On the Mat This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Doubt. I pulled on my blue singlet and stepped into the ring. Doubt filled my thoughts and clouded my vision as my body moved to the center circle. The referee shook his head in dismay as his eyes fell on me. He knew I would not win. I grabbed my red tag and wrapped it around my ankle, then waited for my adversary.

Doubt. A slightly larger boy stepped onto the mat and jogged toward me. He wrapped his green tag around his ankle and then got into the lowest stance I had ever seen. How was I to prevail against this boy with arms the size of my legs? I got down into my lowest stance and looked over at my coach. He smiled and lifted two enormous thumbs to the sky. I could tell his actions were only to cover his true feelings about the match.

Doubt. It filled the air until I was suffocating. The crowd was a blur but I could feel their eyes bearing into the center of the mat. I looked at the light above and begged for it to magically turn off. I didn’t want anyone to see me beaten.

At the ref’s prompting, I shook my opponent’s hand and then prepared to launch at him. As soon as I heard the whistle, my body shot forward. I remembered everything I had learned in practice.

“There are two things you have to know to win,” my coach had always told me. “The first is when to shoot and the second is to shoot with all you’ve got.”

I took his words to heart as I shot the first time. I could feel my opponent’s shock as his back hit the mat and for a moment I forgot the doubt, forgot the eyes of the audience. I heard and saw nothing but him and the mat.

Then it all rushed back at me. I could see the referee struggling to get into a better position. I could see the audience holding its breath. I could see my coach crossing his fingers. I could see my teammates watching with avid concentration.

I went back to my training. The first day I had stepped into the wrestling room I was the only girl. The leers and comments from the boys were endless, and though they slammed me on the mat day after day, I did not give up. When other boys quit because it was too hard, I kept going.

“Lift his head up!” my coach had yelled at least a thousand times. My muscles responded slowly. The boy was fighting a hard battle. I was having trouble holding him there but I would never let him know. I went back into my memories again.

“When you are in a match, you are going to be tired beyond any tired you have ever experienced. I won’t even be able to replicate it here, in this room. Your opponent will be tired, too. The truth is, this sport is as much mental as it is physical. Once you quit mentally, you will quit physically. I want you to go out there and never show a bit of fatigue on your face. When the ref blows his whistle and orders you to the center, I want you to jog there. When the other boy realizes he doesn’t have a chance against you, he will give up. Then, the match will be yours.”

My face was dead calm and all the doubt had washed out of my eyes. My muscles tightened and held him on his back. I could see my teammates in a hushed silence, waiting, hoping. Then, the whistle sounded and the referee’s hand slapped the mat.

“Pinned!”

My teammates stood and cheered and the crowd roared like never before. After I shook hands with my adversary, I ran over to my team. My coach pounded me on the back and said, “Good one.” My team lifted me off my feet and threw me in the air. I had proven my worth and banished the doubt.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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