Photo of Jordan Burroughs and Ed Gallo at the 2019 NCAA Kick Off Party courtesy of Ed Gallo
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 Ed Gallo.
While my initial exposure to the sport of wrestling was brief and largely unsuccessful, I’ll never forget that season.
After catching the end of a UFC card one carefree summer night at 15 years old, I decided I would become an MMA fighter. I was disappointed to learn the cost of a proper fight gym, but a close friend of mine, a lifelong wrestler, convinced me that joining our high school team would be the best free training I could ever get.
Knowing absolutely nothing about the sport, with no athletic background to speak of, I blindly agreed.
I felt like I was drowning, every single day. I gassed out during warmups. I gave the best effort I could, but that largely meant just fighting to survive and avoid being pinned and humiliated by the 103-pounder. Our team was incredibly unbalanced, there were two or three standout athletes, including that year’s eventual Pennsylvania “big school” state champion, the coaching staff was understandably focused on that top tier.
I wrestled a handful of junior varsity matches, but just about everything I remember is from the practice room. It’s the truly painful memories that stand out. The time a rib nearly popped as I resisted being turned, leaving me wheezing on my back in front of everyone. The “grind match”, a two-hour live go, imposed after losing to a team we had defeated 17 years straight. When I left my head hanging off to the side in referee’s position and my partner reached back with force, smashing my nose to the left. That one required surgery.
It was all very unpleasant, to say the least.
In spite of those embarrassing and cringe-worthy memories, I’m thankful everyday for that season.
It was a wakeup call. I learned what hard work really meant, and what it took to make tangible progress. I witnessed unreal discipline, the necessity of sacrifice. When a teacher at my school started an MMA club for students the following year, I did not pursue another season of wrestling. But it gave me a leg up, not only did I have a bit of a skill base, I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. I applied myself. First it was MMA, then it was my schoolwork. Everything started to click.
As a teenager, I was someone with ability, but no focus. My grades were precarious, and my work ethic was nonexistent. Nearly ten years later, I’m so proud of the person I’ve become. I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh one semester early, I completed a Master’s degree in professional counseling. Not only did I meet the goals that my family and friends dreamed of, I found my own passion and pursued it with vigor.
With the time I had between work and grad school, I started writing for an independent website about mixed martial arts. I learned I probably wasn’t going to become an MMA fighter, but I loved combat sports and needed an outlet to share that love. It’s fair to say I’ve worked harder at that goal than anything before in my life. I wrote well over 100 analytical articles in one and a half years, leading to a contract position with a major website, and a book deal.
I had the pleasure of telling the story of Joey Davis, the first and only undefeated four-time NCAA champion in the history of Division 2 wrestling. So far removed from my pitiful JV season of wrestling, there I was in March at the 2019 NCAA Championships, mingling with great champions like Joey, Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, Lee Kemp and Carlton Haselrig.
I’m the wrestling analyst for Bloody Elbow, a site under the umbrella of SB Nation - the largest independent sports media network. My work covers collegiate and freestyle wrestling, as well as the wrestling athletes and action within mixed martial arts. It’s funny, but these days I’m considered a “technical expert” for a sport I was impressively horrible at.
But I’ve earned it. I saw the dedication it took to become a high-level athlete, and I applied it to my writing. After thousands upon thousands of hours of studying and writing, I’m in a position I could have only dreamed of.
Wrestling also taught me the importance of setting new goals, of pushing your limits. So, when my closest friends in the analyst community wanted to start their own website, I went all-in. It’s been about six months since then, and “The Fight Site” is booming. I’ve taken a leadership role and together we’re taking over (an extremely niche market) at an unbelievable pace.
Not only am I producing content and hopefully helping to market the sport of wrestling, I’m interviewing current and former athletes, allowing them to share their own stories. I recently had an incredible conversation with three-time All-American and pinning machine Hudson Taylor. NCAA champion and UFC veteran Mark Muñoz gave me an impassioned interview with a level of technical insight most have to pay to receive. It’s unreal.
When I stop to smell the roses, I can’t help but think I’d be nowhere at all without that seemingly uneventful JV season. If I hadn’t been channel surfing and seen the UFC, if my buddy hadn’t nudged me in the right direction and more or less held my hand through the season. Come the post-season I hadn’t automatically morphed into a new person, but the transformative process had begun.
If there’s a call to action in all this rambling, it’s that no matter how brief the exposure - the sport of wrestling changes lives. You can say the same about most combat sports competition and training. It’s a direct confrontation with who you are in that moment. Do you have the courage to step out of your comfort zone, do you have the strength to put in the work, do you have the tenacity to push through when things seem unbearable? You really only have to ask yourself once, to make an impact.
Wrestlers, for better or worse, know the answers to these questions. That’s why it’s not even truly necessary to compete in the sport to feel its impact, just being around high-level wrestlers, like I got to be, is inspirational. You can’t help but ask yourself, “What’s stopping me from being like Joey Davis?” Even if it’s just a small step in that direction, you’ve started something.
Wrestle. Watch wrestling. Read about wrestling. Write about wrestling. Talk to wrestlers, listen to wrestlers. It will make a difference.