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It seems that I have been wrestling all my life. I had never been very good. My poor father spent thousands of dollars sending me to the best instructors in the country. He wasted countless hours in hot, crowded gymnasiums, watching and hoping that someday I would turn the corner and become something more than just decent. He watched as individuals I trained with became champions, while I treaded the waters of mediocrity.
That season, things were different. I finally began to win matches against good competition. I had some good out-state-showings in various places, and in-state I won every tournament I entered, carrying an undefeated record into the region tournament, which I also won without much difficulty.
The two weeks between the region and state tournaments were a nerve-wracking time. I practiced all thirteen days, keeping in mind the entire time my goals of a state title. Due to nervousness, I did not sleep much. The rankings that came out just before the state tournament had me listed at a disappointing third. I used the rankings as motivation, determined to prove the so-called experts wrong.
The night before state, I went to the high school where the tournament was being held to weigh-in. Walking through the empty gymnasium,- the largest high school gym in the state- gave my stomach butterflies. It felt like the scene from the movie Rocky when the title character goes to the empty arena to prepare for the fight that would soon take place. I sat alone in the gym for nearly an hour, contemplating, imagining, dreaming.
The morning of the tournament, I woke up before dawn. I got dressed, and rode with my family to the tournament. I still remember vividly the music that was being played over the intercom as I warmed up. I knew I had to win four matches to take home the gold, and I was prepared to do so.
I made short work of my first opponent, pinning him in two minutes. I knew my second match would be more of a challenge (my opponent had given me a very close match just a few weeks before). Still I pinned him in three minutes. In the semi-finals, I scored another easy pin. I was in the finals.
My finals opponent was a wrestler who I had defeated at the region tournament. I knew him well, and I figured I knew exactly how to beat him again. I was a clear favorite, but still I felt uneasy.
The finalists all took part in a “parade of champions.” The same Phil Collins song was played over and over as the names of the finalists and third and fourth place finishers were called. The National Anther was played and the first finals matches began. I had a while to wait, because the matches went in weight-class order and I was a middleweight. Each mach before mine seemed to last an eternity. I grew more and more nervous as my match approached. My mind was filled with “what-if’s”. I threw up twice during the match before mine. Finally, my name was called. I stepped out onto the mat.
The opening whistle blew to start the first period. All of a sudden, my nerves vanished. I wrestled mechanically and emotionlessly. I took the lead just seconds into the match. I scored later in the period to go up by three points. The second period went the same way as the first. I scored to take a five point lead. I began to feel my opponent breathe harder, but I was not out of breath. By the end of the second period I was well on my way to victory. I scored again in the third. I led by eight points, when all of a sudden I felt my opponent relax for a split-second. I took advantage of the opportunity, pinning him just before time expired in the match.
Feelings of joy engulfed me. After hugging my coach, I sprinted up the stairs of the gym to see my father, who shared my feelings of immense happiness. Later on was the awards ceremony, in which I received my medal.
My years of hard work had finally paid off in the form of a state championship. It was by far the proudest accomplishment of my life at the time. Since that day, I have learned to never doubt myself, and to believe that I could accomplish anything. The impact that the event had on me will last the rest of my life.