Sunday, February 28, 2010

Summer Like No Other

The summer after my junior year I decided to go to another wrestling camp with a fellow teammate. We went to the University of Iowa to attend a week long technique camp.

I got to see Dan Gable, Mark Johnson, Barry Davis, Greg Randall, and other great wrestlers.

I think Greg Randall was the guy who checked me and my teammate into the dorm. I believe he told us to go to the recreation area downstairs because that's where all the babes were. Thank you, Greg.

One evening, Dan Gable gave us a very inspiring speech. He also gave some other short talks as well. In one talk I think he said that some times a wrestler has to change things if they aren't working even that means getting up to run at 5:00 in the morning. I wasn't so crazy about that idea.

He also said that a really dedicated wrestler will always get his workouts in. If a wrestler doesn't have a chance to lift weights until midnight then he will lift weights at midnight. He will fit that workout in no matter what it takes.

Mark Johnson (who went on to become the head wrestling coach at the University of Illinois) gave us some weight training guidelines.

Brad Smith (great wrestler and coach) taught me how to do a really good high crotch takedown. I was going to be a senior and had never learned how to do a high crotch. I was in the dark. But, Brad showed me the light. He taught me different set ups and finishes. That's the main thing I remember from the camp at the University of Iowa.

Before I left camp I bought a tee shirt that read, "I Had A Summer Like No Other. I Wrestled For Dan Gable."

I didn't do much running that summer before my senior year. I lifted weights. I actually used an old manual my father had lying around. The manual was written by a guy named Bob Hoffman. Bob Hoffman started the York Barbell Company and played a big role in the world of weightlifting. He was the founder of Strength & Health Magazine. So, I usually went through a set of ten exercises, doing one set of ten reps for each. I used to do the clean and jerk a lot for the fun of it. I tried to incorporate some of what Mark Johnson taught us but I really knew very little about weight training.

It might have been that summer that my older sister found me up lifting weights at a late hour and wondered why I was still up. I said, "Well, you know what Dan Gable says..."

I also had a subscription to a magazine called Sports Fitness (which later became Men's Fitness). The first issue of Sports Fitness had football player Lyle Alzado on the cover. My parents gave me the subscription as a gift. I learned about the difference between weightlifting and bodybuilding. I learned about nutrition. I learned a little bit about sports psychology. It was a cool magazine but I'm not sure if it helped my performance or not. I do recall that one article said to focus on the means needed to reach your goal as opposed to focusing on the goal itself. Focus on your moves and on one match at a time and winning the tournament will take care of itself. I think I also learned about visualization and positive self talk being two techniques for mentally preparing for competition.

I used to look at the ads for protein powder and energy supplements looking for an edge of some kind.

I dated a minister's daughter for a short time period during high school. One evening I was at her house and was wearing the Dan Gable tee shirt I had gotten at camp.

My girlfriend's mother asked, "Who is Dan Gable?"

Who is Dan Gable? How could anyone not know who Dan Gable is? I realized that these people weren't from Iowa originally but I was still surprised by the question.

After I recovered somewhat from my state of shock I meekly answered, "He's the wrestling coach at the University of Iowa."

The reverend sensed my unease and tried to help me out. He said, "Yes, Dan Gable is the head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa. Or, in Iowa he's better known as God."

Well, I was no Dan Gable. I had yet to win a conference championship. I had yet to qualify for the State Tournament.

Thinking of wrestling made me feel a bit uneasy that summer. I was tired of cutting weight and tired of the pressure to win. And, I was tired of always losing those important matches at the end of the season.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Jinxed Junior

When wrestling season began my junior year I weighed around 115 lbs. I planned to wrestle at 105 lbs. I had no desire to wrestle 98 lbs. again. Ten pounds was enough to cut.

I don't remember what I was thinking when the season began. I suppose I wanted to improve upon my disappointing sophomore year.

This time around I still didn't know how to lose weight properly. I began eating one meal a day at lunch time and was soon weak and hungry again. I got into the habit of drinking a diet pop every night after practice. It's funny how much I looked forward to that diet pop each night.

I believe I won the Valley Tournament, our first tournament of the season. At the South Winneshiek Tournament I'm not sure if I even placed. I wrestled the guy from Riceville who had beaten me at sectionals the year before and he beat me again.

I had to wrestle a guy by the name of John Ward from Waukon High. His brother had beaten me the last two years and now I had to wrestle him. John had pinned me at a pee wee tournament I think. But, this time we ended our dual meet match with a tie. My girlfriend went to Waukon High and was happy about the way the match had ended in a tie. That way her schoolmates wouldn't give her too much grief about it.

I had to wrestle John again at the Starmont Tournament for 3rd and 4th place. He beat me this time by a point I think. So, I had come a long way since our pee wee days. But, I was disappointed of course. Some one gave me a picture from a newspaper of John and me wrestling. I think the caption was, "Tops Him Twice." I threw it in the trash. I didn't want some picture reminding me of losing to John.

