My Education: When I Joined the Wrestling Team

I was never the most athletic type in school. Athletics are a very social activity that require a certain degree of self-confidence or at least comfort around other people. My lack of self-confidence and little comfort around other people put me at least two steps behind. The idea of catching up to everyone by competing was just not in my bones.

I tried wrestling for a few months. For practices we ran – a lot. We ran up and down three stories of stairs and down a long hallway in this hellish loop 10 times. After the assistant coach shepherded us in a single-file line back to the practice room, we would then do some awful drill like carrying a teammate on our shoulders across the mat a few times. Then we would dive straight into these round-robins where we would do a 2-minute period of wrestling until everyone got to wrestle each other. Many of us puked at the end of this it was so rough. Faces red from our hands and knuckles dragging across our chins, and our knees messed up, we would stumble out of the room for water only to come back in to do suicide sprints across the mat.

My first match was not that good. I tried scrapping with a kid smaller than me, but his technique was far superior and he kicked my ass. That was a little humiliating. I remember hitting the wall with my fist I was so mad at myself. The assistant coach gave me a come to Jesus speech about controlling myself. On the inside I was telling myself how much I sucked and hurt the team just by being there. It was then I decided to quit the team.

I give credit to the coaches. I didn’t see it at the time, but they were supporting and challenging me. It was as if they knew the challenge was exactly what my fragile soul needed. My self-talk was way louder and I quit the next day. That year, the team went 10-0 and were regional champions. One of my former teammates said to me later that year, “Man, you should have stayed with us.” The only way I hurt the team was by not being there. Even then people had a stronger opinion of myself than I did.

A year later I was in a weight-lifting class with a bunch of the other athletes. I still had this idea that I needed to make friends with the athletes to “fit in.” The truth is that at that point not only was I not an athlete – I was also a quitter. I thought I was their friends, but I really wasn’t. One day I walked into class and the teacher, also the varsity football coach, looked at my acne-covered face and said, “Boy are you feeling ok? You look sick or something.” This was the guy who also, on the first day of class, said, “This ain’t gonna be no grab-ass class.” I still have no clue what that means. Anyway, this was another coach who cared for his students, even if in a hard-ass kind of way.

Even when I thought I was hurting others, had no self-confidence, no will to compete, and told myself how worthless I was – the confidence of others in me came from the most unlikely of sources. They saw me as I never did.

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