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“This is not a ‘game’ and we do not ‘play’.” I’m not sure where this saying originated, but it accurately summarized my experience in the sport of wrestling. Wrestling is not a game. Wrestlers do not play. Wrestling is a combative sport dating back thousands of years. It’s as epic as the Iliad and as transformative as religion. Wrestling is a way of life.
Wrestling teaches your body strength, speed, balance and conditioning. Wrestling teaches your mind poise, discipline, how to react and how to study. I would not be the person I am today without the sport of wrestling.
I started wrestling at the age of five. I have participated in countless sports throughout my life, but wrestling was the one constant. I was not very good at wrestling for the first several years and I honestly have no idea why I stuck with something that constantly left me feeling humiliated, tired, and beaten. The only thing I can surmise is that I was not merely participating in a sport, but defining how I wanted to shape my life.
I’ve driven countless hours, ran countless miles, and shed countless amounts of sweat and blood, all as part of my commitment to this way of life. I sacrificed time with friends and family devoting myself to wrestling.
In high school I would atten class, go to cross country practice after school, then drive an hour to wrestling club practice at night, drive an hour home and then start my homework at a hour when most kids were already asleep. Then the next day I’d do this routine all over again. I still found time to be a leader in my school as a student council treasurer, student council president and National Honors Society vice-president.
Wrestlers are leaders. I maintained a high GPA and was looking primarily at Ivy League colleges. Wrestlers are intelligent. I wanted to be the best at everything I did, a mindset I owe entirely to the sport of wrestling. Wrestlers are determined.
I competed in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling during the summers. As a member of the Ohio all-star wrestling team I traveled the country competing against club teams, as well as competing in Canada. My participation on a well known club team (Team Talon) gave me the opportunity to travel with the FILA Cadet National team representing the USA on a trip to China. The sport of wrestling exposed me to cultures I otherwise may never have been exposed.
I developed a healthy respect for athletes and people around the world. As I climbed the national rank I felt a great sense of pride. I recall being ranked as high as 23rd in the nation while a high school senior. I felt like I could compete with anyone in the country. I extrapolated that. If I could compete with anyone in the USA, I could compete with anyone in the world. I was inspired by tales of Dan Gable’s run in the Olympics. I met Doug Blubaugh several times. I still have an Asics looking glass with a picture of Rulon Gardner inside of it dangling from my gym bag. These wrestlers represented the pinnacle of my sport and although I never reached those heights, I felt like a member of their community.
After graduating from Duke University (where I wrestled all four years, albeit disjointedly due to several injuries), I came home to Pennsylvania to find a job. This marked the first full year away from wrestling after 17 straight. A part of me was missing. I felt incomplete. That winter especially felt vacant and seemed to drag on forever.
When an opportunity to coach at a local high school became available - I jumped. After three years as an assistant coach, my work hours changed. Wrestling had been taken from me again. I was so mad I immediately started looking for a new job. I found a new job that allowed me more flexibility and I found a new coaching position. It’s not that I didn’t like my old job, it was that empty feeling I had again all winter long. I don’t function properly without the sport of wrestling. Wrestling is my lifestyle. It makes me who I am.
Through coaching I get the opportunity to participate in wrestling and influence the lives and careers of many young men and women. I see kids with the potential and motivation to leave their imprint on the sport; who aspire to qualify for states, or wrestle in college, or maybe even compete in the Olympics.
I also see kids come out who have no chance of ever even competing for the varsity high school team. Kids who come out day after day, year after year and get beat up in the room by kids who are significantly better at wrestling than they are. Those kids aren’t coming out for the team because they enjoy putting their bodies through a tortuous and grueling regimen. They are committing to a lifestyle. It shapes who they are and how they live their life.
They’re just as much a part of the sport, of the lifestyle as the guys attending the Olympic trials. We are all connected to one another. We all appreciate the sacrifice and we all admire those who ascend to the top of the sport in our state - in our state, in the nation, and in the world.
When Jordan Burroughs brought home Olympic gold this past summer, the entire wrestling community felt proud. We are part of that lifestyle, we all feel like world champions. When he embraced the Iranian Sadegh Goudarzi, it transcended the politics of our two nations. All wrestlers appreciated the talent, hard work and dedication these two men had displayed.
I have seen blind wrestlers, deaf wrestlers, wrestlers without legs, wrestlers from rich families and wrestlers living in poverty. Anyone can wrestle and anyone can subscribe to the lifestyle that is wrestling. Anyone can feel like a world champion. I have a three year old son now and people always ask me, “Are you going to make him wrestle?” They are often surprised when I tell them that that decision will be up to him. You see, I don’t want to make him wrestle simply because I did. Like I said, wrestling is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle. Therefore, I don’t plan to dictate to my son what his lifestyle should be. However, I do know what the lifestyle of wrestling has done to shape my character. At the very least I plan to instill some of that in him.
I recognize that this story is not extraordinary, nor is it particularly unique. There are millions of people whose lives have been shaped by the sport of wrestling. There will hopefully be millions more in the future. This is why I’m shocked and angry at the current assault on my lifestyle. An ancient sport, so ingrained in our human history, not to mention Olympic history, has just been voted OUT of the Olympics. A sport with no barriers to entry such as wrestling should not only be in the Olympics, it should be the cornerstone.
I hope that the wrestling community will be able to persuade the IOC not to exclude one of its core sports. Even more so, I hope that the global community will demand that wrestling be included in the 2020 games and every future Olympic Games.
Wrestling is not a game. You do not play wrestling. You live it. For all of the wrestlers who have ever lived the sport, let the IOC know who and what they are dealing with.
Brandon Foose graduated from Boyertown Area Senior High School and Duke University and competed on the wrestling teams of both. He also competed as a representative of Team Pennsylvania in the FILA Cadet/Junior National Freestyle tournament and as a representative of Team Talon/FILA Cadet National team while touring China. He’s currently an assistant wrestling coach at Spring-Ford High School.