Wrestling With Life: One Wrestler Shares His Experience
My name is Nathaniel Eric Seals. I have wrestled for 17 years, four here at King’s. I’ll be graduating in May. Although my scholastic career has ended for wrestling, I continue to compete at the Open level (basically adult league folk style wrestling). I am taking a trip to Maryland with my family to wrestle Nationals. In my experience with wrestling, the sport is often misrepresented and misunderstood. Wrestling exceeds popular opinion of simply a violent sport between two starved athletes. Wrestling ties into life, wrestling becomes life. It’s something you have to live and experience to understand. But this essay should give a peak into what it’s like to be a wrestler.
In the locker room, no one speaks. You stand there single file in weight order wearing the lightest pair of underwear you own. Every tenth of a pound counts against you, and, as a wrestler, you are prepared for that. The other team walks in the locker room and forms the same line as the one you stand in. It is a very primitive process. Once you’re up to weigh in, you step on a painfully accurate scale, the referee announces your weight out loud for the entire room to hear, then you step off. Making weight, a process that takes tremendous effort, is now over in a little under 10 minutes.
When you have been doing it your whole life, you stop thinking about it. Wrestling helps focus your mind on what is important. At this point the only thing you are really thinking about is water. You have exactly one hour to rehydrate and regain nutrients for your body before competition begins. It is a savagely inadequate amount of time to give a starved person to regenerate. You do it anyway.
Three days ago, you walked into the practice room, stepped on the scale and weighed in 9 lbs over your weight class. You don’t have a back up because no one at your school is tough enough to wrestle. Your coach looks at you with that smug grin on his face and says, “Guess who can’t have dinner for a few days?”
Wrestling is an eating disorder. Maintaining and making weight is indescribable. It becomes a part of your life. Every coach I have ever had has called me a “Fat boy” at some point during wrestling season. I have never had more than 6% body fat during wrestling season. Wrestlers are overly concerned with their weight. I’ve seen it become obsessive and even lead to eating disorders. Subtly but surely you feel guilty whenever you eat. You fear the God in the scale. You fear every pound. You fear every tenth of a pound. You deal with it by starving. No one understands how important your weight is in wrestling. Once the season ends wrestlers weights skyrocket across America. Guilt free months from April to September, wrestlers eat everything. In the back of your mind, you have to make weight next season, and that always haunts you.
Why the hell is the practice room so hot? Practice room heat serves three purposes: weight, mental toughness, and stamina. The heat tests your toughness. It makes you sick, it makes you cramp, it makes you crazy. The heat in the practice room constantly begs the question “What kind of man do you want to be today?” and being a wrestler, your answer is stated by your actions. The wrestling room drowns you in boiling air that essentially causes you to lose your mind. The room heat not only tests your mind and regulates weight; it also builds your stamina and strength.
The philosopher Socrates said “I swear it upon Zeus, an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.” This is a statement that actively captures wrestling endurance. I have heard that every year that “wresting is 90% mental and 10% physical.”
“If I can get inside of your head before we wrestle, I have already won,” my first coach, Walt Seals, told me . The locker room is dead silent again when the opposing team heads back to their assigned locker room. You enter the second stage of the pre-match ritual. All wrestlers develop some ritualistic habit that they do before they wrestle. You put your singlet and warm-up on like its gladiatorial armor, and you let out the natural beast locked up inside you.
“I fell into a rhythm this year,” said King’s 165-lb wrestler Angelo Lussi. “It’s like listening to dope music and vibing to the point where nothing can stop your momentum.”
That rhythm that he talks about is subjective. His rhythm and routine are vastly different from any other wrestler’s routine and rhythm. You listen to specific music, wear specific socks, and wrestle in specific shoes; everything on match day is familiar and unique to you. Wrestling is an intense grind. It is a sport that is complex on a multitude of levels and requires patience, drive, intelligence, and a great deal of sacrifice.
Dressed and ready, headphones knockin’, beats rockin’, running out for your team warm up in your home gym, you have one thing on your mind: victory. The general rule states that you should have three different moves ready in your head at all times; these are the moves that you rehearse religiously.
I think about my favorite wrestling moves every day at least 75 times a day. I rehearse them in my mind constantly and because of this I have them perfected. Wrestling often bleeds into my train of thought whenever I’m conscious. It has become so pervasive that I can picture doing a move and then actually do it in real time. My understanding of body movement has gotten incredible. Using the mind’s eye is a wonderful tool in wrestling. This repetition and constant use of the mind’s eye is an exercise that trains your mind to do things before you do them, giving you familiarity and making tasks easier to complete. This translates over aspects in life other than wrestling. Visualize a dream, plan the steps to do it, and then do it. That is the basis of wrestling.
You don’t take these moves out of the bag until it’s time to wrestle. The warm up is the most important part of the pre-match ritual. Your body has to be warm when you go out to wrestle. Your mind has to be working when you go out to wrestle. You study your moves obsessively, practice them faithfully, and employ them expertly.
Wrestling is a challenge of wit. It is a test of courage. It is a test of strength, endurance, and will.. Once submerged in it, wrestling becomes your life. You begin searching for solutions to defeat any adversity ahead of you. You begin to endure all obstacles and overpower any opposition. You take more chances, you have more confidence. The limits you once had begin to dwindle. Accountability comes without question. When you’re on the mat, you’re on your own. There are no teammates to save you, no time outs to be called, there is no escape.
“I constantly find myself thinking about what needs to get done, or what I want done. No matter what, I am always wrestling with life,” said coach Walt Seals. Wrestling is life. You are forced to face your opponent and your mind in the 30ft circle. That circle is both prison and sanctuary. You can’t escape if you try, but you don’t want to. Wrestling is all guts and no glory. You don’t wrestle to become a professional; you do it to become the best possible version of yourself. Wrestling does not mold perfect people, but it’s pretty damn close. The opponents never end.
The score is 1 to 1. It is the third and final period. You and your opponent have been defensively sound. He is built like a wall, but that can’t stop you. You cannot afford to let your teammates down. You’re both dead tired, everything hurts already. You shoot time and time again only to have your efforts thwarted by the brute. One shot almost costs you the match. The slightest hesitation, lack of focus, displacement, will end this for you.
As time fades, energy fades. With 15 seconds left you take a half shot. The half-shot leads you to an under hook with your right arm. Looking right to check time, 7 seconds, look back left to lock up the over hook with your left arm. This is it, this is your chance. In one thrusting motion with your hips, you sweep your right leg behind your opponents left, hooking it, trapping him. The thrust from your hips has thrown him off balance and he begins to fall back. BOOM . He hits the mat, time expires, and you are triumphant.
Respectfully, you and your opponent shake hands, he even pats you on the back, and the referee raises your hand. In that moment you feel like you are floating. The crowd continues to cheer and you know how proud you have made your parents and friends. That feeling is eternal, and no one can strip you of it.