As I approached the table to check in and get my ankle band. I got my first look at the… creature… I was going to be wrestling. I didn’t know high school kids could look like that. He was about six inches shorter than me, and outweighed me by around 15 pounds, yet he looked to have less fat on him than I did. It was a bit intimidating, but there was nothing to do but trot out there and give it a go. I shook his hand, and he did his best to crush mine, but that’s nothing new. It wasn’t until the ref blew the whistle and we tied up for the first time that I fully appreciated the trouble I was in. I felt like the proverbial rag doll. This monster masquerading as a kid was immensely strong. In no time, he had flung me to the ground. No, really — there was no identifiable wrestling move involved. Just a serious mismatch in terms of strength.
For the next 90 seconds, the brute pummeled me within an inch of my life. Okay, not really, but when that whistle finally sounded, I stood feeling thoroughly roughed up. The second period was a near mirror image of the first. Being a wrestler, it took me a bit to figure it out, but slowly, as I was pummeled back and forth across the mat, it occurred to me that he had not pinned me yet. And this could only be because he did not know how. While I was putting up a fight, to the best of my ability, if he applied the proper technique, the mismatch in strength would have meant he could have turned me to my back and pinned me with relative ease. Yet he had not done so.
The whistle blew again. I stood again, and it seemed I had never felt so beaten. Yet the third period beckoned, and he hadn't beaten me yet. And I was not of a mind to go easily. Perhaps he was beginning to tire, or perhaps I was just growing increasingly frantic. I managed to score a reversal, putting me in the controlling position for the first time in the match. I set about trying desperately to turn him to his back. I didn’t think I could pin him, but if I could expose his back, I could score points. I had no idea what the score was, but based on the beating I had taken, I was certain I was far behind. He remained incredibly strong, but his lack of experience and knowledge was beginning to tell. But I was getting tire too, more tired than I had ever felt in a wrestling match. Resisting his strength for the first two periods had drained me.
To my intense displeasure, he was able to score a reversal of his own. And there I was, in the same position from which I failed to escape in the first two periods. If I’d had any sense, I would have just given up. There wasn’t much time left and the outcome was obvious. Wrestlers never have been known for their common sense, though. I fought as I had never fought before, and perhaps it was his fatigue, or perhaps it was just my determination, I don’t know, but I reversed him again, and found myself with a chance to score points again. I went for a simple tilt, one of the simplest and most effective moves to expose an opponents back and score a “near fall.” It was also developing into something of a specialty of mine. My arms and hands were burning from holding my grip. I was vaguely aware of the deafening noise of the crowd and my teammates trying encouraging me. I managed to tilt him and hold him just long enough to score a near fall. But I knew that couldn’t be enough. I was certain I would have to turn him again. I felt my grip weakening, but I tilted him again, and again, and again. Each time, he managed to regain his base before the requisite two count. Finally, I managed to hold him long enough, and not long after that, the whistle sounded.
I looked up at the scoreboard, and saw that it was not enough — I had lost. It wasn’t until I shook my opponents hand, and to my great surprise felt the ref lift my hand, not his, that I realized that, in fact, I had won. If I’d had a bit more sense, I would have been able to keep track — in all of the pummeling I endured in the first two periods, he never turned me, and thus only earned points for the initial takedown. I didn’t even need that final tilt, but perhaps thinking I did leant me the desperation I needed to hold him. As I walked off the mat, I was too tired to even be happy. My arms felt like rubber. I struggled to lift my hands high enough to undo my headgear. I nearly fell over when I leaned on the water fountain to get a drink. It didn’t really sink in until I was back on the bench, and my teammates were congratulating me. As I began cheering on my teammate in the next match, that complicated feeling of victory began to wash over me. There was exhaustion, but beneath that, a burgeoning elation, a solid feeling of accomplishment, and over it all, a warm sense of pride and happiness, surrounded by my teammates, celebrating our victories. It felt damn good.