The Mat and Me
by Joe Campbell
University of Phoenix
Warrenville, Illinois
February 14, 2005

   I wrestled when I was in high school. I wasn’t really motivated, as my record reflected. In fact, the main reason I went out for wrestling  was to spite my dad; football was his sport.


   Wrestling is a tough, humbling sport. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work. There is a pay off though. The mat can teach you a lot about yourself and your ability to handle life itself. These are some of the lessons the mat taught me.


   The clock keeps attracting my attention. Now it is 2:15. Damn, I wish that clock would move. Tonight’s meet is my last this year. The last time I have to make weight. The last time I have to eat nothing but a few crackers for an entire week. The other kids are talking to each other about their plans for this weekend. Their talk just seems like bees buzzing in my ears. It isn’t that I’m not interested in what they are saying, but the ache in my stomach just keeps my attention. The ringing in my ears draws my attention away from my hunger pains. I feel relieved to realize the ringing is only the bell ending the school day.


    As I make my way to my locker, the halls seem so crowded it is stifling. I open my locker to books and papers falling all over the place. I’ll clean my locker on Monday; right now I have to check my weight. As I walk though the wrestling gym, I think about all the state champs from previous years that walked on these same mats. Did they doubt themselves? How did they handle the long nights with nothing in their stomachs? In the locker room, I strip down and step on the scale. It balances out at 187 pounds. That’s not too bad, just 7 pounds over. I go to my wrestling locker and get out my rubber sweat suit and duct tape. As I put the suit on, I shiver from the cold rubber against my flesh. I tape the wrists and ankles to my skin to hold more heat in. I put a sweatshirt and sweat pants on top of the rubber suit and head out to the hallway to run sprints.


   I see Coach Grizzi as I am running.

   “Hi Coach.”

   “How much are you over, Campbell?”

   “Not too much, just a couple pounds, coach.”

   “We need you to be out there hustling tonight. I don’t want you giving up on yourself and quitting on the mat.”

   “I’ll try my best, I promise.”

   “That’s all anyone can ever ask of you.”


   I don’t understand him. I’ve let him down all year by not hustling and by just giving up when the matches were tough, yet he keeps trying to motivate me. There are other kids that care about it more than me. He shouldn’t waste his time with me.


   I‘ve been running for about 2 ½ hours now, I may as well go and check my weight again. The locker room smells like sweat. Geez, there is a line at the scale. Is everyone over tonight? I pull the tape from my cuffs and my skin burns from the hair being pulled out. As I slip my sweats off I can see the sweat pour out of them onto the floor. It looks pretty close to a gallon, so I should be OK. As I am waiting for my turn at the scale, how can I not notice the other guys? Dave has been cutting so much weight he looks sickly. His ribs are sticking through his skin, but he is an awesome wrestler. I look into the mirror by the scale and see my body. I am looking pretty trim, but not skinny. Finally, it is my turn. I’m only ½ pound over. No problem, I can spit that much out, so I head into the showers. I throw on a pair of gym shorts and head to the wrestling gym to roll around and warm up.


   It must be about 5:30 now, because the other team is here and Coach Lyons is getting us together to strip down for weigh-ins. Each school is in separate lines in the locker room and my opponent is directly across from me. He is undefeated and built like a weight lifter. I can feel my stomach knot as I’m picturing myself disappointing Coach Grizzi again. I get to the scale and I am right on weight, just like my opponent.


   The gym is packed as the meet progresses. The score is much too close and I can feel my stomach twitching as it becomes apparent my match could decide the meet. Our heavyweight isn’t very good at all and will probably get pinned by their heavyweight. I feel lightheaded. I think I am beginning to panic. It is time for my match and the team score has us ahead by 6 points. I have to win for us to win because our heavyweight will definitely give up 6 points.


   The first period is uneventful as no points are scored. In the second period, I am on top in the referee’s position. I can’t get a pinning combination in and he is starting to get away from me, but we end up out of bounds. Back in the middle of the mat, when the referee blows the whistle, my opponent just explodes to his feet and escapes. Damn, now I’m down a point. The buzzer sounds and the 3rd period starts. Now I am down in the referee’s position.  I get into position and can see my coach yelling something, but the crowd is so loud I can’t hear him through my headgear. I feel the weight of my opponent as he covers me. When the referee blows the whistle, I try to shoot to my feet, but I just get tripped back down. I keep getting up, but my opponent just holds onto my waist. The clock shows only one minute left and the referee warns my opponent for stalling. The other team’s coach starts yelling at the referee and the referee penalizes them 1 team point. Now we are ahead by 7. That means if I can just escape I’ll tie the match and we will win. I keep trying to get up but he keeps tripping me down. The clock is showing only 10 seconds left and I am about to lose.  As I try to get up again my opponent just holds on. The referee awards me 1 point as he calls my opponent for stalling a second time. The match ends in a tie. When we shake hands I start thinking I am just as good as this guy and he is undefeated. I feel the tears of my own disappointment welling in my eyes.


   I walk off the mat and go sit alone, feeling sorry for myself. Coach Grizzi walks up and I am just not in the mood for someone telling me how poorly I wrestled. I am not even going out for this sport next year.


   Grizzi yells, “Campbell, look up at me.” As I do, I’m sure he can see the tears in my eyes and I am thinking he will just tell me how much of a wimp I am for crying about it. “First off, I want you to know that because you went out there and hustled your ass off, we cannot lose this meet, and secondly, those tears are nothing to be ashamed of. They just prove what I always thought about you. Deep down, you do care, you just have to believe in yourself.”


   That night proved to be a turning point in my life, I contributed to something worthwhile to me. I also learned that if you keep trying, keep hustling, keep believing, you can accomplish your dreams. The mat taught me that.