My sophomore year of high school I was talked into playing football, or to be more precise, talked into joining the team. What little talent I demonstrated during summer workouts instantly disappeared once I put on the pads and helmet. So I prepared myself to spend the next few months in a ridiculously clean uniform being reminded by my friends in the stands that I could see better if I sat with them. It was okay; I was well aware of my status on the team. When you’re fourth string, the top three guys get hurt, and they start teaching another kid how to play your position, you know it’s safe to smuggle some candy to the sidelines in your helmet.
So, the last game of the year, we’re winning pretty handily. Now, I’m midway through mentally reciting John Bender’s tirade from The Breakfast Club: “YOU DON’T KNOW ANY OF MY FRIENDS! YOU DON’T SPEAK TO ANY OF MY FRIENDS, AND YOU SURE WOULDN’T CONDESCEND TO …!” and strangely, I hear someone yelling my name really loudly. It wasn’t coming from the stands; it was one of the coaches. Apparently, he wanted me to go on the field while the game was still going on.
“DAY! DAY! I want you out there at Cornerback! Don’t let him get by you on the sweep, Son!”
So I pull some Sweet Tarts out of my shoulder pads and head out there, and wouldn’t you know it, they run a sweep to my side. I see this kid coming toward me, and I square up to tackle him. Now, I don’t know who did it, but apparently some jerk buried a land mine in the field, because all the sudden I hear this huge explosion and when I come to, I’m lying on my back. The smoke clears, I look up, surprised that the rest of the stadium is still intact. I look to the sidelines and see my friends mobbing the statistician.
It seems the running back fully expected me to try to tackle him, so instead of falling, he decided to run right over me. However, his plans for glory were thwarted by the fact that his cleat got stuck in my facemask, tripping him, forcing a knee to the ground, and making the play come to a grinding halt. Credit for the tackle goes to? This guy! Damn right!
It never really bothered me. I wasn’t a football player; I was a wrestler.
My junior year on the wrestling team, I learned this: The rules allow you to wrestle two weight classes above your weight. See, I had one gift as a wrestler. I could add or drop weight in no time. Need someone to lose 13 pounds in three days? No problem. Need someone to jump up two weight classes and wrestle some monster of a guy? No problem. Wait! What? Hell, yeah, that’s a problem! You go wrestle him, Coach! No such luck.
So I square off against this guy. Now, one of the things you try to do in the standing position in a wrestling match is to gain wrist control (fancy talk for grabbing the guy’s wrist). Makes sense. You do that, and your opponent won’t be able to use that hand. The problem was when this guy grabbed my left wrist, I couldn’t move the entire left side of my body. Seriously. I tried to blink. Nothing.
From there, he lifts me over his head, and does not even have the decency to throw me through the window and kill me. Instead, he sets me down on the mat like a piece of Waterford Crystal… …on my back… … in 19 seconds.
So, why dredge up these stories of my glory days? Here’s why. I don’t want to over dramatize this, or act like I’ve had huge challenges in my life. But I will tell you this. I have learned a lot more from the times I have gotten my ass kicked than I have from the times I’ve kicked some ass.
The defeats I have experienced, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, you name it, have taught me a lot more than the victories. It’s in those moments that you are really challenged to decide who you are going to be. Will you act with integrity and grace, or will you turn bitter and spiteful? Will you allow yourself to experience something more, or will you close yourself off from becoming something new and better? Who will you be?