I developed a habit of eating very little all week long before a tournament. I would diet to the point where I was actually under my weight class. Then I would eat and drink something the night before competition. Not eating all week was worth it when I was able to eat and drink the night before a competition. I never had to go to bed thirsty that season which was a big improvement over the previous season.

I think I might have won the Elkader Tournament after Christmas break.

I had a close match against North Fayette in a dual meet and won by a point I believe. I beat Todd Grapes, a guy who had beaten back in junior high at a pee wee tournament. Next was the Conference Tournament.

I think I was seeded first or second at the Conference Tournament. I made it to the finals after beating Grapes again. Before my match with Grapes my coach took me out into the hall to give me a pep talk. He usually didn't do that but was worried about me getting into the finals. He said something like, "You're a damn good wrestler. Now I want to see you go out there and be aggressive and beat this guy." Thanks, coach. No pressure. I'm not sure that speech made me feel more motivated but I did win the match.

Just before finals began, the lights all went out. It had been extremely cold that day and I guess the power was knocked out. So, the finals were postponed until the following week. And, my girlfriend was mad at me because I had been ignoring her all day. Sorry, Jody.

We wrestled the finals the following week. I started out strong and got the first takedown easily. But, I ran out of gas and lost by a point or two. I was disappointed. I could have beaten him. I still had yet to win a conference title. A week or two later, I lost to him again by a point or two.

I won the Sectional Tournament which was held at our high school. The guy I beat in the finals I had beaten once earlier in the season. Being sectional champion was great. It was much better than the previous year's disappointment.

In the first round of the District Tournament I lost a close match. I had gotten the first takedown. During the second period I got a penalty point for some reason. So, I was leading 3-0 going into the third period. But, then he took down and I lost my focus. I didn't think I could ride him. I gave up a reversal almost immediately and then two back points. I lost 4-3 because I didn't have the energy and the mental toughness to wrestle hard for six minutes. I should have won that match easily but I just gave up.

In the second round I ended up wrestling the champion from the other sectional because the guy I had beaten in my sectional had surprisingly beat this guy. The guy I had to wrestle was the wrestler from Riceville who had beaten me twice before.

We had a close match that went into overtime. I managed to get a reversal in overtime to win the match. I had finally beaten the guy from Riceville.

I then got to wrestle back. I had to wrestle the same guy I had beaten in the sectional final. Easy, right? All I had to do to qualify for state was beat this guy I had beaten twice before. But, I knew it would be tough. I was tired from the overtime match. I was mad at myself for not winning that first round match. I lost that wrestle back match 9-0, I think. It was humiliating. It wasn't even close. I was never in the match. I place 3rd in districts. I wanted to throw the medal away. I thought of suicide. I had blown it again for a second year when it counted the most. I cried in the car on the way home.

Going into districts I was tired once again of cutting weight. Cutting weight always got to me the most toward the end of the season. I still wasn't strong enough physically and mentally to win the important matches toward the end of the season. I always ran out of steam. And, I developed bad habits. I would get ahead in a match and then take the down position in the last period and just sit there or maybe try to stand up. I would move enough not to get called for stalling but not try too hard to escape or get a reversal. So, in that first round match at districts when I had first choice I was upset. And, when my opponent chose down in the last period I just gave up.

You can't rest in a match. You have to be ready to wrestle hard the entire match no matter what position you are in. I deserved to lose that tournament because I gave up. Thus, my junior wrestling season came to an end. I settled for being a spectator at the State Tournament.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Panther Land

The summer after my sophomore season I had an opportunity to go to wrestling camp for the first time. My dad thought it was a good idea so I decided to go. My coach also thought summer camps were good because he didn't want his wrestlers going several months without wrestling. He thought that even a week at camp at least kept a wrestler a little bit connected to the sport during the off season.

Of course, I know now that it would have been good to wrestle some freestyle matches during the summer months as well. But, I was more of a three-or-four-months-out-the-year wrestler. That's probably why I never reached my full potential.

So during the summer of 1984, two teammates and I headed to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, home of the Panthers.

Camp wasn't much fun. I was homesick and nervous. We had to get up early and run every morning which was a pain. I'm not sure I really learned anything new. But, I suppose the experience helped me develop as a wrestler in some way.

I met some members of the UNI wrestling team. I remember meeting Bob Hallman, the 118 pound wrestler. I suppose I identified with the lighter weight wrestlers like him. He had placed second in the NCAA Wrestling Tournament at 118 lbs. that year. He was a nice guy. He was funny as I recall. I think that summer he weighed around 140 pounds so he had cut a lot of weight during the season to make 118 lbs. I suppose I looked up to him a bit.

I wrestled one guy who really liked arm drags. After we had worked out together he asked, "What did you place in state?"

"I didn't make it to state," I said.

