The Biggest Heart

December 2, 2008
Standing in the corner of the gymnasium, I feel my pulse quickening as the time draws near. I can see faces all around me; most of which, I do not know. Some are laughing, some crying, and some are lost in a trance-like emotional coma and have no expression at all. Most of these people I have never seen before, and it probably wouldn’t affect my life if I never saw them again. They are simply spectators come to enjoy a sporting event, while others have come to support their family or friends.

However, none of these reasons are why I came today. Nor could I tell you how others might have described my expression at this particular point in time, because at this time, nothing else mattered. “Takedowns: double leg, single leg, ankle pick, slide-by...” I was focused; ready to fight. Moments like these are what I had trained for.

The setting sun was forcing its way into the hot, sweaty gym through a high window that peered down onto the busy floor below. I was starting to get sick; I needed to get some fresh air. I walked through the back doors. They were wide open, just as I had guessed. It was the event manager’s weak attempt at solving the building’s poor ventilation problem. My stomach wretched and I released the strain in my stomach all over the dead, snow-covered flower garden which soon took on a blood-red pigment. Once finished, I wiped my face with my hands, and then cleaned my now filthy hands with snow.

My eyes searched the deserted street that the gym door had led to. The road was poorly paved and with the state of the dwellings, one would question if a small tornado had come through the night before. These fine estates all had matching, large, dead willow trees that accented the unpleasant aroma of the neighborhood. The sidewalks were cracked, but had been shoveled dry, so I found a cozy spot on the concrete suitable to sit for awhile. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in this secluded location, away from the noise and distractions. “…bottom moves: stand-up, switch, sit-out, hook-and-roll…”

After a short time I looked up and, as if on cue, she appeared at the doorway, Lisa. I could barely see her now that the sun had set, but even so, her beauty was undeniable. She shivered a little upon feeling the winter night’s chill, then called out, “Mark?” in an inquisitive tone. I answered with a silent waving gesture, which she responded to by meeting me on the sidewalk.

“What are you doing out here Mark? It’s so cold. You are going to get sick.”

I always found it funny how protective she could be. In fact, at some times it seemed like I had a second mother. But even though I didn’t like feeling of being babied, she made it worth while.

“I was just catching some fresh air, that’s all,” I said.

“Well you were starting to worry me, it really is cold, and you’ve been out here for awhile. C’mon, let’s go inside.”

I figured I refocused myself enough to carry on so I followed without another word. She led me back into the noisy, cramped gym. I stopped her mid-stride and directed her to the team section where I was supposed to be sitting. My coach shot me a stern look (he thinks girlfriends are a distraction and have no place at such events as these). Nevertheless, we took our seats and began watching the athletes on the floor.

I have to admit though, as much as I enjoyed having a girlfriend as supportive as Lisa, our coach was, to certain degree, right about them being distracting. Lisa was always trying to snuggle and hold hands which don’t get me wrong, I enjoy snuggling up close with girls as much as the next guy, but it is hard to focus on my game when that’s going on. “… let’s see; break-downs: spiral ride, chop and pop, and… whoa… she has such nice…” It really isn’t her fault, but you get where I’m coming from.

But really she wasn’t my problem. My problem was what she was keeping me from accomplishing. I had a big match coming up; a huge match really. When put in perspective, it was actually the biggest match of my entire career, and since I am a senior, it could actually be my last match, ever. I am at the Iowa State Wrestling Finals, and I have already won two matches so I am qualified for placing no matter what else happens. If I win, I move on to the championship bout, and if I lose, I will move to the consolation round.

Unfortunately though, that hardly begins to sum up the situation. The kid I was bracketed to wrestle next was an infamous two-time state champion who was known to pull dirty stunts like eye gouging, punching- the basic illegal stuff. He was a two-time state champ simply because he had got disqualified from last year’s finals match when he got caught in one of his eye-gouging acts, which only worsened my position since he would be hungry for that state title and willing to go to any extreme to get it.

The moments leading up to my next match were beginning to get the best of me. My legs began a rhythmic bouncing up and down and it was beginning to irritate Lisa. But she knew I was nervous and so she masked her irritation with a legitimate concern. God she is good to me; too good at times. I remember several times in my freshmen and sophomore years when I first started wrestling that I would get so caught up in the emotional after-affects of losing. She would always comfort me and try to help, but often times I would be so mad and start yelling and cursing. Even though I never yelled at her, I’m surprised she puts up with me.

Things were starting to pick up now. The announcer’s voice boomed across the gym, “Alright we’re gonna be calling out the 130, 135, and 140 weight classes.130 pound weight class we need…” his voiced droned on in a fake-enthusiastic, I’m-not-getting-paid-to-do-this voice, but I didn’t care to listen since I wrestle 145.

Finally the anxiety became unbearable and I pardoned myself from Lisa to go warm-up. I walked downstairs past the annoying security that nearly took me out when they didn’t see my credential. It had got tucked under my shirt after my last match and they were always so finicky about those dumb creds. Once again though, I was letting myself get distracted from my focus, wrestling. I found a quiet place on the ground level where the mats were laid out. I did some jogging in place to get warmed up while I watched some matches. “… pinning moves: arm bars, cradles, tilts, half-nelson.”

