It was my sophomore of high school. I was competing in my first year as a varsity wrestler. Midway through the season, we had a big tournament lined up on the schedule called Captain Archers. This was the most well-known tournament for being the largest and most challenging of the season. What made it unique from all the other tournaments was that if you advanced to the finals, all the lights would turn off in the gymnasium, and only one light remained on over the wrestling mat for all to see. To say that I was nervous to compete at this tournament is an understatement.
To make it to the finals you couldn’t lose one match; To remain in the tournament, you couldn’t lose more than two matches in total. I lost my first match. I don’t remember much about it but do remember brushing it off as being nervous. It was the second match that I will never forget. The kid I wrestled gave me one of my worst losses of the season. He was an upperclassman and ranked the highest in the tournament. I was outmatched he let me know it. He would take me down and let me back up, he did this numerous times, and there was nothing I could do about it. I ended up getting pinned. That knocked me out of the tournament. I had to spend the next two days sitting in the stands watching some of my teammates advance further than me. I played the role of a good teammate and helped them warm up for their matches as they wrestled but wished so bad that it was me in the finals. I hated that I got knocked out so early and pledged to myself that I would win this same tournament the following year. After that loss, I trained harder than I ever had my entire life.
During the off-season, I lifted as much as I possibly could. I packed on tons of muscle and strength along the way. In the summer we traveled to local camps and even nationals in different states to wrestle with the best of the best. I had also purchased an old wrestling mat from my coach. My mom allowed me to keep the mat outside in the yard. During the fall season, we would train in the afternoons and even on Friday nights right before the football game.
I remember this particular Friday night with two of my best friends who also wrestled. The placement of my wrestling mat was an uncommon situation as the mat sat on the grass. It was so small that only two people could fit on it at a time. The third person was responsible for sweeping sand off the mat with a broom that found its way onto the rubber mats from our unwillingness to stop wrestling on the edge of the mat.
Off the mat, we were best friends. On the mat, we hated each other.
After our scrimmage, we all cleaned up before heading to the game. We had scratches and cuts all over us. I remember a few moments during the football game staring at each other thinking, “nobody else knows what we were just doing in the back yard, I bet they think we are nuts.” It gave us this silent sense of pride knowing we were putting in the work and that one day it would pay off.
In the fall I signed up for cross country. I was a terrible runner and still am, but it helped me get and shape and lose weight before wrestling season. I came into wrestling season with a head on my shoulders. The only thing I could think about was Captain Archers. I never backed off once. I told myself that I would win the tournament this year and nothing was going to stop me. Now back at the same tournament, I knew I was going to be facing the same wrestler that embarrassed me the year before. Though we were in opposite brackets, I knew that I was going to face him in the finals. Sure enough, we did.
In the finals, all eyes were on us. Literally. Spotlight over us, with my coaches on the corner, teammates in the stands. This was everything I worked for the last year.
Right before shaking hands, I couldn’t help but flashback to my loss to him the year before. The greatest whipping of my varsity career. I came out in the first period nervous. Trying to set up my shots required me to get close to him, but at the same time, I was cautious as to not give up leverage. As the match went on, I felt he was getting weaker. All the weight training sessions, all those offseason tournaments, those brawls in the back yard darted my mind during the match. Every round I was gaining more confidence. Going into the third period, I had a one point lead over him. On a few occasions, I felt like he was just going through the motions. He would attempt to take me down but with no commitment to trying to finish it. This year he was outmatched, and he knew it. The buzzer went off. I won by 1 point!
The referee hand raised my hand to show the audience that I won. The crowd went wild. It’s was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on top of the podium with a big gold medal around my neck, a rush of emotions and thoughts flooded through my head. As I stared into the crowd getting my picture taken I thought to myself, “losing was the best thing that ever happened to me.”