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Blinding lights combine with the coach's ear-splitting scream to scorch my eardrums and make me numb. I stare at my teammate limping off the mat, drained of every ounce of power in his body; he narrowly tied the score for our team. And I am next.
I take off my sweatshirt and raise the straps of my wrestling singlet. I feel individual beads of sweat rolling down my face, back, and chest in zigzag patterns, as if fighting to escape to the floor beneath me.
In one corner of the mat, my entire team stands looking at me, each wearing a valiant crimson suit of armor just like mine. Each is drenched in sweat, some with trickles of blood rolling down their face, and all possessing that same look that seems to say, “It is up to you.” The pack envelops me, placing their hands on my back to transfer any of their remaining strength to me. In unison we scream, “Aztec pride!” The match is about to begin.
I run from the huddle to the ring. I cannot hear anything. I cannot see the desperate look on the faces of the athletes or parents. I only feel the blood pulsing through my veins. My heart slams in my chest as if each pump were a gong signaling the start of a war. I am a gladiator.
My opponent runs out as well. We glare into each other's eyes. We come face to face and the referee makes us shake hands.
Time seems to stop for a instant. Then the ear-shattering screech of the whistle tears through the air and the fight is on. We sprint headlong into each other; our skulls crack together like two bighorns. We pummel each other's heads using our fists like hammers, trying to slam one another to the ground.
Then the referee signals the start of the second period. Once again I charge like a ram. The fist fighting begins again. I feel the bones in my hand soar from his skull.
We break our grasp and slowly circle the mat, never breaking our stare. Seconds feel like hours as I suddenly feel my lungs catch on fire. I am running out of time.
I charge in, and this time I slam down on his head causing a split-second of disorientation. This is my chance. I duck and charge into his hips like a freight train. I lift him into the air, and we crash down onto the mat.
He is on his back. I lock my hands behind his arm and head and tighten every fiber of muscle in my body. My heart pounds and my lungs heave. I feel my hands slipping. The referee waves in the corner of my eye. I cannot quit. I cannot quit.
“PIN!” bellows the ref.
And there he lies, my opponent, defeated. The adrenaline rush subsides, but my heart is still pounding. The vibrations of that drumming spread like waves to my fingertips and toes, making me feel ecstatic. “Well done!” my brain signals. “Relax now.” My grip relaxes, sweat floods my eyes, and I lift my body up into the clamor of the crowd.