If you haven’t read the previous two chapters of the story, you can read those here!
A Wrestler’s Journey: Life, Wrestling and the Pursuit of Happiness; Chapter One.
A Wrestler’s Journey: Life, Wrestling and the Pursuit of Happiness; Chapter Two
Chapter Three: Fun’s Over; Win! Win! Win!
Greg was excited for his matches. He had some trouble going to sleep the night before because all he could think about was the deal with his Dad. If he wins all his matches he’s allowed to train with Coach Bob and Aiden but if he loses any of them it’s over, and he can’t even practice with Aiden. While Greg was doing the warm up he fell over and hit his knee on the floor. He stayed down for a second, Coach Dan ran over and screamed at him. “Get moving Greg! We’ve got matches to win!!” Greg felt like he was back at his football games. Coaches screaming and yelling and focused only on winning. After they warmed up, Coach Dan brought all the athletes together to talk to them about the matches. Greg sat next to Aiden and Coach Bob, he smiled at Aiden and Aiden whispered, “I hope we have fun today, I love wrestling matches cause I always get cookies after!” Coach Dan glanced at Greg and Aiden and started his speech.
“Well boys! Fun’s over, it’s time to get focused and do everything you can to win! This isn’t practice anymore, this is real life! Out here your opponent is trying to beat you up, you need to beat them up first! This is a fight!” Greg looked at Aiden rolling his eyes while Coach Dan continued to rant about winning, pinning and something about representing South Hampton’s legacy. Greg didn’t really care about what Coach Dan had to say at this point, as far as he was concerned Coach Bob was his coach. At the end of his speech Coach Dan brought all the kids in and had them do a team chant, “We’re gonna chant ‘Win’ 5 times, and be loud!”
The boys all put their hands in and chanted “Win, Win, Win, Win, Win!!” By the end of it they were all screaming and ran off in different locations. All except for Greg and Aiden as they walked off to the side and Coach Bob sat them down. “Okay boys, let’s have fun today and do your best! Greg, focus only on the match, alright buddy?” Greg smiled and yelled “Yes sir! I’m gonna win!” Coach Bob laughed, “Don’t worry too much about winning buddy, Coach Dan stole that chant from the team that loses in a movie called the Mighty Ducks! Their coach was too concerned with winning and it cost them in the end!” Greg thought Coach Bob was joking, a movie about ducks? What did that have to do with winning. That was all Greg cared about.
Greg didn’t have much time to think about it, before he knew it they were starting to call wrestlers out for their matches. He would wrestle right before Aiden so naturally he assumed Coach Bob would coach him. But Greg figured he should double check. “Coach Bob!! Can you coach me during the match!? Please!!!!!” Greg was hopeful he’d say yes, but Coach Bob said that technically Coach Ryan had Greg and Aiden as his weight classes. Greg didn’t understand, so he tried to argue, “But Aiden is your son and I need you to coach me! That’s not fair!!” Coach Bob smiled, “Well buddy, I gave up Aiden and your weight class BECAUSE I don’t want to coach Aiden. I want him to see me as dad and not coach! Just like you wouldn’t want your dad coaching you!” Greg thought about that idea for a second, he would hate if his Dad was coaching him. In fact he wasn’t even sure he wanted his Dad anywhere near the mat.
Greg was called up for his first match, he put his headgear on and walked out into the circle for the first time in his career. Something he’d do several hundred times over the course of years, but this first time was special. He felt like time slowed, he looked around at all the yelling parents, kids, and it seemed like this was where he belonged. He looked at the ref, his opponent was scared to walk out there. Greg wasn’t scared at all; in fact, he was happy to be there. The ref blew the whistle and Greg immediately went to work looking for the win. He dropped into a takedown and ran his opponent over. Once he was on top he worked to crossface his opponent. He could hear his opponent crying, he didn’t get why he was crying, had Greg hurt him? Greg let up a bit and the kid reached up and grabbed Greg’s head.
Greg did what Coach Bob had taught him when an opponent grabs your head, he threw his arm over the opponents head and ran his half. He ran the opponent to his back, got his chest on chest like Coach Bob had shown him. BOOM! The ref smacked the mat and called the pin for Greg. Greg jumped to his feet excited and looked for his Mom and Dad. He couldn’t find either of them, but he looked right to the corner and saw Coach Bob smiling. Aiden ran out onto the mat after Greg was done and gave him a big high five as he walked to the center of the mat. “Good job Greg!!” Coach Bob yelled as he walked off the mat. Greg was happy, it felt good to win but it was just fun putting all the moves he learned to use! “Did you see it Coach Bob, I did the double and the half!! That was fun!”
