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Wrestling and Adversity

January 7, 2015

The weekend after Christmas, both of my boys competed in a wrestling tournament. Like all tournaments, it was a double elimination tournament, so you either lose twice and are out, or you keep winning and place in the top three. They wrestled tough, but in the end both lost two matches and left the mat in tears. Wrestling is the toughest sport that I ever competed in and as a parent it’s the most gut wrenching to watch. In wrestling, two people compete, one wins and one loses, there is nowhere to hide, no team, just you and the competition. I know there are people out there that wonder how on earth I could be so excited and passionate about a sport that at times leaves your child in tears and in pain. Why would I strongly encourage my kids to compete in a sport that is intense and can be brutal? The simple answer is adversity. Unlike any other sport, wrestling teaches you about dealing and overcoming adversity.

For me wrestling was probably not my best sport, in terms of my abilities, but it was my favorite sport. It was the sport that really helped to transform me. The first year I started wrestling was in middle school. At the time, Tolt Middle School had a crazy long streak of league wrestling titles. Everyone wrestled, it was the thing to do. The team numbers were huge. The number one move was the head and arm. For some people it was the only move they knew, but it worked and lead to a high number of wins by pin. I was a different story, wrestling did not come easy. In middle school, I was five-foot two and about 160-165 pounds, a little tubby kid. I worked as hard as I could, but finished the year winning a few matches and losing about the same or more. My eighth grade year, I was pumped about it as now that I was in the eighth grade, I should naturally be much better and start to pick up some victories, like my teammates. However that didn’t happen. I actually had a worse year my second year. I even battled with a strong desire to quit the sport. One day, I just couldn’t handle practice, so I took the bus home, instead of staying after school for practice. When I got home, my Dad was there. I told him that I wasn’t feeling good. Honestly I didn’t really want to tell him the truth, that I wanted to quit and was frustrated by the lack of success. He just told me to get some rest. Despite the fact that he would have been fine if I quit, there was something about looking him in the eye and telling him that I was quitting was not something that I ever wanted to do. After that night, I knew that I was not going to quit, I was not going to surrender, despite the pain and punishment, I was not going to surrender. Even many years later in college after having shoulder surgery from playing baseball, it was easier for me to sit down with my college coaches and tell them that I was done with baseball then it was to have that conversation with my Dad. Lessons on never giving up started when I was in middle school, wanting to quit wrestling because it was too hard. I finished the year out as best I could, with the encouragement from some great mentors and coaches.

The next year in high school, I had a choice: basketball or wrestling. I had played both in middle school. The truth is that I sucked at both sports, but liked wrestling better, so I chose to wrestle. This is where my physical transformation started, I went from the 5’2″ 165 little tubby to finishing my sophomore year 5′ 8″ and weighing in at 143 pounds. Running is what started that process. I would go to school super early in the morning and do a morning run and lifting workout. It was there that I started what is now a lifetime of running. I used to run all over Lake Marcel in the summer, constantly training. I am still running today. It has become my staple workout routine for all of my climbing, hiking and other adventures. I really do not think that I would have gotten into all of the outdoor adventures that I do, if I hadn’t started running in high school due to wrestling. The lesson learned, a lifetime of good fitness. It started with wrestling.

On the mat, those first two years of high school wrestling was extremely difficult. I finished my sophomore season 0 and 16 in varsity matches. Nope I did not win a match the entire year. I wrestled varsity at 148 pounds. I learned perseverance. It was hard, but I marched on as I had already decided that I wasn’t going to quit.

I went into my junior season coming off a defeated season. I had successes in other sports, in football my junior year, I was an all-league lineman, but was coming into the wrestling season with very little success. Our first tournament of the year, I ended up in the finals. It was shocking to me to go from not winning a match, to now being in the finals of a tournament. During my first two years of high school wrestling, I actually banned my parents from coming to any matches. They reluctantly agreed. Before the finals, my coached asked me where my parents where. I lied and made up some lame excuse. Luckily for me, one of my teammates – Erik Backstrom – told our coach the truth. I had banned my folks because I was ashamed of myself. Lesson: not be ashamed and It’s OK to let others help to carry your burden. My coach made me call my parents and tell them I was in the finals. They left our house and drove to watch me wrestle in the finals. I lost in overtime, but they got to come and watch me, which was all they ever wanted. My Dad never missed a match after that.

I went through this period of learning to believe in myself. Learning to believe that I could win and that I was not that tubby little kid anymore. Lesson: to believe in myself. I started goal setting and challenging myself. Lesson: Set big goals and chase them down. I finished my senior year with a record of 20-5 and was a league champion. The amazing part was the growth of my mental toughness and learning to believe in myself, to learn that I was very capable of amazing things.

Wrestling transformed me and even today I still benefit from the positive ways that it changed me. I dealt with tons of adversity during my career and many people would have quit, but I think it harnessed my greatest athletic attributes, my ability to suffer and will to never quit.

The transformation I went through is one of the reasons I want my kids to wrestle. The other one is much more selfish: I want my kids to have exposure to adversity. I want them to learn how to fight through difficult moments, to controls their emotions and believe 100% that they can accomplish anything. I just hit my 3 year mark from being diagnosed with brain cancer. Currently I would say that I feel the best I have in over 4 years. 3 years from surgery and 2 years removed from chemotherapy treatment and finally I am feeling back to my “old” self.

As good I am doing currently, I know that down the road, a battle awaits me. Part of the tumor is still in my head. The odds state that at some point Goliath will return. The cure was complete removal. That didn’t happen. Thus I now monitor and wait. But what I do know is that at some point it will be back and I will have a major fight on my hands. I want my kids to deal with adversity, so that when they day comes, they will be prepared as possible for that battle and the possible outcomes. I don’t want them to look back and say that they had never dealt with adversity before watching their dad battle cancer. I think they were both young enough to not completely understand what was really happening after I had surgery. Nor do I think they truly understand the concept that their Dad has brain cancer, to which there is no cure and that most likely it will return. When that battle happens it will be an epic one, as I don’t give up and I have learned how to suffer, thus Goliath will be in for a struggle. But no matter what the future holds, I want them to be comfortable with tackling adversity head-on and not to be afraid of the hard things that life will throw at them and I believe that learning to deal with adversity through wrestling will someday help them deal with their Dad’s battle with brain cancer. Adversity- that is why I want my kids to wrestle.


Cade Wrestling

2 Comments leave one →
  1. mareth warren permalink
    January 7, 2015 8:49 am

    David, I think this is one of your best blogs, if not the best. You are an exceptional young man and I am so very proud of you. I love how you are still remembering the lessons you drew from your dad and how he is still so much a part of your life. I know he is very proud of you too. I know you have your little foibles and that you still wrestle with a lot. We all do. We all have issues of some sort that make us either give up or grow stronger. Your boys are so very blessed to have you as a dad. they are living a very rich life because of your determination and your walk with the Lord. He is very pleased! A. Mareth

  2. Danny Raphael permalink
    January 7, 2015 2:50 pm

    re: Wrestling and Adversity
    When I was In middle and high school I “didn’t get” why wrestlers wrestled. Now I understand the value beyond the physical exercise. You make a great case for wanting your boys to benefit beyond the physical. My prediction: If Goliath rears his ugly head, he will go down for the count — and quickly. Blessings to you and your family for many more great memories and lessons in 2015.

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