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Wrestler for Life Story of the Week: Getting comfortable being uncomfortable

By Wrestler for Life/USA Wrestling | April 16, 2020, 11:51 a.m. (ET)

Photo courtesy of Mike Yesunas

USA Wrestling’s “Wrestler for Life” program has started accepting submissions for “The Story of the Week”. It can be about anything wrestling related, whether it’s a particular wrestling match you’ll never forget or a life lesson that the sport taught you. If your story is chosen, it will be featured on and winners will receive a pair of USA Wrestling socks.

Send your submissions to:

This week’s submission is by Mike Yesunas.

Recently I wrote in my oldest daughter’s high school yearbook parent dedication to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” She’s my one child that has never wrestled, but it is the most important lesson I’ve tried to teach all my children from the sport that continues to help me in every aspect of my life. I’ve had many opportunities to succeed in areas that I was uncomfortable: flying a helicopter with multiple systems failures, leading troops on the ground in Afghanistan, making major financial decisions, government negotiations with tribal leaders, etc. What do all these have in common? Wrestling helped me to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that makes any new thing I encounter seem somewhat familiar and achievable.

Growing up in New Jersey, I started wrestling in 6th grade, and I was one of the “big kids” at 126 lbs. I was on a couple of teams/clubs, and fortunate to have good coaches and tough competition. At the same time, my mother was very ill with cancer (from which she recovered), and my dad was a high school football and wrestling coach that had high expectations for me. It was a lot for a 12-year-old, but I discovered that I thrived on it and welcomed the changes. Over the next couple of years, I continued to improve, continued to learn and grow through wrestling.

As I entered high school, my improvement was slower-paced until I discovered freestyle and Greco. The new styles introduced a whole new world of possibilities, and a whole new level of discomfort to work through. I joined a wrestling club full of champions and stepped up my training at every opportunity, leading to freestyle and Greco state titles and a folkstyle region title. I got to wrestle across the nation and even in Europe, learned to ref in the same tournaments that I wrestled in and continuously pushed my abilities. The challenges were everywhere and kept me sharp, forced me to improve and made me comfortable with being uncomfortable.

My desire for challenges coupled with my good fortune in wrestling gave me the opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. I quickly learned that I was overwhelmed by the challenges there. However, it was at this point that wrestling changed for me. While the challenge of wrestling was still great, heading to the wrestling room turned from a place to improve to a place to find comfort and solace away from the stress of being overwhelmed on campus. It was the one place in Annapolis that I felt some sense of control and knew what to expect. Wrestling became an escape, the place I was not uncomfortable. After I injured my shoulder in the semi-finals of the West Virginia Open my junior year I did not return to the mat. It was over. I had lost my comfortable space in the wrestling room, needed to heal my shoulder so I could be a Navy Pilot and figured out how to succeed in class and other places on campus and in life. I became comfortable with being uncomfortable with overwhelming challenges, but this time they were more real to my future career than competing on the mat. Wrestling had prepared me for life after wrestling.

During my Navy career over the last 25 years, I had the great fortune to coach across the U.S. and the globe, including coaching my son and one of my daughters on the mat. From coaching at the Naval Academy Prep School before I headed to flight school, to local high schools wherever I was stationed, to most recently a big and more diverse program with 100 U-15 military-kids in Germany. Every opportunity brings new opportunities to find all the ways that wrestling can improve a community, not only for the wrestlers, but the coaches, parents, and volunteers alike by finding ways to challenge and improve the community both on and off the mat.

In order to keep learning and growing, we need to find those places that we can be uncomfortable, even in comfortable places like the wrestling room. The more comfortable you can become getting uncomfortable in wrestling and life alike, the more success and satisfaction you will enjoy.