A Wrestler’s Journey: Life, Wrestling and the Pursuit of Happiness; Chapter One.

Introduction:

Keeping this short and sweet! This idea came to me after I had put a lot of thought into wanted to practice writing some stories. As a kid I used to like writing short stories, now as a coach I thought it would be fun to write one to create a story about wrestling. I wanted to create something fun but enlightening. This story chronicles the wrestling career of a fictional athlete, but one that I believe shares the shoes of many wrestlers out there. Through this story I hope to showcase the best of the sport but also encapsulate some of the lesser aspects as well. Not for open criticism but rather to showcase what it can look like from the perspective of objectivity.

Some of these stories are based on shared experiences of myself or the countless wrestlers I have known in my lifetime. However, this is all a work of fiction in the end and is only meant to serve the purpose of entertainment and education. I will say that I am not the perfect writer, I don’t have an editor and I write most of this in stream of consciousness (I just kind of go and don’t filter much at all) so I apologize to anyone who can’t get past that as you read! I truly did the best I could to just create a decent story. One that I hope my athletes as well as their parents can read and find value in. This is more of an attempt at education through storytelling than a future New York Times Best Seller! I hope you enjoy it, my goal is about a chapter ever week, releasing Sunday nights. Not sure on the length of the story, or the ending, I am just having fun letting the ideas flow!

Chapter One: Lace Up, It’s Time to Wrestle!

When little Greg took his first steps, he was destined to wrestle. He came from a family of wrestlers after all. It was in his blood, or so he was told. When you’re a young boy growing up in New Jersey there’s really only ever three sports you’re expected to do. Those three are; football in the Fall, wrestling in the Winter, and baseball in the Spring, maybe you swam at your swim club in the Summer. In Greg’s family this was the path that was laid out for you. His Grandpop played those three, his dad played those three, and now he was expected to play them as well. This isn’t the story of Greg the MLB All Star; it’s no NFL origin story either. No, this is the journey of a wrestler, it’s no easy trek and it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. But read on and learn what it takes to experience this journey firsthand and learn from Greg’s story!

Greg woke up on that brisk November morning like he always had, to his dad knocking on the door and telling him to get dressed and come down for breakfast. He looked out the window as the sun began to rise through the trees in his back yard and wondered what a six-year-old had to be up this early for. “I wish just one day Dad would let me sleep in.” Greg murmured to himself as he put on the jeans and polo shirt his Mom had laid out the night before.

Greg walked downstairs to his Mom and Dad in the kitchen arguing. They weren’t yelling but they definitely weren’t seeing eye to eye on something, that was clear. When Greg got to the bottom of the steps he stood and listened before he made his presence known. His mom was clearly upset; “He’s still too young! My brother didn’t start wrestling until he was in middle school, let him try other sports first, he can always wrestle later!” He didn’t know what they were arguing about, what even was wrestling? Greg thought to himself, as his dad rebutted “He’s six! Half the kids his age started last year, he’s already behind the curve! He needs to start this season or he’ll never be competitive!”

Greg was still so confused, but he wanted his breakfast, so he walked around the corner and his parents stopped their argument and greeted him. His mom looked at his dad and mouthed something but said to Greg “Good morning honey! I made you some bacon and eggs!” and his dad sat down at the table to eat with him, “Eat up Champ, it’s gonna be a big day for you!” Greg didn’t care much to ask why, he just sat down and ate, anticipating another day of school and sports, as his days generally went.

Greg’s day was a pretty typical day; went to school, played with his friends, and waited outside on the playground to get picked up by his mom. However, one thing was different today, it wasn’t his mom that came to drive him home. When Greg saw his dad pull up initially, he was excited. Dad never picks me up, he thought to himself. However, Greg had a sense for when his dad was doing something his mom didn’t want him to. But his Dad walked up, talked to the teacher and signed Greg out to go home.

Greg got in the car and next to his seat was a little black drawstring bag with what looked like shoes in it. “I hope you’re excited buddy, we’re going to wrestling practice!” His dad said, with a smile from cheek to cheek. Greg wasn’t sure what wrestling was, but he hoped it wasn’t anything like football. Greg didn’t really like football, the coaches always yelled at the kids, if they didn’t do things fast enough they had to run sprints. He didn’t find it much fun, even when they won the couple games they did. Greg was in for a bit of a rude awakening when he got to wrestling practice.

