I’m a firm believer that every child needs an extra-curricular activity that they care so deeply about, they would never want to lose the privilege to participate in it. I’ve always been more athletic than artistic so I’ve always gravitated toward sports. When I was 4 years old, I began playing soccer which I thought would be the sport I was most passionate about and even had aspirations to be in the olympics like Mia Hamm, until I met wrestling.
When I was 8 years old, I began going with a family friend, whose son was on my co-Ed soccer team, after school because my biological dad had to work late. Once the fall hit, she had to bring me to wrestling practice with herself and her son who participated with the youth program in our small town of Borger, Texas. At the time, a female teammate on my soccer team was also wrestling. I had never seen or heard of the sport of wrestling until I was exposed to my soccer friends participating in what looked like fun to me. One of the days I was watching practice, the older brother of one of the boys who wrestled was sitting in the waiting area and I challenged him to wrestle me on a small nap mat used for little kids to sleep on in daycare. Ultimately I whooped him and thought hey, this is pretty fun. My entire rookie year was spent getting my face slammed into the mat and frequently running into the bathroom to cry. Something about the sport, made me stick with it for 14 more years.
In this post, I want to discuss the commonalities the sport of wrestling has with trauma and healing in my experience. I also want to discuss what the sport has done for me in my healing process and how detrimental it was that I had wrestling to give my time to.
A common theme among children who are, or have been victims of child abuse is loss of control over their lives. Many children lose autonomy and feel like they are not able to be apart of any decisions that happen in their world. Wrestling is mostly an individual sport, meaning once you step onto the mat, there is no one else but you and your opponent. You are not given a defender, goalie, outfield, linebacker, etc. There is no one to blame for your outcome in a match except for yourself. I believe that small amount of control makes a huge difference for kids, especially in kids with trauma. In the same breath, the individuality of wrestling teaches kids not to rely on others. Hard work and dedication come from the individual who then channels that training in matches. Once I stepped on the mat at practice, it was “me” time. I didn’t have to worry about what was going on at home because I was focused on practice.
While there are many coping styles, I’ve learned that facing the issue and processing it is the best way to move forward from trauma. Wrestling culture frowns upon running from opponents. In the wrestling community you always hear “if you want to be the best, you have to wrestle the best”. I was taught that in wrestling, much like the real world, we don’t run from things that happen, we face them and do our best with what we are given.
DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR YOURSELF
I always tell people that the harsh reality of the world we live in is that no one is going to feel sorry for you. Your employer normally doesn’t care about the reasons you are late, only that they pay you to do a job and you aren’t showing up on time for it. Also common in the wrestling community is the same sense that your opponent, teammates, coaches, refs, etc., are not going to feel sorry for you because your going through a hard time, your sick, or injured. Once you place your toe on the line, your opponent, just like you, is trying to win the match and they don’t care what you have going on in your life. I love this aspect of the sport because kids are taught at a young age, the harshest reality of life. For me, it was important that I learned to never sulk in what was happening to me. My aunt and uncle (aka mom and dad) also made it a point to never let me feel sorry for myself. The experience of abuse in itself is unfortunate and obviously never fair, but we don’t get to hop into our magical time machine and go back in time. We are all dealt certain cards in this life and you have to choose if you’re going to fold or up the ante.
There were so many times in college where I wanted to feel sorry for myself in terms of making weight. I learned very quickly that I wasn’t going to live with any regrets of the food or liquids I put into my body, but I knew I had to get it off on my own later. Often times I was the last one making weight on the team and while everyone else was sleeping, I was in the hotel gym cutting weight. After a while, being alone and tired with little energy became therapeutic for me. Another sad reality of life is it never stops, no matter what you’re going through, the world keeps spinning. You have to be willing to pick yourself up and move forward.