"Why not?" he said, "You're really good."

That made me feel good of course.

I wrestled another guy and had a close match. One of my teammates talked to me afterwards and said, "You know that guy you just wrestled placed second in the state this year."

Those morning runs were a killer. I was always cold in the morning even during summer and tired. Of course, I was sweating by the time our run was finished. We learned to do something called an Indian Run. We would run single file in a long line and the guy at the back of the line would pull out to the left and then sprint by the other runners to the front of the line. When that runner reached the front of the line then the guy who was now at the back of the line would do the same thing.

We had run a timed run around a track at the beginning of the camp so they could place us in different running groups. My teammates and I were all in the fastest running group.

I met a guy from Bellevue High School who could run like crazy. Bob Hallman even had trouble keeping up with him. This guy from Bellevue told me I should run as much as I could on my own during the season and off season. I saw him in his uniform at the Iowa State High School Wrestling Tournament in 1985. I was just a spectator but he was in the competition. I guess all of his running might have paid off.

I did do a lot of running that summer on my own. I ran almost every day. When I was nearing the end of my run my heart would be pounding and my legs would be burning from lactic acid and I would imagine that it was nearing the end of a tough wrestling match and I had to stay strong.

A group of schoolmates passed by me in a car one evening when I was out running and beeped the horn at me. They were going out to have some weekend fun and I was running. Was it worth it? I thought so at the time.
An athlete makes sacrifices and works hard to achieve his goals.

One person in the car was a girl named Michelle. She wrote in my year book something like, "When I saw you out running this summer I could tell how dedicated you were to being a great wrestler."

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wedo Mosquito

Kevin Wedo was two grades ahead of me in high school. He was in my older sister's class.

He was around 5'4" I believe. He wrestled in the lower weights like I did. He wrestled at 98 lbs. during his first three seasons and at 105 lbs. during his senior season. He had small wrists and ankles but had a pretty good build. Grabbing his ankle was like grabbing a pencil but he was extremely powerful.

His favorite takedown was a double leg. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing him do anything but double legs in competition. If you wrestled Kevin, you knew what to expect. And, yet Kevin would do it anyway and get away with it. Perhaps that's the mark of a great wrestler. He can use the same moves in every match and still cannot be stopped.

Kevin didn't seem to care much for riding. If someone did a stand up, Kevin didn't work too hard at trying to bring the guy back to the mat. He'd just let them go and give up an escape point. Then he would take the guy down again.

Kevin's girlfriend was a wrestling cheerleader I believe. So, she would always ride the bus with us wrestlers. Kevin and she would relax on the mat at a tournament waiting for it to get started. He always wrestled well so I guess his girlfriend wasn't a distraction.

When I was a freshman the upperclassmen always wanted us to flush the toilets so the showers would be warmer. We just ignored them for the most part. One night after practice, Kevin ran back and forth between the bathroom and the showers flushing the toilets as he went. I think he just wanted to have some fun. Everyone was cracking up laughing.

Kevin had a pair of drum sticks that he kept in his locker. Sometimes before a home wrestling meet he would take out the drum sticks and pound out a drum solo. He would turn over a plastic pale to use as his main drum. And, the nearby lockers became his cymbals. He would start out slow and then soon his arms would be flailing like mad. We would laugh like crazy. I don't think I've ever seen such an interesting pre match ritual.

I had a history teacher named Mr. O'Hara who was a big fan of wrestling. He was our announcer at home meets I believe. He liked to refer to Kevin Wedo as The Wedo Mosquito. He had a plan for how he would like to introduce Kevin some night. "And now, wrestling for Postville High, wearing the black singlet with the red trim, weighing in at 105 pounds, The Wedo Mosquito!" he would recite. I think he did actually do it one night when Kevin was a senior.

Kevin used to whip my butt every time we wrestled. He would beat on me and dominate. Sometimes the coach would tell him to let me score once in a while. But, Kevin never took it easy on me. But, that's good. No athlete ever wants someone to take it easy on them. I never took Kevin down even once in practice. I'm ready for a rematch Kevin.

In the weight room he was powerful too. He could always lift more than me and I aspired to be that strong one day.

He was seldom beaten and opponents were pretty overjoyed when they actually beat Kevin Wedo.

Kevin qualified for the state tournament his junior year after sitting out most of the season because of a broken collar bone.

Kevin placed 3rd in the state tournament at 105 lbs. his senior year.

Kevin was an inspiration and I looked up to him. Kevin Wedo--King of the double leg takedown. He was really something. And, I still want that rematch.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sophomore Saga

When my sophomore wrestling season began I weighed 110 lbs. I wanted to wrestle 98 lbs. again. Why? I'm not sure exactly. I suppose because in the sport of wrestling there is a belief that if one wrestles in a weight class that is lower than his actual weight he will have a competitive advantage. I have no idea if any studies show that to be true. I also knew that the senior ass kicker Kevin Wedo would be wrestling at 105 lbs and that another senior would be wrestling at 112 lbs. If I wanted to wrestle on the varsity team it would have to be at 98 lbs. Plus, I was naive and didn't realize how difficult cutting weight would be. So, at the beginning of the season I let my intentions of wrestling 98 lbs. be known.