Greg walked into the school and was walked down a hallway to a gymnasium with wrestling mats laid down. He didn’t really recognize the school or any of the kids around him. He didn’t see a single friend he knew. As his Dad sat him down he talked to him, “I got you these shoes, I wore ones just like em as a kid! You’re gonna love this place, it’s one of the best wrestling programs in the whole state!” His dad seemed excited, but all Greg could think about was how much the shoes hurt his feet, did Dad know his shoe size?

He jumped up and his Dad said “Run around a little, you have to break them in.” Greg walked out onto the mat, it felt soft, his feet sunk into it a bit. He ran around for a few minutes with some other kids until a guy a little older than his dad came in and yelled at them all to line up. Greg ran to one edge of the mat and the other kids did their best to line up with him. Some continued to run around while other adults chased them down and carried them to the line.

“Welcome to your first wrestling practice of the year! My name is Coach Dan, I am going to be your head coach this season. This is Coach Ryan, Coach Joe and Coach Bob. They’ll be helping me out this year.” Greg laughed when he said Coach Bob, for whatever reason Greg thought Bob was a really funny name. That brought some attention to Greg. “Something funny?” Coach Dan yelled at Greg as he walked over to him. Greg looked down at his feet and said, “No sir.” Greg felt scared, he wished his mom was here but he kept his mouth shut after the coach got to him.

Coach Dan looked at him and nodded, continuing his speech. “Here at South Hampton Wrestling we take this very seriously! We’re not in the business of raising jokers, we’re here to coach winners!” Greg thought to himself that this sounded eerily similar to what his football coaches had said to his team. “I have three rules as a coach; 1. No crying. Crying is for the weak and little babies, I don’t coach babies! 2. If you want to quit, do it on your own time, you won’t quit when you’re with me! 3. Win or go home! When you wrestle you represent me, your parents and South Hampton, we wrestle to win!” Coach Dan raised his fist as he said the last rule. Like it was a triumphant battle cry to tell six-year-olds to win or go home.

Greg could already tell that this was going to be just like football. Coach Joe called out for the kids to start jogging, Greg knew what that was a least and started running in a big circle around the mats. “Please don’t be like football practice…” Greg murmured as he listened to the coaches to warm up.

Greg’s first practice wasn’t too bad, he could kind of figure out some of what he was supposed to do. But he didn’t really like all the yelling. When kids messed up or were goofing off Coach Dan could be pretty mean. Quite a few kids broke his first rule this practice, some of their parents even took them out entirely and left. Not Greg’s Dad though. He sat in the corner of the gym and watched intently, often mouthing things or mirroring movements to Greg when he looked his direction.

There was one Coach in particular who Greg did like though, Coach Bob. Originally it was cause he still thought Bob was a funny name, but it was mainly due to the way Coach Bob seemed to make it fun. He said funny things, did funny things, and made Greg laugh. But often that got the kids yelled at when Coach Bob left and Coach Dan came over.

“Why are you laughing? This isn’t a joke, this is a fight!” Greg thought about something his Mom would say when people would yell like this, he didn’t realize he said it out loud until Coach Dan screamed “Stop” at the top of his lungs. Greg couldn’t even react before Coach Dan had his hand on his shoulders, “What did you just say?!” He screamed in Greg’s face.

At that point Greg’s Dad had run over onto the mats. “He didn’t realize what he was saying, he hears his Mom say that when we argue sometimes. I am so sorry!” Dad grabbed Greg by the hand and walked him off the mat, clearly embarrassed. “Greg, you can’t say stuff like that to Coaches or any other adults. You need to watch your mouth and show some respect!” After Dad had talked to Greg he sat back down and Greg went back onto the mat. Coach Dan came over and took a knee “Hey buddy, you ever say something like that again, I will make you run sprints until you throw up.” Greg sighed and said “Sorry Coach.”

