Mat is surprise audience for Grinspoon's pain Howard wrestler fights back from serious auto accident

February 03, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

The pain never leaves Mark Grinspoon for long.

Sometimes, he'll feel it shoot through one of his damaged knees during a wrestling match. It visits him often at practice. He rarely goes through a day without being reminded of the day his life changed.

Howard coach Fred Bullock recalls the first time he saw Grinspoon lying in a hospital bed nearly two years ago, the day after the car Grinspoon was driving on a rain-soaked stretch of Dobbin Road skidded into an intersection and collided with another car.

One knee smashed into the steering column. The other knee cracked the --board. The collision cost Grinspoon cartilage in each knee. His pelvis broke in five places. His left knee probably saved his life, because it prevented the steering column from crushing his chest.

The doctors at Maryland Shock Trauma Center hinted early on that Grinspoon should give up wrestling. He refused to listen.

"Immediately, the talk turned to next year," Bullock said. "There was never any question in his mind that he would be back. And from that point, I knew he would be back, too."

By late summer, Grinspoon had regained enough strength in his legs to attend a wrestling camp at West Virginia University. Three months later, he was back with Howard, beginning what turned into a 23-7 season. He finished his comeback with a second-place showing at last year's county tournament.

"I told myself every day I didn't care what they [his doctors] said. I was going to wrestle," said Grinspoon. "I was trying to ignore the pain, but there was a point when I couldn't. I'd be working so hard that the pain would almost make me collapse.

"I used to wear a knee brace, but I don't wear it anymore. I found if you go out favoring a knee, that's what they [his opponents] are going to attack. I get into that state of mind that it's not going to bother me. After the match, I'll let it hurt."

The Lions are 9-2 and can point to numerous reasons for their first winning season in years. A promising freshman class has created surprising depth. Seniors John Wiland, Jason Shefrin and Josh Tzuker already have won 20 matches apiece. With zzTC steady, stern hand, Bullock has pushed the Lions to believe they can contend for a county title.

Then there's Grinspoon, the courageous, soft-spoken 125-pound senior who, in his fourth varsity season, has gone 18-5 with nine pins. It is his finest season.

And it's no coincidence that the Lions, after struggling with a losing record during Grinspoon's first two years, have emerged this winter. Bullock beamed when asked about his prized lightweight.

"He helps organize the practices every day. He runs things until I get there. He's a lifesaver," said Bullock, who teaches at Southwestern High School in Baltimore and doesn't make it to Howard until about 30 minutes into practice. "As he's grown, we've grown."

Grinspoon never wrestled before coming to Howard. He dabbled in various other sports, mostly swimming. His older sister, Beth, attends West Virginia on a swimming scholarship. Grinspoon began swimming when he was 5.

During his freshman and sophomore years, he tried swimming and wrestling . The combination created excessive demands on his studying time and his body.

"I went from school to wrestling practice to swim practice, and I wouldn't get home until about 10:30 every night. It was too much," said Grinspoon, who gave up swimming to concentrate on wrestling two years ago. "Wrestling was a real big change. I needed to wrestle because I thought it was a great way to take out aggression."

Grinspoon clams up when asked about his accomplishments. How did he go from 4-11 as a freshman to 23-7 as a junior? How has he coped with the persistent pain in his knees?

Instead of talking about how well he calculates and counters an opponent's moves and how well he retains knowledge gathered on the mat, Grinspoon prefers to credit his coach, teammates, friends and family for his comeback.

He looks back on the accident as an event he wishes he could change. But he says he'll always profit from the lessons the experience taught him.

"It gave me a good grasp on reality, and on things I need to be thankful for," Grinspoon said. "It helped me realize what I need to look forward to, and how I need to help myself. I found out what my priorities were."

Al Grinspoon, Mark's father, said: "I can't imagine the courage he has to do this, because he's still in a lot of pain. I don't care if he never wins another match or never wrestles another match in his life. I'm so proud of him."

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