I waited until a couple of weeks before our first meet before I really started to try to lose any weight. Then I simply stopped eating all together almost entirely. I only drank water after practice and never during the day. I quickly became weak, hungry, and dehydrated. I was like a rag doll in practice. I was getting thrown around by guys that I should have been throwing around. When my coach handed me my varsity uniform I thought, "Why are you giving this uniform to me? I'll never make weight." But, I did.

When I made weight the first time, my mother took me to a local restaurant called The Grill for breakfast. I ordered two eggs, sausage, and toast. I also ordered two bakery rolls and two large orange juices. The waitress didn't bat an eye. I guess she was used to wrestlers coming in after weigh-ins. I'm not sure what my mother thought. Sometimes wrestlers, including me, ordered milk shakes and malts for breakfast after weigh-in. The night before competitions I would lie in bed thinking of what I would order for breakfast the next day.

Cutting weight was hell but once I made weight I seemed to do okay. I won the first tournament we wrestled in. I think it was the first tournament I had ever won in the sport of wrestling. I got the first place medal and the bracket sheet. I was thrilled.

I won another tournament soon after that at South Winneshiek High School. In the finals I beat a guy 2-1 that had beaten me badly in my pee wee tournament days. I even had him on his back for a while. I should have scored back points. I had him on his back in an arm bar and decided to get fancy and figure four the head. But, the referee decided that I was actually scissoring the head which is illegal. I could have scored three back points if I hadn't decided to get fancy. It's exciting beating an opponent that has beaten you badly or pinned you in the past. My skills had come a long way since 5th grade.

I wrestled in the Starmont Tournament before Christmas. I was about a pound and a half over my weight that morning. So, I put on some sweats and my coach had me start running until we all got on the bus. I chewed gum and spit in a cup on the way to Starmont. I was still over the limit when I weighed myself at Starmont. I jumped rope for a while. Then I think my coaches rolled me up in a mat. I lay there sweating and exhausted. Did I cry? Probably. The assistant coach came by and asked me if I thought I could go to the bathroom. I thought, "Are you crazy? Don't you think I would have done that already if I could?" I simply but emphatically said, "No!" When I stepped on the scale again my weight was okay. I had made it. My coach said matter-of-factly, "Congratulations." Another wrestler was sitting in the locker room saying he hadn't made weight. I thought, "What do you mean you didn't make weight? That's inexcusable. I will always make weight or die trying." I was a fool.

I think I won the first match fairly easily though I felt a bit tired from cutting weight and running that morning. In the second round I wrestled the guy that I had put the scissor on at the South Winneshiek Tournament. In the first period we ended up in a whizzer situation down on the mat.

I heard my assistant coach say something like, "He should put a half in." It was like he was just saying it matter-of-factly to the head coach and not really yelling it at me.

I thought, "That's a good idea." I threw a half nelson in and took my opponent to his back and almost pinned him. I scored two points for the takedown and three back points. I ended up winning the match 10-0 against a guy who had probably pinned me back in middle school or junior high. I was thrilled. I wrestled a senior in the finals who had beaten me the year before by a score of 8-2, I believe. This time he beat me 3-2 or 4-2. I had gotten the first takedown. I was confident that I could beat him but couldn't quite do it. Still, I had improved from my freshman year.

The tournaments were an interesting time back then. The finals were usually wrestled on one mat with no other matches going on. So, each final match had the spotlight. Before the final matches the wrestlers would line up on opposite sides of the mat. The wrestlers in each weight class would be introduced and then run to the middle of the mat to shake hands.

I remember standing on the top of the awards stand. A cheerleader would hand me the first place medal and the bracket sheet. And, she would give me a kiss on the cheek. Does the winning wrestler still get a kiss on the cheek from a cheerleader these days? I really enjoyed getting the bracket sheet. Some wrestlers could have cared less about a piece of cardboard. But, I liked seeing my name in first place and the record in ink of who I had beaten that day right there on the bracket sheet.

I think it was at one of these tournaments that a cheerleader from another school got caught in my jump rope. Then her fellow cheerleaders were teasing her and trying to flirt with me. I thought, "Hey, I am here to wrestle not flirt with girls. Leave me alone." What was I thinking? Wrestling is more important than girls?

I had a girlfriend during that sophomore wrestling season. I had met her in November. She was from a different school. She saw me wrestle when our team wrestled her high school's team in a dual meet. I didn't see her much during the season. I was always weak from cutting weight and always going to bed early on Friday nights. Tournaments on Saturdays ran late sometimes. Some of the guys on the team knew I had a girlfriend. I told a little lie (big lie) and claimed we'd had sex in the back seat of my car. One senior dubbed me "virgin killer." Another guy on the team named Brad found out that she was a red head.

