Wrestling turns boys into men
He wasn’t lightning quick. He couldn’t hit a superduck off of the line. His upper body was far bigger than the lower half, but he was my heavyweight, and I loved him just the way he was. His daddy was a wrestler with a haircut like mine, so I was an easy fill in for a couple hours at a time.
“Heavies are boring,” I kept hearing them say. There was no action. They danced a tango until one fell down. In Zach’s case, he fell down a lot. He was timid on the mat, but he looked like a man among boys. Every time he reached, he lost his balance. Seventh grade was tough for a shy kid larger than life. He was not aggressive. His passivity showed in his stance. He stuck it out though, getting his hand raised only a few times.
That year didn’t define him. That year he took his lumps. He gave me his singlet after his last match, and I told him to come back. The next year would be different. I promised.
I didn’t see him over the summer, but his dad kept him busy. He started out slow, but began throwing up weight. Benches were wet from the sweat off his back. His grip was moistened from the sweat of his brow. He didn’t just look like a man among boys, he became one.
We talked about toughness, aggressiveness, pushing and pulling. The smile never left his face, through pushups and crunches and wheelbarrow races. He kept up with the lightest, outwitted the brightest, and overcame each obstacle thrown in his way. That’s when I noticed the first hair on his chin, too small to matter to the refs at weigh-ins. The change in his outlook grew each day at practice, falling on top of his teammates getting two points.
He began pushing back. When he started the movement, there was no stopping Zach. His face had changed shape, remembering the anguish of a barely competitive kid. His dad told him to be the first to control the action. He did. His eyes were on fire, the first time we rolled. He made me step backwards, out of control. He pushed and pulled and wanted to win. It was the first time I’d seen it, he pushed me again. I secured two points, but the lessons were learned. He was a new animal, one that couldn’t be tamed. He had tasted the wild, and like a pet raccoon, had to be set free.
The first time we wrestled, the change was noted. He took care of business in short order. He won matches he would have lost in the year past. His chest bounced metal circles for the first time when he ran to the bus out of the cold. The medals came often, shimmering gold.
It would be great to say I had something to do with it, but it wasn’t the case. He changed from timid to having a strong base. Three wins to thirty-six. A boy to a man. Follower to leader. Last place to state qualifier. All it took was a change of attitude.
Good Luck this season Big Murph!
By Gary Kinzer