When I was in 7th grade, I wrestled for my junior high. Darrell Sata and I wrestled every week in practice to see who would be on varsity and who would drop to JV. Sometimes I’d win, and sometimes he’d win.
There was a meet one time that I recall very vividly. I was wrestling JV this week since I had lost to Darrell in practice. Like I said, this wasn’t really anything new; we tended to trade off. However, for this match I had really cared more than normal about whether or not I wrestled varsity, because I knew my dad was going to be able to make it.
Dad couldn’t always come to all my matches, because he was a busy guy. I grew up with a single dad and he had to work pretty hard keeping food on the table. So it was pretty important to me when he could make it fit in his schedule to come to a match.
Anyway, I was pissed about having lost in practice because that meant I was going to have to wrestle JV when my dad was there. So, when I got on the mat that day, I was going to take out that anger on my opponent. I remember toeing the line and looking in the guy’s eyes. He must have seen something in mine, because he looked scared. That’s the first time anyone’s been scared of a 121 pound 7th grader.
The ref blew his whistle to begin the match. Normally, wrestlers would just kind of circle each other and wait for the other guy to make the first move. However, this time, as soon as the whistle blew, I shot in and tackled this unsuspecting kid and knocked him right on his back. I think he was so shocked that he kind of froze, because I wrapped him up in a cradle and pinned him in 9 seconds.
The reason I remember all of this is because of what my dad said to me after the match as we were going home. I distinctly remember him looking at me and saying, “Man, you sure were fun to watch”. My little 7th grade face split in two with the biggest grin you can imagine. My dad said I was fun to watch!
I was thinking about this story yesterday. I’m not sure why, other than I was wondering how long it has been since someone truly admired me for something I had accomplished athletically. School and work have always come fairly easily to me, so I’ve never had to work that hard at it to obtain results that I could be proud of. But not so with sports. I’ve always wanted to be good at physical activities, but they’ve never come easily or naturally.
At the beginning of the summer, my wife and I set a goal to ride a century together by the end of the summer. We found what we thought would be an easy race for beginners and began training. We spent six days a week in the saddle for the whole summer, until my wife got in an accident a few weeks ago. She’s fine, but it took her out of commission. I knew I was going to have to continue to train and ride alone in the century.
By this time, our long rides on the weekend got up in the 50-60 mile range. It’d take three or four hours to complete these, and now I was going alone. That’s fine; I enjoy my alone time. But it really gave me time to think about what I was doing, and why. It would have been very easy to stop and just say that we’d try again next summer, but I couldn’t do that.
Then, two weeks ago I received an email from the race organizers saying that, for a number of reasons, the race had been cancelled and was going to be rescheduled for the spring. I was furious. After all the work I’d put in over the summer, to have the final goal taken away from me just a week before it was supposed to happen seemed very unfair. I could have stopped then, too. I mean, the race wasn’t happening. What else was there to do? But I couldn’t do that.
So, I planned a route around the area that I lived in that would have taken me 100 miles, and I set out to ride it on my own last weekend. It was the same day that the race would have happened anyway, so I figured I’d just do it on my own. I’ve never had a worse ride. So many mechanical problems! I actually ran out of inner tubes for my tires from changing so many flats, and had to bum one off a lady that saw me walking my bike down the side of the road. I ended up making it 60 miles in the amount of time I’d budgeted for the entire trip, and then got another flat. My wife came with my son and picked me up. I could have thrown in the towel then, but I just couldn’t do it.
Finally, yesterday morning at around 8:30 am, I set off on my bike again. I planned a different route; a 50 mile loop that I’d ride around twice to complete my 100 mile trip. That way, I could stop at the halfway point at home to refill up on water and snacks and fix any mechanical issues that may have arisen. But, other than a decent headwind that picked up at the beginning of my second trip around the loop, I had an amazing ride. Not one flat! Gorgeous weather the whole time.
The final approach on my loop is up a hill. It’s a 5th category climb for you cyclists out there. Not all that tough, but kinda challenging after you’ve come 99 miles already. As I swung on to that final hill, I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion. I got choked up and couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t THAT tired,was I? I had to think about it for a minute, but then I came to realize that this is one of the first goals that I’d set for myself in a long, long time that was HARD. I had to work for it.
Consequently, the achievement of that goal, small though it was in the grand scheme of things, was REALLY IMPORTANT to me. I had proven to myself that I can do what I set my mind to, even if I’ve gotta overcome some crappy circumstances to get there.
As I’ve said so many times before on this blog, I’ve begun to do what I do on a daily basis so that my son can have someone to be proud of. So that, when he’s a little bit older and understands how the world works, he gets a sense of what it means to accept responsibility and do what’s right, rather than what’s easy. Doing something like this was really hard for me, and yet I still did it. I want him to have that kind of example as he grows up.
So, I composed myself and finished the ride. I had my head down the whole way up the hill, just pounding out a decent rhythm to get up and get done. So, when I looked up to turn the corner into my subdivision and go home, I was shocked to see my wife and son there, cheering for me (I’m getting choked up again, dangit!). They had ridden their bikes out to go the last little bit with me. My son was jumping up and down, waving and yelling, “Did you win, Dad? Did you win?”. It was all I could do to answer “Yes” without crying like a baby.