Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer


The Hero‘s Journey: Wrestling With Destiny

There is a quote that hangs on my 17-year-old son’s wall next to the light switch.

“Wrestling is the toughest sport. You go for days without food and water. Work out in a sauna after an intense practice to make a low weight class. You then beat the crap out of your opponent in six minute matches, some of which last up to 10 minutes if they go into overtime. No pussy rests like in football and no slow pace like in baseball. It’s an all-out tooth and claw war for 6-10 minutes against a man your exact size who has trained all season to kill you. After a match, you are nearly dead and sometimes cannot stand. You will eventually stand and then fight up to five times in one day—up to 50 minutes of pre-hell. If you are tough and survive the first day, you go home, get six hours or less of sleep and do it all over again with your opponents getting tougher every match. You will probably have been injured at this point and have to fight through it. Last man standing gets to call himself the champion.”

At the 2009 CIF State Championship Wrestling Tournament held in Bakersfield, my son Jordan took fifth place in the 145-pound weight class. Not quite the State champion or the last man standing, but close enough.

Mad Dawg Wrestling Program

Jordan began his journey at Cordova High School. While Cordova High had a decent wrestling program, it paled in comparison to Folsom High School’s, a mere 20-minutes (and several tax brackets) away within the same school district. Jordan took the initiative to ask about getting an inner-district transfer to Folsom High and the “Mad Dawg” wrestling program. More wealth equals better coaching, superior wrestling partners, more intense competition, better parent participation and greater access to higher caliber wrestling tournaments. In short, he had a much greater chance at Folsom High of excelling at a sport that held much passion for him.

The transfer was approved and he started his junior year at Folsom High—leaving behind long-time friends he’d known since kindergarten. Undaunted, he spent most of his junior year learning new wrestling techniques, winning some wrestling tournaments, qualifying for the State Tournament, but for the most part, honing his skills.

After completing his Junior year, Jordan went to Hitchcock-Azevedo summer wrestling camp in Squaw Valley. The cost: $450 for one week. Before the camp ended, he called and asked if he could stay another week. “If I mop the mats and work for them, I can stay for free,” he said. Of course I said yes. He became the Cinderella of Squaw Valley. During this time at Squaw, he not only learned new techniques, but more importantly, he made friends with wrestlers from other teams. This gave him the Mr. Congeniality nickname – it seems like all the wrestlers liked him.

A Time For Every Season

When wrestling season begins, the life of a wrestler is regimented and strict. First, there are the daily, three-hour practice sessions. Then there is the whole issue of making weight. Jordan would normally weigh around 155 – 160 pounds. But he must stay within the 145 pound weight class. Like a Ferrari whose engine only receives high octane gasoline, Jordan only eats high quality, whole foods: lean protein in the form of chicken and fish, vegetables, grains, and the occasional In-n-Out Burger binge—after all, we’re still talking about a teenager here.

His Senior year season met with an overall 49 wins and seven losses. There were five first place tournament wins, one third, one fourth and one fifth. He beat the wrestler ranked “second best in the state” two times, gaining some ink in the Sacramento Bee under the headline: “A Hart-y Ovation.”

“Easily the biggest ovation for a champion went to Folsom’s Jordan Hart, who downed State No. 2. Both cheering sections were vocal for the rematch, but as the seconds ticked down in Hart’s 8-5 triumph, the Folsom crowd erupted.”

Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen

On the morning of the 2009 CIF State Championship Wrestling Tournament in Bakersfield, there was a knock on our hotel door. Three fellow Mad Dawg wrestlers and the team coach, Mike Collier were huddled over the tournament’s program, “Guess what, Jordan! You’re on the cover,” they all said, excitement and pride in their voices. Sure enough, one of the four chosen images was Jordan, pictured in a powerful wrestling position. It was a sweet honor that pulled at this proud mother’s heartstrings.

