First of all, let me just say that the Schwallers are a wrestling family. Farmers have a good chance of raising successful wrestlers because every day is weightlifting day on the farm.
Wrestling does wonders for a mother’s prayer life – especially when her son wrestles heavyweight at 210 pounds, and faces someone on the mat who weighs all of 285 pounds.
It often seemed biblical in nature. While I never snuck a slingshot into my purse to use from the stands in case our son needed a little help with all those Goliaths he faced, there were days I thought (with that kind of weight difference and ferocious take-down velocity) I would only need a spatula.
Even though the letters for the heavyweight bracket read, “HWT,” our son wrestled some whose weights could have been measured by “CWT.” Still, we learned through his experience that size doesn’t always matter. He held his own. He was a strong farm kid.
Wrestlers have seen the sign at the sectional meet saying, “The Road to Des Moines Begins Here.” It helps them remember why they are there. Physics class comes to the mat.
Once they make it to the district meet, they’re close enough to a state tournament berth to taste it, but far enough away that it will still be a fight.
Emotions run high. Nervous stomachs ensue. It’s the whole enchilada – all or nothing.
Wrestlers pace the floor – focused, knowing what they have to do. The National Anthem is played, and everyone in the gym becomes one people under one flag if only for a few minutes, before splitting back into school districts.
I’m certain God is very busy hearing prayers at that time. Former wrestlers there remember that exciting and awful rock-in-the-gut feeling.
Once it begins, the gym comes alive. Wrestlers have six minutes at a time to make their dreams happen. Bodies get slammed, arms get twisted, wrestlers sometimes lie injured on the mat and parents’ hearts leap into their throats.
Noses bleed and eyes are blackened. Coaches watch the clock and yell back, “Short time.”
Brackets begin to take shape. Overtime matches are intense, especially in the finals round. Everyone wants to be the best in the district, then take it to Wells Fargo Arena.
Wrestlers in the consolation brackets still have a chance to get to Des Moines. Wrestle-backs are the longest possible road to Des Moines, and winning in that way can be just as sweet.
But losing that way hurts just a little more. Those kids wrestle with the most heart.
When district wrestlers fall short of the mark, they might lay on the mat for a moment, letting (what just happened) soak in, while the crowd for the winner is cheering wildly all around him.
He knows it’s his loss, and his loss alone. And so it is with the sport of wrestling.
Yet, he gets up, shakes the hand of his opponent and leaves the mat, and his state wrestling dream, behind. Some leave for a season, and some for the last time ever if they are seniors.
It’s heart-wrenching to watch. Wrestling fans share in their pain.
Advancing at districts is surreal. It’s been a season – or many years – of work to get there, and a sweaty hug between coaches and wrestlers says what words cannot say-for both.
This year our only state-bound wrestler (a freshman) became ill just before the state tournament and had to forfeit his spot. He was devastated, but the dreams of the district wrestler in third place, who had just missed out on advancing that day, were now resuscitated.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain. And again, so it goes.
Close only counts in horseshoes, and sometimes in wrestling.
John Wayne spoke wise words when he said, “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”
Wrestlers know that. The sport also demands John Wayne-like ‘true grit’ from young people who dare to take on a sport that can be so life-giving, and so unforgiving.
It can be the best of times and also the worst of times. Just ask any wrestler.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.karenschwaller.com.
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