... on the Most Important Loss of My Life
It was the final match of my high school wrestling career. I lost 4-3 in the Pennsylvania state finals. I was devastated. But I would later realize how lucky I was that chilly March evening of so long ago. Allow me to explain.
Wrestling was my life from third grade to my senior year in high school. It was the only thing that I cared about. School work was just a necessary evil; I had to keep my grades up to be eligible to wrestle. All I did in class was daydream about my next match. Over the years my dedication to wrestling was paying-off with big dividends. I became the youngest matman ever to win a state championship at our school, which is steeped in wrestling tradition. I broke the all-time record for most wins. And if I would have won that final match my senior year, I would have been dubbed the most successful wrestler (at that time) to ever don a Shamokin "Greyhound" uniform. It was not to be.
Not only did I lose, but I lost to a wrestler I should have beaten. It was as though something inside stopped me from performing to my fullest ability. My parents tried to cheer me up. But I still cried that night as I sat alone on my bed, blaming everyone and everything. Why had wrestling betrayed me!
It was hard getting up for classes on Monday morning, and I walked slowly through the snow to school in a state of deep depression. My first period course was english. During the class, our teacher introduced us to Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." That night I read the entire play, and something in my psyche changed as the theme of the drama was revealed to me. I realized then that no sport should ever become larger than life, and that learning was the essence of a truly rewarding existence. (My parents always tried to tell me this, but I didn't listen; wrestling would take me anywhere I wanted to go.)
I started spending more time studying at home, redirecting all my energies from the physical to the cerebral. My grades began to improve, and I must admit that my first "A" in English felt just as good as winning a match. But more importantly, I realized I didn't have to be just another "jock." Oh, I still hung out with my athletic buddies, but every now and then I would shoot the breeze with the pencil pushers. I found out that they were pretty cool, too.
I went to college on an athletic scholarship, but with a new game plan. Although I wrestled in college, the sport was no longer an end in itself, but a means to the end--a college education. And to be quite honest, I enjoyed every minute of my higher learning experience.
Today I thank God for that final crushing loss in high school, because it turned out to be the greatest victory of my life!
Updated December 24, 1997