The Wrestling Team

He joked that he got a really good look at tiles on gym ceilings that year–while he lay pinned on the mat.

He joked that he measured his progress by the number of seconds until he got pinned.

Why in the world would my oldest son, Paul, take up wrestling in his senior year of high school? He was a very tall, skinny kid who’d never wrestled in his life. He’d made the team only because there was no one in his weight category and the team would lose those matches anyway, by default.

Thanks to that bizarre impulse, he experienced defeat match after match, week after week, and no wonder.

Others in his weight category were shorter, muscular kids built like trucks who’d been wrestling for years. Summers while he was practicing the clarinet and playing tennis, they were going to wrestling camp and lifting weights. [I’m making some assumptions here. I am his mother, after all.]

But he didn’t quit. It would have been fine with me. Wrestling is dangerous. Crash dieting to “make weight” can’t be healthy. The coach was way too tough. And, mostly, he could get hurt.

He didn’t seem to know it, but he was not invincible. The football games with friends on weekends had too often led to injuries. More than once, one sweet girl or another would be at my front door to say something like,

“Hi. My name is Jennifer.  I just came to tell you that Paul got hurt.  We took him to the emergency room….”

it seems that the weekly battle cry–because he was the tallest and presumably the biggest threat–was, “Get Pau!”

And week after week, they did.

And now wrestling?

Paul lost every single match until the last meet of the season–against Kingston’s arch rival, Saugerties High. The two teams were evenly matched. That day, Paul won his first match ever. His coach and teammates went wild. But not just because Paul won a match. That day Kingston High won the meet–by one match. Paul’s match. He was the hero of the day.

I heard that the coach told Paul’s story for years after. He admired Paul’s grit and perseverance, showing up for practice and matches, knowing he had almost no chance to win, ever.

I cared nothing at all about wrestling and would not have minded if he quit. But I was pleased that he stuck to something he wanted to do, even though he would never get glory. I’ve always liked that old saying, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” How drab our lives would be if we only did what we already know we can do well.

Kids don’t always know what makes their parents proud.

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