As Greg was beaming Coach Dan and his Dad walked up, “What did we say about ‘Fun’ Greg? Wrestling isn’t fun it’s a fight!” Dad always knew the wrong thing to say Greg thought. Coach Bob looked over at Greg, his Dad and Coach Dan. He thought that this poor kid has all this pressure to win at only six years old. He felt like he should say something, “Greg did great, and wrestling isn’t meant to be a fight, it’s more like a physical dance between two athletes. Let the kid enjoy the sport, the winning will come.” Coach Dan gave Bob a look as if to tell him to shut it. “Well he’s my son, and I want him to focus on one thing, winning! I don’t care if he has fun or not, I want him to become a champion like Dan! He knows what it takes to win.” Bob laughed, “Yeah, Dan is a great guy, but just lighten up a little man, they’re six.”
Greg walked back over with his Mom and she grabbed Dad by the hand and pulled him away for them to go sit down. Greg would be up again soon and she wanted them to have some time to sit down and celebrate. “You did amazing honey! You made that win look easy!” Greg smiled, “I just did what Coach Bob taught me, he makes it fun and I learn a ton!” Dad looked at Greg confused. Is it possible that he can have fun and still win? NFL athletes are always talking about how much fun they have and those tend to be the ones winning the most. “Good work Greggy. Two more wins and you can train with Coach Bob as much as you want!” Greg didn’t really hear the comment. He was too focused on watching his teammates wrestle. “Can I go watch my friends wrestle!?” Greg said as he jumped and pointed. “Yes honey, go ahead!” Mom smiled as Greg ran over to his friends. “He really enjoys this, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to sign him up.” Dad looked at her “Yeah, he does like it. But he needs to focus more.”
Match number two came quickly and just as quickly it was over. Greg ran onto the mat and then he ran his opponent over quickly. Right after the ref blew the whistle his opponent bum rushed Greg, trying to just run him over and Greg did what Coach Ryan had shown the team last week. He grabbed his opponents head and arm and stepped in and threw him to his back. Greg heard his teammates go “ohhhhhhh!!!” when he hit the headlock so he knew it must’ve been cool. Greg squeezed while his coaches yelled for him to do different things to try and get the pin. Finally, after what felt like forever, but was actually about 30 seconds, the ref called the pin again. Two matches, two wins, two pins and Greg was excited.
He got up and jumped up and down, one more match and his deal was won! He looked over to the corner again and this time he saw Mom, Dad and Coach Bob. Mom and Coach Bob were smiling while Dad seemed mad. Greg walked off the mat and his Dad grabbed him, “Who taught you that junk!? Headlocks? You’re better than that, use real moves or don’t even wrestle!” Coach Bob once again stepped in to defend Greg, “He did exactly what we taught last week for when an opponent bum rushes them. Headlock is still a real move, there’s no such thing as ‘junk’. But make sure you don’t make that the only thing you do buddy!” Greg nodded and ran to watch Aiden while Dad stared at Bob and shook his head. “Who does this guy think he is…” Dad murmured as he walked away. One more win and Greg would be training with this guy regularly? Greg may want that, but Dad wasn’t sure he did.
Coach Bob could tell that Greg felt a lot of pressure coming from his Dad. So as Aiden wrestled Coach Bob took a knee next to Greg to cheer Aiden on. “Have fun out there buddy! Work hard and do your best! I’m proud of you!!” Greg smiled as he realized Coach Bob was being nothing but supportive. Aiden turned his opponent several times in that tilt he had hit on Greg in live. “Aiden is amazing! He must be the best kid in here!” Greg exclaimed as Aiden finished off the match with a pin. Final score, 16-3 before he pinned him. “Best kid? No probably not! He just works hard and has a lot of fun doing it! That helps him find success more often than not!” Aiden came running over to a big hug from Coach Bob. “Did you see that dad! I took him down four times! Two singles, a double and a snap down!” Greg was amazed by how well Aiden recalled what he did, Greg honestly couldn’t even tell you what he did in his last match. Greg sat there and watched as Aiden and his dad talked back and forth, big smiles on both of their faces. Greg looked for his Dad but didn’t see him anywhere.