A few minutes later the same boring announcer called out weights”…at 145 Steve Bolster and Marcus Webber…”

I never could convince my coach to write Mark on the entry forms instead of Marcus. He knew I hated being called by my full name but insisted that since that was what was written on my birth certificate and it was what would be written on my headstone some day, that we might as well write it on everything else.

When I heard my name called, I headed to the marshalling area. Getting to see your opponent before a match is always a psychological war. They give you weird looks and you always strike back with aggressive looks of your own. I started staring down this Steve kid as soon as I saw him. The bout marshal assigned us a runner and told us we would be on mat nine, which is where the runner took us.

When we arrived at mat nine, I heard the referee blow his whistle and slap the mat. Some lucky freshmen that probably shouldn’t have made it to this tournament had just finished his wrestling season. That meant I was up though. The nerves hit my stomach like a freight train. I suddenly felt like throwing up again, but I had to suck it up this time.

I suited up and walked out onto the mat after a brief pep talk from my coach. We shook hands and the match began. He shot a double leg right off the whistle but I sprawled hard and forced his head into the mat. I began my offense now by trying to force a front-quarter nelson, but he wouldn’t go and so I threw him with a shuck. This was a strong start; I had my two points, now I had to work towards a pin. We fought and struggled and I broke him down a few tines and tried to work moves but he rebuilt his base and no other points were scored that period.

In the second period I won the toss and deferred to him. He chose bottom and right away I noticed him hanging his head and took advantage by forcing it under him and pinning him in a three-quarter nelson. Once the whistle sounded I released him and he began furiously pounding the mat and cursing until the referee grabbed him and forced him to his feet where we shook hands again and mine was lifted up. A glorious relief came over me and I walked my way back to Lisa to await my finals match.

But the finals match wouldn’t come until the next day and so I got a good night of rest. The next day I came back to take on an even more important match. The same thousands of people crammed inside the gymnasium, but today was the finals day, so the mood was lifted slightly. Today was the day when state titles were won.

The all too familiar voice of the announcer was sounding once again to announce the names of all the contestants that were still competing. Then shortly after finishing he got things rolling by bringing out the 98 pounders and I began falling back into the nervous stages I encountered the day before. However, today they were short-lived since there were so few athletes left.

After only an hour and a half, my name the one called and I returned to the marshalling area to meet my match. He was shorter than I and leaner too. Everyone I had ever talked to knew this kid and had an inspiring story to tell about him as well. They knew his background, his extreme diets and rigorous training. I liked the thought of being unheard of though. It gave me the element of surprise, because the way I saw things, no one would expect much of me; no one had heard much of me. Everyone expected, knew, he would win.

What they didn’t know, was that I trained as well. I had been running every day, and I was doing aerobics outside of practice regularly. Dieting was a diet so much as a lifestyle any more. Pop was not in the equation at all; strictly water, juice, Emergen-C, and an occasional Gatorade. Fruits were always welcome- in portions- candy was never allowed. So as you can see, I had my stuff together as well. My all-time favorite athlete and inspiration is Dan Gable, and he once said, “Gold medals really aren’t made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”

With that in mind I followed our runner to mat three. It was open, which is really not what I was hoping for. Since the mat was open, I didn’t get any time to jump around and get jacked up. On top of that, I really didn’t feel mentally prepared to be wrestling a state championship match. But considering I didn’t have much of a choice, I slipped off my shirt and drew both singlet straps up to a comfortable height on my shoulders. Then I pulled both of my knee-pads up to the bottom of my singlet and fastened my headgear snug but not too tight.

I stepped onto the mat and glanced up and around me and was nearly blinded by the stadium lights. I saw thousands of people all dialed in on the extremely close, hard-nosed matches being fought. My coach was hardly audible over the deafening roar of the crowd as a huge upset had just occurred on the mat nearest me.

I shook hands with my opponent and then reacted to the whistle blown by our tall, slender referee. We circled, stunted, and fought hands to try to gain an advantage on the other. He had a peculiar and low stance that was beginning to irritate me. I took a shot, a single leg, but he reacted by throwing a whizzer. The match broke into a scramble and I ended up losing it. I was now down two points from his takedown. I tried and fought on bottom, but by the end f the first period, I was down five and had taken one medical timeout for a bloody nose.

Second period- I lost the toss, but he deferred as expected. I chose bottom; again, typical call for a wrestler who is behind in points. Off the whistle I performed the best switch of my wrestling life. He landed flat on his face and I got two for reversal. Unfortunately he did a hook and roll about 30 seconds later and regained his prominent lead. By the end of the second period, I was still down 7-2.

Starting off the third period he chose bottom. I rode hard and strong, breaking him down over and over and staying in control until it happened. I had my right leg hooked inside his left leg and he stood up with his right leg. The opportunity was perfect; he was applying hard back pressure. My right arm came over the right side of his head and my left arm came under his left arm and I locked my arms, elbow to elbow, and threw him back hard. The perfect Cutbank. On his back he fought and fought until at last the comforting sound of the whistle blew for the last time.

It was the most rewarding moment of my life. I was a state champion, and it felt great. After taking second place three years in a row, I felt I deserved to win, and I did. My family, friends, team, and Lisa all cheered louder than I thought any of them could. At this moment nothing could have made me happier; the moment my hand was raised.

“The first period is won by the best technician. The second period is won by the kid in the best shape. The third period is won by the kid with the biggest heart.”

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