The State Tournament is a double-elimination, 40-man bracket. The day’s events followed: four wins and then one devastating loss to the “California Kid” 12-1. Ouch. After the thrashing, Jordan and I walked outside and sat by the water fountain in front of Rabobank Arena. A man smoking a cigarette nearby negated the idea of breathing fresh air. I sat in silence, not quite knowing what to say my son. How do you comfort a person who has just watched his dream of being the State champion taken away from him? He cradled his head in his hands. Finally, he dropped his hands to his knees and said, “I just want to win a medal. That’s all.” I didn’t say anything; I simply stood watch, a sentinel to the human condition, the one of struggle and growth—a witness to the metaphor of the caterpillar transforming into the butterfly, waiting for the story to reveal itself over time.

What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Jordan beat his next opponent with ease. Afterwards he was his old, cheerful self with an added bonus: a black eye—the perfect accessory for an ass-kicking State medalist. He was now in the precarious position of having to beat his next opponent to be in medal range, a match that would happen first thing the following morning. It reminded me of the Yoda quote from Star Wars, “Do or do not, there is no try.” It was 9:30 at night, time for some much needed rest. Of course, a mother’s work is never done, “Mom, can you do my laundry tonight?”

In the hotel laundry mat, I saw a wrestler in his letterman’s jacket sprawled across the clothes folding table, face down. I made gentle conversation. “Man, if I am tired, I can only imagine how you must feel,” I said. “How’d you do?” He told me good. He noticed my t-shirt had “Folsom” written across it.

“I wrestled someone from Folsom today,” he said.
“Really, who?”
“Jordan Hart. Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t know him,” I said, wanting to hear what he would say. “Did you win?”
“Yeah, I did.” Yikes.
“You’re the one that kicked my son’s ass 12-1 today. I’m Jordan’s mom.”

The California Kid sat up and sheepishly told me he was sorry.

We talked for a little while and then I asked him if there was a chance that he would meet up with Jordan again. No way, he told me. I’m going to beat the number one seed in this tournament and win the State championship. Of course I cheered him on. A person always wants the dude that kicks their son’s ass to be the State champion; after all, it proves he was a worthy opponent. No one wants to lose in vain.

We Are The Champions, My Friends

Jordan won his match in the morning—we all breathed a collective sigh of relief; now we were in medal country. Team Hart, a ragtag bunch of raucous cheerleaders were delirious, overjoyed with enthusiasm. Present for the victory was Jordan’s dad Jerry and his fiancée, our daughter, Jerry’s brother and our old college roommate. We also had support from the Mad Dawg wrestling team including coaches, parents, teammates, and two very special wrestlers who put their hat in the ring for a medal, but didn’t meet with the outcome they hoped. If they couldn’t win, at least one team member could “represent.” Go Bulldogs!

Life takes on weird twists and turns. Guess who Jordan wrestled next? The California Kid. Apparently the Kid’s hope of beating the number one seed and becoming the State champion were dashed by a loss the previous day. Many are called, few are chosen. He beat Jordan again, but this time the margin wasn’t so great: 12-5; a small victory within a loss. Yes, it is possible to win the battle, yet lose the war. Jordan wrestled one last time for the fifth place medal. He won the match. Toward the end, his body ached, it hurt him to even blink.

Life is a garden, dig it?

Saturday night found us back at the arena for the finals match and awards ceremony. There are 14 weight classes in wrestling with medals given to the top eight. A total of 112 medal winners circled around the inside track of the arena, parade style. They all then gathered on a raised platform in front of an approving crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer’s voice exclaimed over the loud speaker, “your 2009 CIF State medal winners.”

As I sat in the audience of course I felt a sense of pride for my son. But I also saw a bigger picture: a group of hard working, dedicated young men ready to take on the world. Bearers of life skills that would carry them well in this life. Each one having taken the hero’s journey toward their own personal destiny, hopefully finding meaning upon arrival. Around me I saw young men, wrestlers, who did not earn a spot on that platform, but were just as deserving. Did they find meaning in their journey? Only they could reconcile it to themselves. It reminded me of a 1970’s bumper sticker, “Life is a garden, dig it.” I pictured each one of these high school wrestlers on the platform as a seed in the garden of life, ready to sprout and go out into the world with their intensity and ambition—a fine crop of gentlemen, indeed.

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