Greg’s Dad had walked out into the concession area to get a hot dog, he thought to himself that Greg was one match from making him look dumb. “If he wins that next match he’ll be training with Bob and he’ll fill his mind with all kinds of junk moves. My kid will become the headlock king and never progress. I need to make sure he loses this last match or his entire career may change…” Dad walked up to Coach Dan and told him to switch Greg’s last match to an older and more experienced wrestler. “I want him to be challenged, the first two were too easy.” Coach Dan understood and was happy to help humble Greg a bit.
A little time passed, and it was time for Greg’s next match. As Greg was preparing to wrestle Aiden came up to him! “Good luck Greg! Your next match is really tough, I wrestled this guy last year and he kicked my butt, but do your best, okay?” Greg gulped, if this guy had kicked Aiden’s butt, he’d make short work of Greg. Coach Bob could see Greg was uneasy “Hey buddy, just focus on your technique, no matter what the score is, no matter what the time is, just wrestle to the very end! I am proud of you either way, we all know you’ll do great! I’ll even be there to coach you this time!” That helped Greg calm down a ton, but it didn’t take away from the fact that his match was all or nothing for the deal with Dad.
The match started and it was not a great start for Greg. Right off the whistle the opponent ran Greg over, he took him down and any time Greg got closed to standing up he slammed him on his face. Greg tried to do everything he was being told; head up, hands free, stand up. Nothing seemed to work. After what seemed like forever the first period ended. The opponent, who Greg figured out was named Danny after he heard his parents yelling at him, chose bottom. He stood up and elbowed Greg in the face in the process. Greg felt a little crunch to his nose and squealed in pain.
The kid got away from him and ran him over again, this time to his back, before the ref noticed Greg was bleeding. Greg had never seen that much blood come out of his nose, he’d had a nose bleed before but never like this. Coach Bob and Coach Dan tried to calm him down while the trainer plugged his nose. Greg was losing 8-0 and the second period had only just started. “I’m gonna lose! Then I won’t be able to train with you Coach Bob!” Greg cried as the trainer tried to stop his bleeding. “Forget the bet buddy, that’s not what wrestling is about. Just focus on scoring the next point here. One point at a time, good things happen when we take our time!”
Greg got set on bottom as the match restarted and his opponent broke him down to his belly again. This time he jumped out to the side and hit Greg in the face with a hard cross face. Aiden had done that to Greg once before but this felt different, this felt meaner. Danny jumped sides an hit him with the other arm. This time the ref intervened and stopped the match. He gave Greg a point for Danny being unsportsmanlike. Greg looked at Coach Bob who motioned his hands down and said “Calm down, next point!” Greg had one point now at least. Greg was finally able to work his way out off bottom and got up to his feet, 8-2, and Danny bum rushed him again, this time Greg dropped down and grabbed his legs. He drove hard and put Danny down hard on his butt and jumped out to try and catch him on his back, he held him there for a couple seconds!
The period ended and now the score was 8-6. Coach Dan signaled and chose bottom for Greg. Right off the whistle Danny broke Greg down again and trapped his arm. He put Greg in what he was pretty sure was an arm bar and started to run him over to his back. As Greg fought it he looked over to the corner of the mat and saw his Dad laughing and walking away. He saw his Mom yell at him, but then before he knew it he was upside down. “One, two, three…” The ref counted, “That’s it! It’s over!” Danny’s coaches yelled, “Fight Greg! Fight!! You can do it!!” Aiden and Coach Bob yelled together. Greg fought hard and kicked with his legs and got back to his belly. But now the score was 11-6 with 30 seconds left. Greg and Danny went out of bounds and they had a restart, but Greg’s nose plug fell out. Coach Bob came to talk to him while the ref plugged him again.
“Where’s my Dad? He left!?” Greg cried, realizing his Dad didn’t care enough to watch the end. “Don’t worry about that Greg! This match isn’t about him, or you, or anyone really, it’s about…” “The next point!” Greg finished his sentence. “Exactly, only difference now buddy is you’re gonna need to put him to his back. An escape and takedown won’t win you this match.” As Greg got his hands cleaned up he thought about this crazy move Uncle Dave had shown him at a birthday party last week. It involved rolling to your shoulders and trapping the opponent’s arm and leg, he called it a Peterson.
