Wrestler for Life Story of the Week: Inner strength of old wrestlers!

By Wrestler for Life/USA Wrestling | April 30, 2020, 10:37 a.m. (ET)

Photo courtesy of Matt Wilkinson

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 TheMat.com, and winners will receive a pair of USA Wrestling socks.

Send your submissions to: Wrestlerforlife@usawrestling.org

This week's submission is by Matt Wilkinson

There I sat, on the edge of our basement wrestling mat, heart thumping against my chest. My 15 year old son, on the other side of our wrestling room, had obviously not given my current condition much thought. He seemed to be doing just fine. He paused from his water break to ask me, “ What was your most memorable wrestling moment?” I felt my mind drift back to those years so long ago. I lifted my head and replied, “The training.”

Wrestling is an individual sport. Yet, we need and thrive off of our training partners who push and challenge us. Anyone who has ever wrestled knows about those moments in a practice - when your mind and body are finished. Neither believes the other has any more to give. In these memories I always seem to be in a sitting position, exhausted with no desire to continue. Then out of nowhere, a hand appears before me and lifts my body up and pushes me to continue. I was not allowed to quit. I willed myself to continue and push on. Those moments are what I remembered, and that is what stood the test of time. My son just listened.

It was a good thing for those moments. When the news and avalanche of the coronavirus hit our area of central New Jersey, reality of our new normal quickly became clear. During the last six or so years, I had gotten real comfortable jumping in our car and driving my son to the dozens of great wrestling clubs in central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. All I had to do was make the drive, hand over some money and kill a little time while my son trained. In turn I received other people's efforts in working with and helping to shape my own son’s wrestling memories.

That all changed with the virus. There was no leaving the house. The wrestling clubs were all locked tight. There was no training going on. I was left with only two choices. I could let time pass by and accept that we were all on the same “playing” field, while burying my normal drive to keep my son’s wrestling development improving. Or I could do the unimaginable and summon the effort to lace on my dusty pair of wrestling shoes and train with my son. That thought, even before I took it on, was both scary and exhausting to consider. How would my sixty-year-old body respond?

Yet, here I was, four weeks into it. My body had forgotten what true pain was like. There is a special kind of suffering for people who have stepped away from a wrestling mat only to return to the physical and mental demands of the sport. I had to listen as parts of my body screamed angry words for days. My neck, lower back and hips ached from overuse. It took me forty eight hours to almost recover before we walked down those basement stairs for another hour and half workout.

As each training day piled on to the next, I began to realize that my mind and desire was waning. I did not enjoy what my body was experiencing and I did not want to continue. I also realized that I was my son’s only option to keep his wrestling improvement moving forward. So I continued.

I again felt that extended hand come toward me. It lifted me up and forced me to trudge down those basement stairs. I knew that the mental strength wrestling had given me, that ability to forge on and never quit, was allowing me to continue training with my son.

I am encouraged both by my son’s wrestling development during this lockdown period and the belief that I am not alone in this basement journey. There are parents across the United States and most likely the world, making these same choices that I face. It has not been easy but I am proud of my reservoir of mental and physical strength that only wrestling could have given me. I am grateful for that special strength and encourage all of the other wrestling parents to keep walking on those mats and allow that commanding hand to keep us all moving forward.

Matt Wilkinson graduated and wrestled for Purdue University where he placed 3rd in the National Freestyle championships. He then spent the next fourteen years as a high school varsity coach in New Jersey.