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Contemporary High School Inspirational

This story contains sensitive content

Warning: the occasional upper-echelon swear word, slight homoerotic vibes (comes with the territory of wrestling)

Allow me to summarize the past few weeks:

“Welcome to Overtime Gym!”

“Don’t you quit now!”

“I’m trying!”

“I have no son!”

Okay, I’m exaggerating with that last one, but only slightly. Being part of a family that accepts nothing but greatness can get tiring. Not only greatness, but a 70s Celtics-esque run where we bring back multiple championships. Looking at our trophy room, you’d think that I was the only one who didn’t get the message. Frida Viscount: 1st place trophies and ribbons in debate and robotics since she was a sixth grader. Albert Viscount: class president,  humanitarian diplomat, and understudy to a U.N. representative. Despite being dressed to the nines, I still couldn’t get over that slimy smile of his that made me want to push his teeth in. And then there was insignificant ol’ me, who despite coming in second in States for wrestling three years in a row in California, one of the hardest places to wrestle in, my family still made me feel like a failure. To be fair to my father, though, I understand why he pushes us so hard. It’d be awkward if I was flipping burgers at McDonalds with the name Valorus Viscount. Most of the time, I abbreviate it to Val, which gets me weird looks because it’s a girl’s name, but imagine telling people your name is fucking Valorus.

Glory doesn’t come from names, however, it comes from finding your own path and earning it through your own hard work. I decided to go down the path of sports because it couldn’t have been farther than the way that my siblings carved. The only downside was that I had a former state champion screaming in my ear the entire time, but hey, if my dad only got one thing right, it’s that a harsh living experience is conducive to success. Ugh, conducive? I’ve got to spend less time around Frida.

“Alright, this is your last station. Last station, then you can lie down!” Frida (never) said. Nah, this was what my coach had been saying on repeat for the past three weeks. After losing to Matt Spartan a couple weeks ago (great name for a wrestler, by the way), I’d been coming to Overtime to take care of the one major weakness in my game:

“We have a month until States! I’m going to tell you what I saw out there plain and simple: once he got you on your back, it looked like you gave up, like you stopped fighting. You’re a big kid with great technique, but even sharks start to panic once they stop swimming. So, here’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to push you to your breaking point. We’re going to practice situational drills, and when that’s finished, we’re going to do some conditioning outside. You’re going to run until you think you can’t go anymore, and when you feel like you’ve reached your limit, I’ll be right there to push you further. Ready? Go.”

For the first drill, I took the top position. I didn’t get what the point of this was supposed to be, but as I went, I realized that it was so he could show me what it was like not to panic. I had this bad habit of reaching back when I was on my stomach. My coaches yelled at me for doing it constantly, but being in a state of panic doesn’t often lend itself to making the best decisions. So, when it was my turn at the wheel, starting on top, I quickly did what I do: I picked the ankle and drove forward, got him flat on his stomach and tried to get an arm, but he was a slippery SOB. Not only that, but he was playing with his predator while on the run.

“See how I keep myself open, how I don’t give anything they don’t take themselves. Keep yourself big like you’re fighting a bear, make them work for everything, keep moving while you work to your feet. Slide. Slide. Slide. And you’re out.” Coach Mezala made it look/sound easy, just like how I made everything seem difficult when I’d literally seen how to do it five seconds beforehand. Honestly, it was my fault. My coaches were telling me to do this for the past three years, but I thought I could get by on physicality alone. To be fair, it worked–for a while. Alas, I could only get me so far by bullying people, shooting through them and damn near paralyzing them with a double leg takedown. I was so used to being the one that threw people around I wasn’t ready to think that I could possibly ever be outmaneuvered. Even though he was a couple of decades out of collegiate wrestling, he still showed why he was the pride and joy of Longbranch High School. I know, Longbranch isn’t exactly the most intimidating name, but as Delbarton and Bergen Catholic would tell you, those private schools are tough wrestling spots.

Our training didn’t stop at one station, however, oh no. This month was all about preparation for not a battle, but for war! Sweatpants/shirt and the hot California sun! If I wasn’t on the brink of having a heat stroke, I wasn’t fuckin’ trying! The first day, I’ll admit, I cracked and sizzled like a cold egg on a hot skillet. My breath was heavy, my sweat poured down like my face like my mom had just opened my ‘homework’ folder, my choice of attire made me wonder if my real enemy was more internal or external, if I had come up with the world’s most convoluted way to make a human omelet. Albeit, I wasn’t sure if there were any other ways to make such a dish, and I wasn’t keen to find out, either. The only thing that told me it was possible was Coach Mezala running right alongside me. It, of course, being the route that had been carved for me, not the Dark Web recipe book.

“Alright, this is your last station. Last station, then you can lie down!” I seem to recall Coach Mezala saying on our last day. I was a changed man from who I was when I began. I had done plenty of conditioning, but what I hadn’t ever done is flirt with death under the California sun anywhere but the beach. Now, I had a tanned back (or at least neckline) and an irrational fear of concrete sidewalks at 4:30 in the afternoon. There’s a thin line between fear and respect, however, so I’ll say what I feel is a strange mixture of both.

