This was written on December 15th 1998 and published in Wrestling USA magazine at that time.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to be hired to teach at my former high school. In addition, I was ecstatically happy to be working closely with the new Island Trees wrestling coaches. They were diligently rebuilding a program that had for many years been a wrestling powerhouse, until the death of their legendary coach Ted Petersen.
Walking through the halls I passed rows of photos of all our county champions, one with my brothers face on it, which I acknowledged every day with pride. And as the season approached my enthusiasm and excitement grew..it was right about this moment in time, that a call from my doctor suddenly intruded in my life. I was diagnosed with non hodgkins lymphoma.
After the initial blow, I had to determine just how I was going to meet this opponent. Once again if I had not been raised in a wrestling household, watching and incorporating how challenges were faced day after day, season after season by champions of the sport, I am not sure I would have had the mental toughness nor the know with all as to how to even begin! Without a doubt, faith was foremost and gave me my inner strength, but as for my approach to this match of matches, I drew from what I had absorbed as a child. I thought to myself, how would my brothers, champions and hard nosed wrestlers prepare for their toughest match? What method of attack would Coach Gable have prescribed? Suddenly, it was clear to me..One day at my brother Franks house, I remember him showing me painstaking hand written journals. He kept logs on each of the wrestlers he had coached and even on those from other schools! Key moves that these wrestlers liked to use, and all sorts of pertinent information were jotted down. That’s when I realized, first I most know my opponent. I needed to know “his” usual moves.. where his weakness lies, and what the counters were. I read and studied my new foe. For now, its just a matter of playing the circle, but I know just what to do to make things difficult for my adversary and if a move is made my strategy has all been figured out.
In my wrestling family, as I am sure it was in yours, being passive was never an option. I thought back, on how a wrestler prepares, physically, and the answer was apparent. I focused on fine tuning my nutritional intake, fitness regime, and mental status. Sound familiar? It should! For this is exactly what a wrestler dedicates himself to the minute he chooses to be a champion. Honing up to meet the challenge, be it wrestling in particular or life in general.
As I’ve stated in previous articles whether the battle on the mat or in the arena of life, success in either is more than 80 percent mental. Having the mental toughness to decided to be a winner, to focus on the positive work through fear and pain, and to never quit until the time runs out and ref’s whistle blows, this is the essence of both isn’t it? The idea of going strong until the very end, scoring when there may only be seconds left, that is Gables way, that is my brothers way, that is the champions way and this also will be MY way.
Someone once said, “Wrestling is not a sport, it is a way of life” Often “civilians” laugh at this statement, thinking it just a silly boast. However, I hope now when you are frustrated trying to explain to one who mocks and says, “What’s the big deal about this wrestling anyway?” you will hand them this letter and just maybe they will begin to understand. anyway I know that you do!
See you at the matches…
UPDATE… My lymphoma was dormant for 12 years since this article was written, this year the opponent made his move.. I have just completed 5 cycles of chemotherapy, my opponent is in total remission, and I will be ready for the next wrestling season!
Dedicated to: Frank and Carl Carrozza, Frank Gallo, Chris Edmond