I wrestled for two and a half seasons in junior high and high school. I competed in about thirty five matches and I lost only three. The last loss occurred when I was fourteen and it's what I'm writing about today. That season I had lost twenty pounds of what my mom said was “baby fat” to wrestle in the 160 pound weight class. By the middle of our season both the team and I were undefeated. Our opponent was Portola who, as a team, were not very good but their stud wrestler and defending weight class champion was going to be my opponent this match. His name was Acuna! Everyone called him that. Many of my wrestling teammates played youth football with him and knew him well. Well enough to tell me that I had no chance of beating the guy. In fact, I'd be lucky to make it out of the first period without being pinned. He was too strong and too skilled for me. It got so bad that at the pep rally I was asked, on microphone, who I was going to wrestle and when I said, “Acuna” the teacher just shook his head "No!" and tells the lunch crowd "He's got their stud!" Later, at the weigh-ins, I finally see Acuna up close. He looked like a grown man! He was shorter and just a bit lighter than me but the guy looked like a MAN! He was ripped too. I had never had an opponent that didn't look like me, a boy! At 160 I still had some of my “baby fat!" At the match I had to wait an hour before we would be wrestling. I was so nervous that my entire forearm broke out in hives. It was so bad that a doctor in the crowd had to look at it. He told me to take deep breaths and relax. I did and by the time of my match they were gone. I always got nervous butterflies in my stomach before my matches but these weren't butterflies they were Dumbo's! Then it was time to wrestle Acuna.
As I walked onto the mat I kept repeating, "Don't get pinned in the first period. Don't get pinned in the first round!" Really positive attitude I've got there. We shake hands and the referee blows his whistle. We circle each other and then he charges me and we lock up. I quickly realize he isn't any stronger than I am and I'm actually a bit stronger in my legs. But then his superior technical ability kicked in and before I know it I'm on my back and he's going for the pin. I then instinctively bridge up on my neck and toes. What that means is that my toes and the top of my head are touching the mat while supporting my and Acuna's body weight. While I do this maneuver, he´s trying to force my shoulders to the mat as I rock from side to side keeping one shoulder off of the mat at all times. After an eternity of about thirty seconds I'm starting to wear out so I start pushing both of us out of bounds while I remain bridged up on my head. As I do this the ref blows the whistle and we go back to the center of the mat for a restart. To restart a match the wrestler who is at the disadvantage, me, starts out on his hands and knees while the opponent begins at his side leaning over my upper back in the controlling position. When the ref blew the whistle to restart I braced myself in the starting position and waited to see what move he would try. That's when Acuna made a mistake. He put a half Nelson on me while I was still up and tried to use his strength to put me on my back. By this point in the match I had figured out that he was no stronger than me and technique would win this match. Advantage Acuna. So when he put the half Nelson on me I tucked my arm and rolled to that side putting Acuna on his back with me on top of him. The problem was that my back was on his chest and I needed to flip over to pin him. By the time I had done that though, he got onto his stomach and then using his technique had escaped. We were both standing when the buzzer sounded to end the round. I was way behind on points already but I knew if he wanted to compete with just muscle I could win this match. The second round began with me on my hands and knees again. I decided to do the same as before and baited him to put another half Nelson on me, which he did with the same result as before. I still wasn't able to turn fast enough and he managed to escape again. I managed to do this again before second round ended and two more times in the third before being pinned by Acuna. I was down by so many points that my only hope was to pin him. So I tried something risky and the better wrestler won.
Demoralized, I stood back up and the referee took my arm and Acuna's and raised his arm declaring him the winner. As I walked off the mat all I could do was look down in failure. Suddenly, one of my coaches grabbed my arm and said "Hell of a match Young!" Then the other coach did the same. So did my teammates. One of my teammates, I remember clearly, was Brent Bieshaar, "You did a lot better than I thought you would, Young!" High praise from a team leader who knew my opponent personally. I went to my seat and grabbed my notebook to write down a few notes about Acuna. I remember looking across the mat and noticing that he looked like he lost the match. All sullen and brooding and probably plotting his revenge. We would have wrestled again in league finals but they were canceled that year. As I sat there I realized that I had put together a pretty good match against a superior opponent. It was the best match I had ever wrestled - even in defeat!
I have looked at that match as a metaphor for my life. I've won some, I've lost some. I have struggled with disappointment and loss but I have learned something from these temporary setbacks. I learned to adjust on the fly. I have never been rich but I feel rich. I consider my diagnosis of ALS as being pinned. My life didn't end when Acuna pinned me and it didn't end with my diagnosis. For two years I have lived with this disease and I have looked back with pride. I have had people tell me that I have done all right. Some even say I did better than they expected. I think I did damn well! I tried to learn from my failures and tried to make myself a better man, husband and father.
I once read a quote in another high school’s locker room, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser!”. I say, show me a loser who learns from a loss and I'll show you a successful person!