He said, "You know what they say about red heads. Red head red head, fire in the wood shed!" I guess that's a metaphor of some kind.

I also became involved with the assistant coach's daughter. She rode on the wrestling bus with the team and cheerleaders once. I ended up holding hands with her and we became kind of close. So, I was wrestling well, cheating on my red headed girlfriend, and masquerading as a virgin killer. Forgive me, Jody and Michelle.

After Christmas I had about 12 lbs. to lose. I had eaten well over Christmas break. I was able to lose it fairly easily. I wrestled in the Elkader Tournament and placed 1st. I was on a roll. I was confident that I would win in the finals and I did. Cheerleaders were cheering for my opponent when our match was announced. I thought, "You can stop your cheering because there is no way your guy is going to beat me."

The conference tournament in January was disappointing. I was seeded second I think because Bill from North High had beaten me in a close match in a dual meet. I got beat second round in overtime. Actually, after overtime the score was still tied. So, they decided my match outcome by a "referee's decision". The other guy had scored the first takedown in the match so according to that criteria he was declared winner. Bill from North was beaten in the second round also by the guy I had beaten at Starmont 10-0. So, Bill and I met in the match to decide 3rd and 4th place instead of meeting in the finals. Bill beat me in another close match. I got 4th place. I didn't even get a medal. I felt terrible and embarrassed. I had beaten the 2nd place winner 10-0 only a few weeks earlier. But, that's the way competition goes sometimes. Well, at least I can say that the guy who beat me in overtime won the championship match.

Cutting weight made me very weak because I didn't know what I was doing. I just starved and got dehydrated. We were playing volleyball once during wrestling practice toward the end of the season just to break up the monotony and work up a sweat. But, I was feeling weak and wasn't really getting into it. The volleyball came at me once and I just caught it. Brad was a bit upset with me but then just laughed and realized I was feeling too weak to hit the volley ball back. I remember thinking practice was over one night and then coach put 10 minutes on the clock in the gym and told us to start running. I wanted to cry. I was so tired. I think Brad was right by me and sensed my frustration and said something like, "It's okay. You can do it. Ten minutes is nothing. You'll be okay." Thank you, Brad. I haven't forgotten that.

We practiced with another team toward the end of the season. After practice we stopped at a convenience store on the way home and some of the guys were going to buy some food and drinks. I told them I couldn't because of my weight situation. Brad could have gotten something but he told them he didn't want anything and stayed with me. I like to think that Brad stayed in the car and didn't buy any food because he wanted to support me. If I couldn't eat then he wasn't going to eat in front of me. At least I like to think that's what Brad was doing--showing solidarity with me.

Cutting weight did get a little easier as the season went on. But, mentally it had taken a big toll. When sectionals came around I am not sure if I really cared if I won or not. If I won sectionals then I would have to cut weight for another week so I could wrestle in districts. And, if I won districts I would have to cut weight so I could wrestle in the state tournament. That's how sick of cutting weight I was. I couldn't imagine doing it for another week or two when it really counted.

I got beat during the second round at sectionals by a guy from Riceville. The guy did a switch and I tried to stop him but his wrist slipped out of my grip. He put the legs in on me along with a force half and I couldn't do anything. I let him ride me out the entire match. Then the guy I had beaten twice that year, once by a score of 10-0, beat the guy that had just beaten me and became sectional champion. The Riceville wrestler got second but he didn't care. He was happy because he had beaten me, the number one seed, and was now on his way to the district tournament. My season was over. I was humiliated. I was sick of cutting weight but I felt guilty and embarrassed about the way the sectional tournament had turned out.

Well, the Riceville wrestler surprised a lot of people by placing second at districts and qualifying for the state tournament. I felt a little better about losing to him at sectionals after that.

Kevin Wedo had an exceptional season at 105 lbs. and placed 3rd at the state tournament. I think Brad (of the red head metaphor) also qualified for the state tournament. My senior teammate Galen also had a good ending to his season. He beat the number one seed at the district tournament and qualified for state.

So, my sophomore saga came to a disappointing end. I didn't really even enjoy getting to eat again because I felt bad about how things had turned out. And, eating again caused me some physical pain as well. My body needed to adjust to eating again.

I decided to go to a wrestling camp the summer after my sophomore year. It would be the first wrestling camp I had ever been to.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lucky Break

I got to wrestle varsity my freshman year thanks to a lucky break. That is to say, the junior who was wrestling 98 lbs. broke his collar bone in practice before our first meet. I had won the JV 98 lb. spot, so after Kevin broke his collar bone I got the 98 lb. varsity spot. V-man!

