Monday, January 13, 2014

Wrestling is Blind All but Skill & Endurance

Wrestling is blind to all but skill and endurance.  It is one sport where favoritism and prejudice is not found (at least not often).  In baseball, football and basketball so much of what position a player is given or if he gets any playing time depends upon the coaches' opinion.  Too often it is based upon a family's reputation as good athletes.  If there was an older sibling that was good, the younger one is given more of a edge.

In wrestling, each wrestler has to prove that they are the best at their weight class.  Having an athletic family may help by having more experience but the athlete still needs to win the wrestle offs. The results are not subject to interpretation.  The score is the score.

I have always respected wrestlers and wrestling.  My brother wrestled.  My sister wanted to wrestle but girls didn't wrestle in those days.  Honestly, I didn't pay very much attention to the sport.  I was only really interested in watching the boys.  As a high school student, I was too absorbed in my own head to really think about anything else.  Only when my sons started wrestling did I really start to appreciate the sport.

Nate started wrestling in 7th grade.  His best friend, a long time wrestler, encouraged him to wrestle to join the team.  That year everything about the sport was new and unknown.  I realized just how much I didn't pay attention to anything in high school.  I had no idea just how hard the wrestlers train and condition.  Much of their preparation for a match involves building stamina.  Without huge reserves of endurance, winning is not about skill or knowledge.  All the technical skill in the world pales in comparison to the stamina needed to three or more rounds against a tough opponent.

My second son started wrestling when he was in the 8th grade.  Gabe would have started earlier but he had obstacles to overcome.  Late in elementary school he began to have difficulty walking.  The bones in his feet had shifted out of place because we forced him to learn to walk "correctly" and not be a toe-walker.  His 7th grade year was spent having major surgery on each foot and physical therapy to regain strength.  Less than a year after his last surgery, Gabe joined the wrestling team.

This was the year that my true appreciation of wrestling began.  Many people doubted Gabe would be able to wrestle.  The surgeries on his feet were not the only reason for concern.  Gabe is autistic.  He has made tremendous progress academically and socially but he still has quirks and issues.  One of those issues has always been touch.  He does not like casual contact with people.  How could a boy with tactile issues wrestle?

I forgot one of the benefits of autism.  Rules.  Gabe structures his world through rules.  Following rules is extremely important and the main way he maintains control over his autism.  The only caveat is making sure he understands the rules correctly and has not created quirky rules that cause problems.  The rules of wrestling say that wrestlers must touch  each other in order to win.  So, Gabe allows touching...during wrestling.

Two hurdles overcome.  But...could he actually wrestle and win?

Like all new wrestlers, the chances of winning are very low.  Gabe's inexperience and his low muscle tone made his chances very slim.  He did have one advantage, his height.  Even in 8th grade he was well over 6 foot but only weighed about 140 lbs if that.  I'm sure he remembers his weight but I don't.  All I know is that he was usually at least a foot taller than his opponents and once he was spread his arms and legs it was nearly impossible for them to turn him and pin him.

This picture shows his first win.  Yes, it is very blurry.  I could not stand still long enough to get a clear shot.  The win was perfect in every way.  It was during a duals meet.  For those who don't know, during a duals meet two teams wrestle through each weight class usually one one mat.  It is very much a team competition.  Each win, loss or forfeit earns points for the team.  During this match, Gabe and his opponent were fairly evenly matched.  They fought and the crowd cheered.  More important to me and probably to Gabe, his teammates were lined up on the edge of the mat yelling encouragement.

If this had been a tournament with our team wrestling on many different mats often at the same time, the level of excitement and the significance of the event would have lost on most of the kids and the audience.  With only one mat and one match to watch, everyone followed this match.  We live in a small district and most people know Gabe and his struggle with autism.  His team knows about his surgeries and that it was his first year.  They knew how difficult it was for him.  The referee didn't know any of this.  To him it was just another match.  Gabe won without any allowances made for his disability.  He proved to himself and everyone else that he could compete and win.

Friday night I had the great fortune to attend at a large tournament.  There were at least 31 teams there and about 700 matches on 10 different mats.  I didn't have a copy of the brackets or know which teams were there unless I recognized the uniform or logo.  Nate was wrestling at 170 lbs. and worried since there were so many former state qualifiers there.  Four of them were on our team.  I watched match after match. One match caught my attention.  One of the wrestlers had dwarfism.  We noticed him walking the full length of the mats to get to the one where he would wrestle and waited to see his match.  It was at the far end of the arena and sometimes difficult to see.  What I saw amazed me.  Far from being an easy win for his opponent, the wrestler had more upper body strength than I thought possible.  Where Gabe uses his long arms and legs to his advantage, this wrestler used his short limbs.  I'm not sure of the ending since there was so much happening at once but I am fairly positive he lost by decision.  He was not pinned.  Every time his opponent got him in position to pin him, he twisted his body and rolled.

Yesterday I found out that I knew the wrestler.  My husband and son went out to eat after the second day of the tournament.  The wrestler with dwarfism was there with his team.  My husband told me that the team our former town was there.  We both thought it was ironic and wondered if we knew any of the wrestlers.  It had been 11 years since we moved and I doubted we would remember any of the students.  Last night Nate asked if we knew anyone from there that was especially short. He seemed to have a vague memory of someone.

Bingo.  It finally clicked and I remembered a boy that had not been on my mind for well over a decade.  On our little dead end street, there was a boy with dwarfism.  I didn't know his family very well and we moved after only a year.  I remembered him.  He was roughly the same age as my boys which means he was about 3 or 4 years old then.  I can't say as I really knew him but I do remember thinking he didn't let his height interfere with anything.  It definitely didn't interfere with his wrestling. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store