USA Wrestling Wrestler for Life St...

Wrestler for Life Story of the Week: Between abdication and acceptance

By USA Wrestling/Wrestler for Life | Aug. 13, 2020, 10:13 a.m. (ET)

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 USA Wrestling t-shirt.

Send your submissions to: Wrestlerforlife@usawrestling.org

This week's submission is by Alessandro Vitello


Like a lot of young kids in the eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania region, I grew up wrestling. I idolized my two older brothers, and they wrestled. So naturally, I wanted to wrestle too. I remember hanging out with my brother’s high school teammates, and just knowing I was the coolest little guy in the gym. I don’t have any photographic proof, but I know my parents had to tie me to the stands to keep me from running onto the mat during actual matches. I like to tell my wife she was my first true love, but if I am being honest, my first love was wrestling. I was hooked at a young age, and couldn’t wait to try it for myself.

I started so young, I have a hard time recalling anything from the first season. I know I lost a lot. Other than that, all I really know about my beginnings in wrestling is that I loved it. Practices. The coaches. Everything. I even loved getting up at five in the morning, in the bitter winter cold, with inches of snow on the ground, and travelling an hour or more to make an 8:00 AM weigh in for some random tournament. There were so many great memories.

My oldest brother, who was one of my coaches, throwing me over his shoulder and running across the parking lot, in snow up to his shins, so I could make the scale in time. The cold locker room, and the even colder marker, as it touched my little arm. Marking my weight, and letting the entire world know I was a sixty pound wrestler. Putting on my singlet, lacing up my shoes, strapping my headgear, onto one of my down singlet straps, and jumping into my warm-ups. I was, in my own little mind, a warrior, and this was my preparation. My armor. The only place in the entire world I was in control. The outcome, good or bad, was based on my abilities.

After my first year, I found some success. I was an average wrestler, throughout my career. I had a few noteworthy moments, at least in my own head, but I never achieved some of the more renowned goals, all wrestlers strive for. But, I won more than I lost. And now, looking back, I am content with that. I know I had my shortcomings, and I limited myself, with some of my actions. Maybe, if I had given myself a chance, I could have had one or two of those coveted achievements. Life, however, got in the way, and for a while I let it beat me.

Heading into my teenage years, I was competitive and able to beat, on occasion, guys who would go onto grasp some of those achievements. Then, life became this strange place, and I didn’t know how to navigate its depths. Coming home, from school or practice, could often be terrifying. I remember being scared of what was going to happen next. It always felt like you would hit the bottom floor after a massive free fall, and just as you get back to your feet, the floor would give way to another cavernous plummet. Fear and anxiety ruled my life from that point on, through high school. I was often depressed, lonely, and started doing things I always despised in other people. I wish I could tell you, wrestling gave me direction, and I had success, in spite of the adversity. But, I’d be a liar. The truth is, I let everything become a chore. I lost passion, in most everything, and erased what little I had accomplished.

All of this happened, from my pre-teen years through high school.Slowly, it got worse, and, if I recall correctly, my mat skills suffered proportionally. The worse things got in private, the less success I had on the mat. Which led to questions, from my small wrestling community. Which, in turn, lead to wrestling no longer feeling like it was my own. I no longer had complete control, over my passion. It was now, all of a sudden, other people’s concern. It wasn’t mine. In hindsight, I think all of the questions were in good faith, and those people meant well. However, it felt like an added pressure and weight, when I was already secretly carrying tons of emotions, and it eventually crushed my aspirations.

I eventually stopped putting all of myself into wrestling, and concentrated on making moments, even just seconds, of a day feel good. I forgot the best feelings came from achievements, directly related to the effort put into them, and I settled for a quick up, here and there, from other means. Laziness and procrastination became my only friends. My new passion. I hated myself.

I wanted. No. I desperately needed some reinforcement. I needed someone to tell me it was ok, and remind the most important reason to wrestle is to have fun. It’s supposed to be fun. I forgot that. I forgot the lessons I learned from wrestling, because I forgot it was supposed to be fun. Sure, there are emotional highs and lows every wrestler has to contend with. Glorious victories. Breath-robbing defeats. That’s life incarnated as sport. The ultimate simulation of life’s challenges, and if we lose sight of the beauty of life, we can get distracted by those pinnacle and gutter moments. We can lose our sense of direction.

Eventually, I corrected course, and started finding my path. I met this beautiful girl, who I fell in love with, got married, and had three boys. My life has become filled with beauty. Filled with fun. On occasion, I still have to remind myself to not lose sight of the beauty and fun, through the ascents and descents of life, but I have so many more compasses now.

So when my oldest son came to me, at around six years old, looking to start a sport; I suggested wrestling. Because I know, deep down, even though I had lost my passion to compete, it was wrestling, and it’s reflection of life, that got me through. I even help coach, now, and my passion for wrestling is greater than it ever has been. After seventeen years with no involvement in the sport, except watching conference and national championships, I feel like I finally came home. I found my passion again. I found it by watching young wrestlers achieve the smallest of goals. The lesson I hammer on, over and over, no matter the magnitude of rolled eyes is, “Above everything else, the most important thing is to have fun.” Technique, skill, and all of those attributes can only be realized with passion. Without fun there is no passion, and passion is what builds champions, on and off of the mat.

I urge parents and coaches to develop passion in their children and athletes. We can’t make every one of our kids champion wrestlers, but we can make each and every one them champion people, with passion for life and all of its amazing beauty. And if you ask me to choose which is harder, wrestling or coaching. I am definitely leaning towards coaching, but there are so many more rewarding moments.