After I began my first two years of wrestling, our club closed down due to lack of interest in youth. I’m not much for quitting, so I wasn’t ready to let go of wrestling. The best team in the state at the time was an hour away and I felt like I was ready to be apart of something more serious. Five days a week for a couple of years, my biological father and I drove an hour to and from Amarillo, Texas so I could practice with Maverick Elite. As soon as school was over, I was picked up and driven to practice, had to do homework in the car, practice for a couple hours, then drive back. Due to the nature of my unfortunate childhood, my father would drink alcohol the entire practice. One day, he fell asleep at the wheel which made the car swerve into another lane and clipped a stop sign. I quickly woke up, grabbed the wheel and kept us from getting into an actual wreck. That night I had to change the tire and drive us home. From then on, every time I finished practice, I drove myself and my intoxicated father an hour back home which started when I was 10. Not everyone has to be that dedicated, but many kids transfer to new schools, go to camps in the summer while their friends sit on the couch, and travel for practice.
Wrestling in itself requires more dedication than most things I’ve done in life. In college I had to maintain my weight which meant working out twice a day, go to practice for 2 hours a day, go to class, and work. Wrestling requires a lot of discipline in the aspect of training and weight management as well. You have to learn how to juggle both and still make sure you’re taking care of things outside of the sport. Many times, the entire recreational gym on campus was filled with wrestlers who were trying to keep their weight down or get an extra lift in. Athletes in general have to realize that your opponent(s) are also training to beat you, so sometimes it comes down to who is willing to put in the extra work. I’ve realized in life that not everyone I’ve worked with has the same mentality as me or work ethic as I do. What is wanted in the work place are the same characteristics that I’ve only learned through wrestling.
WRESTLE THROUGH IT
Something I admire about wrestling is how common it is to see athletes wrestling with torn ligaments, broken bones, swollen eyes, cuts and scrapes, you name it. Coolest thing I ever see is when athletes have cuts above their eyes or on the head that clearly need stitches, but they have someone tape around their entire head just so they can finish the match. My definition for grit is exactly that, never willing to give up no matter what your body is telling you. My college coaches always reminded us that if we hurt an arm or leg, we had another arm or leg to use. This notion of wrestling through it is transcendent in life. Sometimes in life you have to continue through the pain, sickness, brokenness, heartache and keep moving forward.
Life never stops being hard, for anyone. We have to adapt and learn how to problem solve in order to get the solution we want in life. Wrestling has taught me the same thing. If you’re down a couple points with seconds left in the match, find a way. If you hurt yourself during the match, find a way. In life I learned that I had not been given the best odds, but it was all on me to find a way out of it and make the best of what I had been given.
I’ve never experienced anything in this life quite like the wrestling community. If anything happens to an athlete, we all know about it. If someone gets a new coaching position, we all know about it. If someone gets married or has kids, we all know about it. In the highs and the lows, the sport of wrestling as a community comes together for a fellow wrestler. The community in itself may be small, but the heart of the community is big.
Another aspect I love about the wrestling community is that it welcomes everyone. No matter the person, they are welcomed in this sport. It’s amazed me to see kids being a good sport when their peers decide to wrestle when they are wheel-chair bound or have an extreme disability. Wrestling is inviting and has the ability to make kids into respectable adults.
As a little girl, I would talk about how much I wished I could go to a school with only wrestlers because no one else understood. Eventually when I got to college, my wish came true and I got teams-worth of women who were a lot like me in terms of grit, dedication, intelligence, and strength. Teammates in wrestling are different than in other sports. In college, my best friend happened to be my wrestling partner and roommate. The coolest thing about our relationship was that we could hash it out in practice to the point where we almost got into fist fights, but as soon as we stepped off the mat, we were best friends again. I’ve never experienced another sport quite like that. As much as I’ve shaped myself, my teammates have helped shape who I am as well.
In conclusion, I’ve participated in many different sports, but wrestling is the most relatable to life in general and also to my life through the trauma I have experienced. It has shaped who am I and who I will choose to be. I’m not trying to convince everyone to wrestle, although the wrestling community welcomes everyone. I just feel sometimes that I owe the sport my life. Not only has wrestling been with me in the worst times of my life, but it has been with me in the best times as well. Wrestling, for me, will always be consistent even if people aren’t. Wrestling will always be more than a sport to me.