Wrestling with life's choices

March 17, 1995|By Linda DeMers Hummel

A YOUNG MAN I know just finished the first year of his high school wrestling career. He went 0-for-4, was pinned twice and never scored a point on an opponent. It was the greatest success of his 14-year-old life.

He had come home one night in early fall and at the dinner table announced to his family, "I'm going out for wrestling. I already signed up."

The fact that he had already made his decision and acted on it surprised no one. Evidently, he'd been considering it for a while, pondering it silently, weighing his options solitarily, as was his style. His choice was somewhat unexpected, however, since he had never seen a wrestling match. His father was proud but hesitant. His mother was awash in visions of broken bones and humiliation.

A family friend, a former University of Maryland star wrestler, clearly excited about the boy's choice,was full of encouragement but ended the conversation on a note of realism: "Get ready to get your butt kicked in the beginning."

So, in the beginning, indeed, that's what happened. He'd comehome from practice, his head still wet from the shower, his cheeks still rosy from brushes with the wrestling mat. He'd drop his gym bag by the door, and sit at the kitchen table and tell his mother how it went. Sometimes he skipped the last step, and she would know how it went without words.

His impressed parents watched as their son trudged on. He went to practice every day, often coming home with bruises to his shoulders and back. Sometimes to his adolescent ego. They would hear him in the basement lifting weights on the weekends; they would hear the back door close and see his sweat-suited figure running up the hill behind their house.

At his first match, he spent the six long minutes barely fending off being pinned. When it was over, his mother reminded the boy what their family friend had warned. It didn't help either of them. She doubted he would go back to practice after that. He was at the lower end of a long list of good wrestlers, getting his "butt royally kicked," if you asked her. If he wanted to quit, she'd understand. She would have.

But he did go back. After that match, and after those that followed. After not being chosen to wrestle at away meets. Even after a bout with bronchitis, when his coach suggested he was not quite well enough yet. His parents greeted him after practice and listened to his stories of others' glories. At breakfast his mother watched him move past her and noticed how slowly his amorphous body was being transformed into a sinewy, strong form.

Success had come so easily in other arenas for the boy that his mother wondered why he didn't simply retreat to one of them. She would have.

Recently, he ended his season with a personal best. Although he didn't score, he didn't get pinned. He was stronger and smoother than the first time he tentatively took to a mat. He smiled when it was over.

Thoreau said, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, he will meet with a success unexpected in the common hours." There was cake and ice cream to celebrate just that.

Linda DeMers Hummel writes from Baltimore.

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