It was all Greg could think of, so it was all he had left to try. This was all or nothing. Train with Coach Bob or be stuck with Coach Dan for the rest of the season. “When!” He yelled at Coach Bob as he gave him a thumbs up! Coach Bob smiled, thinking about how he had told Greg “When, not if.” Greg got set, the ref blew the whistle and Greg tried the Peterson, he circled out to the side a bit, pinched down on the arm around his belly and rolled to his side! It felt like forever but to Greg, and everyone else’s surprise, he caught Danny’s arm and leg and flipped him over. The ref signaled and counted backs, then Greg got hit in the face with the towel that ended the match. The ref signaled for the points, tie score, 11-11. This meant overtime!
Greg was bleeding again, as the towel knocked his nose plug out, and hit him in the eye. “Overtime!” The ref yelled at the table, “You have one minute, if you get the takedown the match is over!” Coach Bob told Greg. “When, Coach Bob, when I get the takedown.” Greg smiled, took a sip of water Coach Dan offered, and went back to the middle. Danny meanwhile was still laying on the mat, he was crying and throwing a fit, screaming “I won, I won!” while his coaches tried to tell him to get ready to wrestle.
Greg was calm. He felt a steady coldness flowing through his veins. It felt like he could hear everything, see everything. When Danny finally got up Greg got in his stance. He expected Danny would bum rush him again as he did the previous times. Off the whistle Greg circled, Danny bum rushed, Greg grabbed his head, pushed him down and circled right behind him. “Two!!!!!” The ref yelled and blew the whistle to end the match! Greg had won! “WOOOOOHOOOO!!” Greg yelled as he jumped up into the air! He shook hands with Danny while he cried profusely, and went over and gave Coach Bob and even Coach Dan, a big hug! “I did it, I did it, I did it!!” Greg was smiling cheek to cheek. “Now we can train together Aiden! You and I are partners for life! THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME!!” Coach Bob smiled, “Yeah buddy, you did awesome! That took a lot of grit and focus to win that match! You should be so proud of yourself!”
Greg was proud, but he looked up and saw his Mom standing there alone. She was on the phone, she was yelling but Greg couldn’t make it out. She seemed upset. He looked around for his Dad but couldn’t see him anywhere. He figured he must’ve left when he saw Greg won. Coach Bob looked at Greg who was still smiling but looked lost, he looked at Greg’s Mom and realized what was going on. “Aiden buddy, why don’t you take Greg to get a victory slice of pizza, get one for yourself too!” Bob handed Aiden $10 and Aiden grabbed Greg’s hand and ran off.
“Did he leave before, or after Greg won?” Bob asked to Greg’s Mom. “He left after he hit the Peterson. He didn’t want him to win, he even told me he asked Dan to switch him to a harder match to ensure he’d lose. I can’t believe he’d do that to our son. He’s six!” Bob looked on at this mother, who just wanted to see her son enjoy a sport, and felt tremendous sadness. He remembered what his own mom had gone through defending him from his dad when he got upset. “Greg did great, and his dad will get over that. He just needs to learn to trust Greg’s instincts and his coaches. Kids know a lot more than we think they do.” Greg’s Mom smiled, “Yeah, Greg is a really smart kid, he figures a lot more out than most six-year-olds should.”
Greg and Aiden came beaming back into the gym with there pizza, excited to show their parents their spoils. “Look Mom! Pizza!!” Greg said as he took a big bite. “Well, a deal is a deal, Greg! You earned your right to train with Coach Bob! Only thing I ask is that you keep working hard but…always remember that you need to have fun!!” Bob looked at this mom who had just been distraught and thought about how strong she was to force herself to be happy and remind her son that he can choose that too. “I will Mommy! Wrestling is awesome, I’ll work hard and do my best and make you and Daddy proud! Speaking of which, where is Daddy?” Coach Bob interrupted, “He said he had something he had to go do buddy! But he’s proud of you!” Greg’s Mom looked at Bob and nodded and mouthed “Thank you” to him. Aiden and Greg ran off to play with their teammates as Greg’s Mom slowly walked outside, it slowly started to rain as she stepped through the door.