Greg thought he was in trouble after what he said during practice, but he wasn’t prepared for what his Dad would have to experience when he got home. When they pulled into the driveway his Mom was already waiting outside. His Dad got out of the car and came to let Greg out, Greg could hear his Mom yelling “You took him to practice without telling me! I thought we said he wasn’t going to start this season, he’s too young!”

His Dad yelled back at her “He’s six! He’s already a year behind, if he starts now with South Hampton he’s on a path to greatness!” Greg was confused, he just jumped out of the car and grabbed his backpack. His parents kept arguing as he walked to the door, “Path to greatness? He’s six years old, he should just be having fun!”

His Dad slammed the door open, continuing to yell, “Wrestling isn’t supposed to be fun! It’s a grind, it’ll make him tough!!” Greg walked upstairs to his room and left his parents to their screaming contest. He didn’t understand why they were yelling at each other and listening to it anymore would’ve made him upset. He sat in his room and looked at his wall and thought about practice.

He didn’t mind the running, he liked being able to run his teammates over, his coach had called it a takedown, and he liked Coach Bob. But he wasn’t sure if he would be doing it tomorrow since his mom was upset. His dad came upstairs and helped him shower and get ready for bed. Greg went to bed thinking about wrestling, what did his dad mean by a path to greatness? He couldn’t keep his eyes open long and he fell asleep.

The next day his dad woke him up for school, but there was no bacon and eggs, just a bowl of cereal. Mom wasn’t up yet Greg guessed, Tuesdays were her day off from work, so she liked to sleep in. Greg got ready for school and saw his dad packing up his wrestling stuff, he had guessed Dad would be taking him to practice again tonight. Greg was determined to go to practice and not get yelled at this time, he was fast but he didn’t like running sprints.

Greg thought about wrestling all day at school, even taking some time to talk to his best friend Kevin about it at recess. “I’m still confused but it’s really cool Kevin, I can do awesome stuff like this!” Greg said as he grabbed Kevin and threw him down onto the grass. Kevin said “That’s awesome!” but one of the teachers watching the kids didn’t find it so awesome, before Greg knew it he was walking down to the principal’s office.

“You cannot put your hands on another student Greg!” Principal Joseph was a big man, twice the size of Greg’s dad. “I’m sorry sir, I was just showing Kevin what I learned at wrestling practice.” Greg thought for sure he was in trouble, but Principal Joseph seemed excited, “You’re wrestling? That’s wonderful Greg, did you know I used to wrestle?” Greg thought maybe he meant WWE. So he smiled and asked, “Did you know the Rock?” Principal Joseph laughed hysterically “No, I wrestled in college at Rutgers buddy, the sport changed my life!” Greg was confused, how could a sport change your life if you’re not a professional athlete. He thought only NFL players talked like that.

“Wrestling changed your life? It doesn’t seem that fun to me.” Greg murmured. “Wrestling isn’t always fun buddy, sometimes it’s really sad actually, but so is life. Wrestling prepares you for life because you experience a lot of the same stuff!” Greg thought Coach Dan’s lectures were bad, was it about to get worse with Principal Joseph?

“If wrestling isn’t always fun, why do it?” Greg asked and shifted forward in his seat to hear the answer “Well buddy, only you can answer that question. When something isn’t fun it doesn’t matter why someone else wants you to do it, all that matters is why YOU want to do it.”

Principal Joseph stood up and walked around his desk, “I’m sure right now you’re only doing it because your dad signed you up, right?” Greg nodded yes “Mom doesn’t want me to do it I think, but Dad wants me to do it to start my ‘path to greatness’ or something.”

Principal Joseph nodded, “Do you want to wrestle Greg?” Greg nodded yes “I think so, it seems fun, I like one of my coaches, his name is Bob, I think it’s funny!” Greg said with a big smile. “Greg, Bob is a very funny name, in fact my best friend’s name is Bob, he was a national champion teammate of mine, he coaches at South Hampton now, his son is about your age and just started wrestling too!”

“That must be Coach Bob! He’s the best!” Greg said as he jumped to his feet. “Calm down buddy! I’m glad you like him. He’s a great guy, I’ll have to tell him to teach you to keep wrestling contained to wrestling practice and matches though!” Greg laughed and nodded, “Yes sir, no more wrestling at school.” Principal Joseph motioned for Greg to start to walk out, but stopped Greg just before he walked out the door.

