Originally published 2/13/13

Every year, as the Mat Classic approaches, I get all sentimental about wrestling and what it means to be the mom of one of these amazing athletes. My husband, as a coach, introduced me to the sport and for the first four years of our relationship I was the coach’s girlfriend, then wife, in the stands cheering with the moms for all the boys and girls on my husband’s team. I was blessed to know some incredible young people who are still in our lives today to one degree or another. I learned about a sport where there is much more going on than the actual sport itself. A sport where more energy, determination, athleticism, integrity, sportsmanship and character can be displayed in just six short minutes than in any other event I’ve witnessed and that those six minutes can fly by or feel like an eternity. I thought I knew what it was all about. Then, several years ago, my six year old son stepped onto a mat for the first time and my view of the sport of wrestling was forever changed. I was forever changed. I became a wrestling mom. As a mother, I’ll admit I’ve struggled. Wrestling is emotional for all involved, athletes, coaches and families. I’ve cried over my son’s heartbreak in a tough loss and I’ve cried tears of joy for his victories. (My family would say I just cry a lot.) I’ve been angry at a bad call and relieved at the end of a close match when it went our way. I have feared injuries and remembered how foolish I was to once laugh at a friend for yelling for her son to “flee the mat, for the love of God, flee the mat!” when her son went up against a kid much bigger than he. Being the parent of a wrestler is just plain exhausting! I feel like I wrestle every minute of every one of my kids’ matches with them. In the stands, on the side of the mat, that is where I live from October to February every year. I love it, but I have struggled.
I have four children. They are 15, 12, 6, and 3. The oldest three wrestle, but my 12 year old has been at it the longest. He has definitely seen his share of ups and downs. There were times that I didn’t understand why he would love to wrestle. I wondered if he did it because my husband is a coach and he thought he had to. Why would he work so hard all the time to get pinned? Why would he continue to go out there day after day and struggle? “Mom,” he said, “I love wrestling.” Simple as that. That statement is what makes my son a champion. Not his win/loss record. The simple fact that every chance he gets he goes out there and does his best. It does not always go his way. He has really improved, because he worked hard, and he sees more wins now than losses. That may stay the same or change, but it doesn’t matter. He just loves to wrestle.
A year or so ago, I was blessed to hear Dan Russell speak. His words forever changed my perspective as a wrestling mom. I used to live in turmoil during the season. As a mother, I want the very best for my kids. I want their hard work to pay off every time. I want them to win and feel good about themselves all the time, but let’s face it. Life isn’t like that and you know what? That’s ok. That is how it should be. It does not matter whether your child wins every match or loses every match. It does not matter what his record is, what his stats are, how many majors he has. It does not matter how many titles he holds or awards he wins. What matters is what he, or she (our daughter is a wrestler), learns from his time in the room. What matters is how he carries himself on and off the mat. Is he considerate to his peers and his teammates? Is he respectful and compassionate? Does he work hard in school and at practice? Does he love the sport? Does he lift others around him up instead of push them down? (That’s a tough one in a sport where the whole point is to pin the other guy down, but stay with me.) There is great joy in winning, but losing carries with it lessons that are important, too, and every kid should learn them. I am sure there are kids, and even parents, who would scoff and say that it is about the numbers. They would say that it is about the pin, the win, and that being the “champ” means being a good wrestler and if you don’t win all the time then you aren’t really a wrestler. I am sad for them because they’ve missed the beauty of the sport. They will experience the excitement and the fun of standing on the top of the podium, but they’ll never truly appreciate the essence of wrestling. They will know the shouts of the crowd, but it will never be a part of their soul. Whether your child knows great success or not, or falls somewhere in the middle, his hard work and his determination is what makes him a real wrestler.
The most important thing I took away from Coach Russell’s presentation was that my sons and daughter are champions because they keep going out there. Their hard work is their accomplishment, their top step on the podium. Sure, it is great to win and I really hope they do that often and well, but if they never win another match again, I don’t care. I will cry if they feel disappointment, but I know that their attitude about wrestling, and life, is what matters most. That they continue to go to the center of the mat, shake their opponent’s hand, and leave everything they have out there over the course of every match is what makes them champions.
For every mom and dad who will sit in the stands of the Tacoma Dome this weekend for Mat Classic 25 and the junior wrestling state tournament on Sunday with their insides twisted (in worry, excitement, fear, nervousness, etc.) and prayers in their heart for an injury free match that, of course, ends in a win, I wish peace for you and success for your child. I pray that your son or daughter wrestles hard, stays safe and does his or her very best. I hope that every match that is wrestled is a hard fought battle because both kids are putting every skill they have out there and taking nothing back. I pray that each wrestler takes in the experience of being at the big show and those who don’t get on this mat this weekend will keep trying, keep working for next year. I’ll be there with you, cheering on our wrestling family and, of course, praying for my own son to win while I hyperventilate in the stands. Win or lose, out in two or on to the finals, I know we are all proud of our kids. This is their moment and they’ve worked hard to earn it.