Being a freshman wrestler wasn't so bad. It wasn't too intimidating. The upperclassmen were decent guys. Mr. Bucknell was the varsity coach and Mr. White was the JV coach.

I was actually content with the idea of wrestling JV my freshman year. But, when I got the chance to wrestle varsity it was exciting. I wrestled 98 lbs. in all of the dual meets but the 112 pounder Wayne would cut down to 98 lbs. on the weekends and get to wrestle in the tournaments. I hated not being able to wrestle in the weekend tournaments.

Coach White said, "Tharin, I was expecting you to go undefeated for me on the JV team this year. But, now that you're on varsity I'm not so sure."

I was a bit nervous at the first dual meet. I hesitated a little bit at the locker room door after the coach told us to run out onto the mat. But, I got used to it. I liked leading the team out onto the mat. Being at 98 lbs. meant that I was always the first one to run out onto the mat with the rest of the team following behind me. And, if I won my match it started out the meet on a good note.

The seniors were interesting guys. Chris and Brad went to the arcade every night after practice to play Pac Man. Sometimes guys would ask to borrow some "stink" (cologne). Bottles of Brut were everywhere. I miss the smell of Brut. Antiperspirant and deodorant were called "pit". I had a bottle of shampoo called Body On Tap which claimed to be made with real beer. A senior who went by the name Chip seemed to like to borrow my shampoo. He would call it the "community poo". Someone noticed Chip was borrowing my Body On Tap one night. Chip was known to enjoy a beer now and then. "Don't drink that shampoo Chip", someone said.

We sometime got into a circle toward the end of practice to do a conditioning drill. We would go around the circle each picking an exercise to do. The first time we did "the circle" was kind of funny. The first guy chose sit ups and I think the second guy chose jumping jacks. Then it was my turn so I said, "push ups." Chip said, "Oh, he's a man!"

Sometime the upperclassmen would tell us freshman to flush the toilets. This was supposed to make the showers warmer. I think most of us ignored their demands. Kevin Wedo, a junior, ran back and forth between the shower and the bathroom flushing toilets as he went one night after practice. I think he did it just for the fun of it. Everyone was laughing like crazy.

Before breaking his collar bone, Kevin Wedo would whale on me in practice. If I shot in on a double he would crossface hard or try to rip my head off with a headlock. I never could take him down. He whaled on all the other freshman light weights too. And, riding him was impossible. He would just sit there in the referee's position and then suddenly hit a switch and reverse me. He was very powerful.

I had this problem with getting taken down in the first period almost every match. Then I would get a reversal and pin the guy. My coaches were happy for the pin but would have liked to have seen me be more aggressive on my feet. I learned to do a good standing switch my freshman year.

My wrestling hero in those days was a guy named Mark Schwab. He became a four time Iowa State High School Wrestling Champion while wrestling for Osage High School. I had never really heard of anyone else at that point so Mark was the man.

My girlfriend Kari was usually at home meets to see me wrestle. And, her brother John was one of my teammates. Thank you, Kari. I'll never forget my freshman year of high school and what a part of it you were.

The highlight of my freshman year was wrestling in the Upper Iowa Conference Tournament. For some reason Wayne didn't cut down to 98 lbs. for that one and I got to wrestle.

I won first round or perhaps got a bye and then lost a close match in the second round. The referee ran into me later on and said something like, "That's too bad buddy. You wrestled a really good match."

I wrestled a senior to determine 3rd and 4th place. He tried to crossface cradle me and had me worried a little bit. But, at some point when I was on top I put in an arm bar and pinned him. I took 3rd place in the conference. Not too bad for a freshman who got to wrestle varsity because of a lucky break.

Kevin Wedo had healed up by the end of the season. He was able to wrestle at sectionals and even ended up qualifying for the state tournament. I didn't mind giving him back his spot at the end of the season. He was better than me. He deserved it.

So, that's how I came to be a letterman my freshman year. An accident gave me a shot and I rose to the occasion. At our wrestling banquet I received that red letter P and then bought a letter jacket to put it on the next year.

What a year! I'll never forget it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lars Wins Sectionals

Let it be known that on this day my nephew Lars Warth, representing South Winneshiek High School, became Sectional Wrestling Champion at 119 lbs. Wrestling is surely in the Schwinefus blood. My father was a wrestling champion. I was a wrestling champion. And now, my nephew Lars is a wrestling champion.

Lars is only a freshman but has wrestled all season on the varsity team.

I am so excited and happy right now. Way to go, Lars! I'm so proud of you.

Lars becoming Sectional Champion is an interesting story.

He received a bye first round. In the second round he faced a wrestler who had beaten him 11-0 the week before. But this time, Lars beat that same wrestler 14-4. Then in the final round, Lars pinned a senior who had a very good record. How can this be explained? Was Lars in a different frame of mind this time? Did he "peak" at the right time? There are a couple of lessons here. You never know what's going to happen for sure in a wrestling match. Anyone can be beaten on any given day. Betting against Cael Sanderson, John Smith or Dan Gable at the height of their careers would have been unwise. But, you never know. Lars really put it all together today.