“Hey Greg, make sure you figure out why YOU want to wrestle, only you can decide where this sport will take you.” Greg felt good as he walked out the door, he had never had an adult be so happy to talk about a sport with him before. Typically, all he ever saw was his dad yelling at the TV when he watched sports. Maybe wrestling could be a lot of fun, maybe Greg just needed to figure out how to make it fun.  

On the way to practice that night all Greg could think about was Coach Bob, how much fun he had been at practice last night, and now that he knew Coach Bob’s son was wrestling Greg felt like he had a chance to make a new friend, and make this sport more fun. Greg got to practice and ran right up to Coach Bob as he was helping a kid tie his shoes.

“Hi Coach Bob! Ha ha, Bob..” Greg couldn’t help but laugh, “Hey buddy, Greg right? How’s it going?” Greg looked at the little boy sitting in the chair, then back to Coach Bob “Great! I’m excited to start my path to greatness today!” “Well that’s awesome buddy, maybe my boy Aiden can join you?” Greg looked at the kid, who he now knew was Aiden. “That would be so much fun!”

Greg was excited for practice, and he and Aiden ran over onto the mat together. Aiden was a little bigger than Greg, Aiden and Greg sat on the line and waited for Coach Dan to start his pre practice speech. “My dad said that wrestling is meant to be fun, but this Coach doesn’t like fun” Aiden said to Greg as Coach Dan rambled on, “Yeah, he reminds me of my football coach, all he did was yell and make us do push ups.”

Coach Dan caught the two of them talking and stopped his speech again. “Something you want to say boys?” Aiden spoke up this time “No, Coach No Fun” “What did you say?” Coach Bob grabbed Coach Dan by the shoulder and Coach Dan calmed down. “Never mind. Back to what I was saying…” Greg wasn’t listening, Aiden had just said something that should’ve gotten him in trouble, but Coach Bob got him out of it, that hardly seemed fair. But Greg was determined to not let it bother him.

This practice they spent more time on what the coaches called top. Greg learned how to run a guy down to his belly and then flip him over to his back with something called a half. Aiden was already really good at this, his half hurt Greg’s neck a bit. Coach Bob seemed to pay a lot more attention to Greg and Aiden this practice. Coach Dan seemed to avoid them both.

“Why do you wrestle Aiden?” Greg asked as they took turns running each other to their bellies. “My daddy wrestled, so I wrestle I guess. Daddy says I don’t have to if I don’t wanna, but I like being with my friends.” Greg thought about that, what would his dad say if he said he didn’t want to wrestle. He pushed it aside and kept drilling. Coach Bob told all the kids that they had done such a great job they earned the right to play a game.

After practice Coach Bob talked to Greg and his dad. “Hey! Greg really seems to love wrestling! It’s awesome to see that in a kid his age, make sure you keep it fun though, I learned that lesson the hard way with my older son… Once it’s not fun, it’s hard to keep them into it.” Greg’s dad nodded like he could care less, “Thanks man, I appreciate it.” Greg could tell his Dad didn’t really care what Coach Bob had to say.

On the car ride home Greg thought about how much more fun he had since he looked for a way to make it fun. But his dad interrupted his thoughts, “You’ve gotta work harder in practice, you’re goofing off too much. I don’t think you should wrestle with Aiden again, you guys talk too much!” Greg was confused, he had fun with Aiden, he didn’t feel like they were goofing off.

“Coach Dan said you guys are trouble makers together, Coach Dan was a state champion in high school, he knows what it takes to win, I don’t want you with Aiden at tomorrow’s practice. Got it?” Greg nodded, somewhat reluctantly. He couldn’t shake this feeling that his dad didn’t get that he had more fun with Aiden.

He went to bed that night thinking about what Principal Joseph had said, “When something isn’t fun it doesn’t matter why someone else wants you to do it, all that matters is why YOU want to do it.” Greg thought about why he wanted to wrestle as he fell asleep. But one thing kept popping into his head, he thought it was fun!

Published by Centurion Wrestling Club

Former D1 Wrestler at Penn State University. Member of Four national championship winning teams.

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