There isn’t much that could bring this FitMama out of maternity leave. I’ve been enjoying the time I typically reserve for blogging wrapped in teeny-tiny arms and onesies and half-empty bottles. But with the news yesterday that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is removing wrestling from the Olympics–not just considering or debating, but entirely banishing–I couldn’t just sit by quietly and watch it disappear.
Wrestling is my family’s life; as a matter of fact, it’s the only reason I have the family that I do. Take a trip with me, Reader, back to 8 years ago. I was a fresh-faced high school senior, an honor student and avid athlete. One day, as I walked to lunch, I saw a sign posted that our high school wrestling team was in need of a 103 pound wrestler. I happened to be around that weight, and thought this could be the challenge of a lifetime. Why not? I figured as I headed to the team’s first meeting after school that day. When I walked into the room where the meeting was being held, I saw plenty of familiar faces. These were, after all, guys I’d grown up with. But what started out as a room full of smiles and familiarity quickly turned to anger when they realized why I was there. Even on a high school level, wrestling was so treasured, so important, that the thought of someone coming in and making a mockery of the sport was cause for outrage. Now, to make a long story slightly shorter, I stuck it out, managed not do die, and earned the respect of my teammates in the process. (Oh, and I developed some pretty sweet biceps.)
Then, it was time for me to head off to college. I knew I wasn’t going to continue wrestling at the collegiate level, but I wanted to continue following the sport because that’s the beauty of wrestling. Once it bites you, you’ve got the itch for it. This could also be a serious case of ringworm, and you should see your doctor immediately. I used Facebook to find a group created by Indiana University’s wrestlers (creatively named “The Real Wrestlers of IU”) and hoped I could locate a team schedule. Instead, I located Joe Dubuque. One snarky message led to one date, which led to one proposal, one wedding, and two kids (well, maybe not in that exact order, but you get that it’s still a Hallmark moment). The bottom line is, had it not been for wrestling, I would have never met the guy I married, and sure I would have gone on to meet someone else and have kids, but they definitely wouldn’t have been as cute as the kids I’ve got now.
My love for wrestling doesn’t end on the mat, or in the stands. It goes home with me every night; it’s in the smelly workout clothes JD brings home, it’s the cauliflower ear I notice on people when we’re out and use to strike up conversations and make new friends, it’s Chase at 6 weeks old getting treated for the first of many, many, cases of ringworm he would get. It’s the bonds and friendships that re-ignite every March in a hotel lobby filled to the brim with college wrestling fans. It’s watching your husband and 4-year-old son making their first boys’ only trip to Iowa to cheer on a good friend and Olympic hopeful. It’s knowing that if some sleeze ball guy hits on you out at a bar, that you can hit him with a double and probably get a free drink from an impressed bystander in the process. It’s feeling alone and scared as a coach’s wife making the transition to living in a new state, only to be welcomed with open arms by the other coaches’ families. It’s impromptu baby showers thrown by people you’ve just met, who fill your baby’s closet with tiger-striped onesies and black and orange bibs. It’s the hopes and dreams you have for your own children to carry out dad’s legacy and excel in the sport. It’s watching your little guy aspire to become an Olympic wrestler.
Now, believe it or not, wrestling isn’t like the NBA or the NFL. There aren’t constant SportsCenter updates or matches being broadcast every Sunday for families to gather around the television and enjoy. You can’t go to Wal-Mart and buy a Cael Sanderson poster, like you could a LeBron James. You won’t find Cliff Keen brand t-shirts at Dick’s Sporting Goods or The Sports Authority. Parents of kids who love wrestling have to work hard to make sure their children are exposed enough to the sport that they don’t lose interest.
And that’s why the Olympics is so special to the wrestling community. Once every four years, we can turn on the television and watch modern-day heroes step out onto the mat, echoing the footsteps of the Greeks and Romans who battled before them. Words like “takedown” are defined for the general public, and used around watercoolers the next morning when recapping the previous day’s matches. In my home, my son dons his little singlet, grabs his stuffed animals, and prepares to wrestle in front of the TV, shadowing the moves of Team USA.
The IOC doesn’t understand this; if it did, I wouldn’t have to write this post. Petitions wouldn’t be circulating through Facebook right now. The IOC hasn’t gone to the team trials, or to NCAA’s, hasn’t witnessed the humility with which wrestlers sustain their wins and losses; it hasn’t heard the cries of joy and sorrow reverberating through arenas as no-names become legends, if only to a small percentage of the world.
Removing wrestling from the Olympics will be the catalyst for a downfall of the sport in all areas: collegiate and otherwise. This sport is, among other things, my family’s livelihood, and I’m not just speaking financially. It is the how and why I met the love of my life.
So, to the IOC I say this: Keep your hands off our sport. We’ll decide how important it is, not you.