I know his mother (my older sister) was cheering from the stands just like she used to cheer for me. I'm sure that she (and perhaps my father) were in tears when Lars won today.

I can remember standing at the top of the stand to receive my first place medal after winning Districts my senior season. Incredible! Now Lars is having that kind of experience.

Well Lars, I guess all of those years of wrestling in pee wee tournaments are paying off. Great job, nephew! Keep it up.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Little Stud

When wrestling season began my eighth grade year I had a new coach named Brad Bucknell.

Coach Bucknell reminded us to all be sure to wear a jock so our manhood wouldn't be spread out all over the mat. He said no one wanted to see how big our equipment was.

I don't think Coach Bucknell cared much for the sport of basketball. He referred to the basketball players as the "bubble bouncers". So from junior high on, my fellow wrestlers and I always called the basketball players "bubble bouncers".

Sometimes we wrestlers referred to ourselves as grapplers. I guess we adopted that word because newspaper reporters sometimes used it in place of the word wrestlers just to make their articles sound cooler I guess. I now know that grappling refers to any type of ground fighting. We liked the word. It sounded cool. I always thought of martial arts as being Karate or Kung Fu or other similar disciplines. I now know that wrestling is also a martial art.

Coach Bucknell informed us that there were three main styles of wrestling in the United States--folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco Roman.

He taught us how to do a Granby roll to warm up our necks.

I learned more and more moves and techniques. I worked up the courage to try some new things like arm bars and quarter nelsons. I began to really like arm bars and quarter nelsons. I was pretty good at double leg takedowns by then.

One match stands out in my mind from that season. We were wrestling the Sumner Aces and I had to wrestle a little muscle man by the name of Tracy. My friend Todd laughed when he found out I had to wrestle Tracy. Tracy had beaten Todd before. But, I wasn't worried. I looked at it as a good challenge.

I kept going through my takedowns on the practice mat and focusing on getting the first takedown until my match started. When it was time for me to wrestle I walked onto the mat and took Tracy down immediately with a double leg. I kept the pressure on and won the match in dominant fashion. I think my friend Todd was shocked. My coach was impressed. After the meet was over I walked over to Coach Bucknell and he said, "You wrestled a hell of a good match. Hmmph, so much for that little stud."

The next day in homeroom our school principal walked into the room and asked to speak with me. We walked off to the side of the room and he said, "I just want to tell you that you wrestled a great match yesterday and did a fine job of representing our school."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In Need of a Singlet

I began officially representing the Postville Community School District in seventh grade. I was in junior high now. I was part of a team. I'd hit the big time. My coach was Don Luck. Yes, Coach Luck. Cool name, eh?

I still didn't have a pair of wrestling shoes when the season began. But, I think I did by the time our first meet came around. I had a pair of black Onitsuka Tigers by Asics. I think everyone on the team had a pair of Asics. Asics pretty much cornered the market on wrestling shoes.

And, I suppose I got to wear a jock strap for the first time. Ah, memories.

On the first day of practice our coach told us all to lay down by one another on the floor. He said he wanted to do a test to see how tough we were. So, he used us as a human bridge and walked over us. Okay, he didn't really do that. He stepped in between us and stepped lightly on our stomachs. It was pretty funny and we all had a good laugh.

He chastised our push up performance. He told us our technique was all wrong. We had learned to touch our noses to the floor at the bottom position of a push up in elementary school. He told us to do it right and finish a push up by touching our chests to the mat. So, we began doing push ups like real men.

I suppose I finally started learning some basic moves--double legs, single legs, stand ups, short sit outs, and switches. I learned how to sprawl. I learned to snap my opponent down and spin around. I learned arm drags and duck unders. And, of course, I learned the half nelson--often simply called "a half". It's funny looking back now. I learned all of those basics just like millions of other wrestlers.

I seem to remember the takedowns the most. You put your head on the outside when doing a double leg. And, you keep your head on the inside when doing a single leg. How simple is that?

My teammate Andrew learned to do a headlock along with the rest of us. But, that's all he seemed to like to do. He was successful with it. Maybe other seventh graders weren't expecting to be put in a headlock and thrown to their backs. Our coach wanted to see Andrew try some other moves and not end each match so quickly. But, I think that kind of ruined Andrew's enthusiasm a bit.

When I was in the locker room changing for my first meet I realized that I was the only one on the team without a singlet. Good Lord! All I had was a blue tee shirt and some tan shorts. I explained my situation to my friend Todd. He didn't laugh at me. He had a pair of red shorts and a red shirt with him that he let me borrow so at least I would be wearing my school's colors. Thank you, Todd. Seriously Mom and Dad, what were you thinking? No singlet? I came home that night and let it be known that I needed a singlet. Then for Christmas I got a sweatshirt and a pair of sweat pants. So, by January I had shoes, a singlet, headgear and a sweat suit. I was the man!

