Photo courtesy of Doug Webb.
USA Wrestling’s “Wrestler for Life” program is 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 USA Wrestling for Peace ambassador Doug Webb.
Most kids spent their formative years bonding with their dad on Saturdays throwing out a fishing line or finding a good camping spot. For my father and me, it was different. My fondest memories are the Saturdays we spent together at wrestling tournaments all over the state.
I had entered the sport on my own volition at nine years old and was lucky enough to have landed at one of the area’s premier clubs – a place where the kids were gritty and the coaching was great. The first few years were rough in terms of wins and losses. There were Saturdays in which we showed up to a tournament and left abruptly, having been eliminated, after I lost the first two initial matches; in wrestling parlance this is called “going two and out.”
During the spring freestyle wrestling season, there were tournaments every Saturday around the state for those willing to commit an entire day to wrestling. And during those years there was a familiarity and rhythm to those Saturday mornings.
My father and I would leave the house pre-dawn, and I would continue to sleep in the back seat of the family van, as we would invariably spend a couple hours on the road until we reached the location of that weekend’s wrestling tournament. Whenever I stirred awake in the back row of the van, I would hear the muffled sounds of the radio while my dad, sipping from his coffee, drove us to that weekend’s destination. My dad would eventually wake me up as we pulled into the parking lot of whatever high school or junior high was hosting the tournament that Saturday. Once I awoke, the nerves kicked in, and from that point on there would be jitters for the rest of the day – a pervasive feeling to which any competitive wrestler can attest. Upon arrival around 7 AM to our first station – the gym’s locker room – as all the other fathers and sons would trickle in, the wrestlers would weigh-in. Here we would see familiar faces, as well as rivals from other clubs. Some of the wrestlers had already arrived, cutting weight, usually running outside around the school’s track to shed the last couple pounds. After weighing-in it was off to breakfast. Sometimes breakfast was just my father and me, but many times it would be with other fathers and sons from my club. The rest of the day would be filled with my matches and observing other matches from whatever spot we had staked out in the stands.
These Saturdays were tests for both my father and me. While I was testing myself on the mat, having to figure out problems on my own, my father was facing existential angst. I cannot imagine that feeling, that complete lack of control that comes with watching one’s child on the wrestling mat, a process that typically involved watching your child take physical blows. I vividly remember a tournament as a kid when I let a match get away from me, and I was going to lose to someone I had defeated before. That was a horrible feeling. However, I looked over to the stands for a moment and happened to see my dad standing, teeth gritted, and his hands behind his head, witnessing his son about to lose this match. That image stung worse than the impending loss.
Like any proud father, seeing me succeed meant a lot to him, but initial success was sporadic. It is a tricky balance for wrestling parents to navigate their child’s success, while trying to also avoid burnout, which can all too easily occur in this very demanding sport. I have seen it play out many times, especially with talented wrestlers. To my dad’s credit, he would check in with me to ask if I wanted to go to a tournament that Saturday. Throughout those years, every Saturday, we got to know many small-town gyms across the state, and it occurs to me now that I never envied my friends who were at home playing video games. This was the weekend routine in which I wanted to partake.
Time would move on and our routine changed. In high school I would head to tournaments every Saturday with my team. And while other notable events would occur that remain vivid in my mind, such as the weeknights in high school after practice when my dad would drain my cauliflower ear of blood in the bathroom, or the time in college when I called my dad from a gym payphone to let him know I had won my first college match, it is those the Saturdays that I remember most because they made me who I am. After a long day and several matches, we left those gyms many times weary, sometimes elated, but more often than not, humbled – which is all you can ask for from this great sport. There was always next Saturday.