I always seemed to have a funny feeling come over me right before a match. And, it must have showed because Coach Luck once said, "I always like to see Schwinefus wrestle because he gets so excited."

I won my first junior high match even if I wasn't wearing a singlet.

My second match didn't go quite so well. Before the meet started I was eyeing the competition and saw a very small guy on the other team. He looked really tiny even for a seventh grader. He was wearing glasses and looked a bit nerdy I suppose. I thought to myself, "Please, let him be my opponent." As it turned out, he was the guy I had to wrestle. The whistle blew. He took me down and pinned me within seconds. I was stunned and embarrassed. But, I learned that very important life lesson--never underestimate anybody. That guy's name was Bill and he turned out to be a very good wrestler. I would wrestle him again in high school and the results would not be the same. But, that story comes later.

I believe I had a winning record my seventh grade year. I entered some more kid's tournaments but still couldn't win that 1st place trophy. I was learning and improving though. And, I really enjoyed wrestling and never thought once of giving it up.

Humble Beginnings

I began wrestling for the first time in fifth grade. I think it may have started with intramurals which were organized by my gym teacher who was the high school basketball coach of all things. I guess he decided to be fair and have intramurals for both basketball and wrestling. I don't think the wrestling intramural lasted very long and I can't believe that gym teacher could have known much about the sport. I ended up getting pinned in a match and that was about the extent of intramurals.

I wrestled in my first competition during that fifth grade year. I believe it was the Decorah Jaycees Kid's Wrestling Tournament or something like that. Decorah is in northeast Iowa. I shudder to think about how I was dressed at that tournament. I had no singlet or wrestling shoes. I had on shorts, a tee shirt, and tennis shoes. I suppose I looked like a total nerd. I believe I was pinned in the first round. I won my second round match. And, I lost my third round match by a decision. I guess I placed 5th or 6th and got a green or purple ribbon. I told my dad about it when I got home and he said that didn't sound too bad. Thankfully, my dad wanted to encourage me. Even though I had only won one match I felt good about it. That one win was enough to make me believe I would get better and improve as time went on. One win was sweet enough to keep me motivated.

I believe I entered two tournaments during my sixth grade year. So, I wasn't exactly getting in a lot of competition. But, at least I was involved in the world of wrestling to some degree. I think that year I wrestled in the Decorah Jaycees tournament again and in the Bullpup Wrestling Tournament in Monona, Iowa. Bullpup wrestling? Cute, huh? Like the year before, I would lose first round and then win a match or two after that. I'm not sure what my skill level was back then. I knew hardly any moves at all. So, I guess I did well considering. I was always disappointed that I didn't win a trophy or a medal. I really wanted one of those trophies or medals. Who wants some green or purple ribbon?

I believe that during my sixth grade year some sort of wrestling clinic was held after school for about a week. I asked my mom if I could go to it and she said I could. Iwas surprised because we lived on a farm and she would ahve to drive into town and pick me up between chores. But, I guess my parents knew wrestling was important to me so I got to attend the clinic. I learned a few more skills at the clinic. Learning new techniques was kind of exciting. But, I was still only beginning to put things together at that point.

I continued with the shorts, tee shirt, and tennis shoes. Mom and Dad, what were you thinking? Dress your young wrestler accordingly.

My friend Chris and I always got a ride to the tournaments from his mom. My parents were busy farming. So, thank you Mrs. Enyart for hauling Chris and me to all of those kid's tournaments from fifth to eighth grade. Those kid's tournaments gave me my start. Who knew a champion was in the making? Actually, maybe I did deep down.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Letter Jacket

My father's high school letter jacket used to hang in the closet in my bedroom. As a youngster, every now and then I would take it out and try it on. The jacket was blue with gold sleeves and trim and had a "N" sewn on it for North High. The "N" had some medals from wrestling competitions sewn on it. I really liked trying on that cool jacket. I imagined that I too would have a letter jacket one day. My father had been a wrestler and I knew that I would be a wrestler too. I had absolutely no doubt of that.

Eventually, I did become a wrestler and I did earn my own letter jacket. My jacket was black with red sleeves and trim. My jacket had a red "P" on it for Postville High. I had my mother sew on almost all of the medals I won in high school. By my senior year, my jacket was drooping to one side under the weight of the medals. I look back now and feel a bit foolish. I could have easily lost those medals if they'd come undone. My jacket could have been misplaced or stolen. I walked around like a fool making a clanking sound from the medals hitting each other. But, I couldn't help it. I was so proud of being good at something and wanted to show the world. I thought people respected me in that letter jacket and I can't fault myself for having that hope and belief.

My father's high school letter jacket and some vague knowledge that my father had been a great wrestler are two of my first memories related to the sport of wrestling.