“Ready,” Coach Mezala prepped, raising his hand,”go!”

While my feet felt hot underneath me, it was earnestly nothing more than a reminder to run faster, to outpace the Holy Trinity: the father (or in this case mentor), the sun, and the Holy Spirit (the ghost of me that my mind’s eye saw trip and fall, cutting his knee with the hands reaching through the cement to keep him bound to the floor. The sky watching over me lusted for my failure, but it had had its laughs over the past month, its champagne supernova above a sherbert sky.

Dang, if this sports thing doesn’t work out, maybe I could be a poet. I thought while the strings of my Longbranch Wrestling sweatshirt bounced freely in the wind. As if trying to appropriate my victories for their own, I could feel the sun’s rays hitching a ride on my shoulder, the cracked hands of the cement roadways pulling me down. If I were less balanced, if I were still prone to panic, perhaps I would have joined them, but it would not be so for as long as I could keep myself upright. They had tasted my flesh far too many times over our training. Actually, cancel that, I made it sound weird.

“You see what happens, right?! When you let go of all that baggage clogging your head?! Just letting yourself wrestle for your own sake?!”

“I’ve heard of walking and talking, but this is ridiculous!” I said as I ran a speed approaching 18MPH.

“You get it, right?!”

“Yeah! Thank you for everything! Now, whaddya say we see each other off with a run to the finish line?!”

“Honestly, I like how you talk when you’re confident in yourself!”

Overtime Gym was on the coast, so the finish line I was talking about was taking a left turn to one of Cali’s beautiful beaches. We became flashes of red and yellow as we sped down the barrier between civilization and the aquatic wilderness. We traded spots back and forth until the Sand Monster of Cardiff grabbed hold of poor Ryan Mezala’s feet and pulled him down to its level. We lost a good soldier that day, but we also gained a warrior, baptized in the crystal blue waters of North Beach. Like Luke watching Ben Kenobi die at the end of Episode 4, so too had the top student of Overtime Gym bloomed into a fine warrior worthy of defending the honor of Longbranch High.

Of course, I couldn’t stop at the barrier, I had to dive head-first into the water, to step out of my literal shoes and put on a metaphorical set of ones, letting out a hysterical laugh as I felt for the first time in years that the growth I took from failure was enough to justify what I’d gone through, that I didn’t have to win to be a winner (if that makes any sense). It’s almost tragic that I realized so late how bad the mentality that my father put in my head was. I almost didn’t want to look back at the kid of yestermonth, the weaker version of me that I would laugh at if I didn’t know what being him felt like. Even if I didn’t win this weekend, Coach Mezala gave me a renewed sense of what I’m actually capable of, as well as how to get there. Of course, there was still a war to be won, but for some reason, I felt more ready than ever to take it on.

By all accounts, there were many respectable names on the bracket that on any other day I would’ve been friends with: Ewan Johnson, Marcus Goldbloom, Leonard Sudekis. All of them were people that I’d had nice interactions with when there was nothing at stake. We all understood, however, that this was war, and anyone who couldn’t put that aside for twelve hours didn’t deserve to be in the building. Even though we all did, it was our job to make sure our opponent looked like they didn’t. Spartan understood the message, asserting his dominance early over Goldbloom. With the smack of his head, Spartan put him off balance and quickly drove through him. After that, he dug his arm into Goldbloom’s elbow and tilted him over with a half. In 45 seconds, Marcus was signed; sealed; and delivered back to his high school.

I have an incredible amount of respect for everyone that’s made it to this point, but there was only one match that I cared about, and that was the one with yours truly. Spartan and Goldbloom faced each other in the last dual of the year, and Marcus snuck away with one 3-2 in the last ten seconds thanks to a timely escape, so there was a bit of history there, hence Spartan’s quick handshake and flexing to the crowd before running off. I’m sure that earned me a fan, but that was a luxury at most. On and off the mat, I still had demons to exorcize.

I’d spent all week(end) thinking about this match. Not just anticipating what it’d be like, but thinking about how panicked I was at the end last time. He couldn’t tilt me into a pin, but he could make me panic like a wounded animal, scrunch up so that only the ref could make me unbury my head from my shell. I took a couple of warning calls, but in the end, I didn’t get pinned. That’s not good enough for me, though. Not today. There won’t be any huffing when I see his name on the matchup card. Coach Mezala and I worked tireless hours to correct what I did wrong, and dammit I was gonna make sure those hours weren’t wasted!

Like with any match, we gave a vicious glance to each other before walking up to the scorekeeper and introducing ourselves.|

“Val Viscount.”

“Matt Sparta.”

Normally when we go to the center of the ring, we shake hands, but he actually gave me a fist bump. It was nice that even in the heat of battle, sportsmanship could preval. Unfortunately, he would be my enemy for the next six minutes.I was looking to be the Austin DeSantos to his Anthony Ashnault.

For guys like Sparta, you don’t wanna rush into anything. Although, you’d never know it by how the match started. I guess my mind was still running through the shores of North Beach the way I tried to run through him. It was my own fault for using such vulgar methods, which is why I got my sprawled on, shoulder shrugged, and taken down for back points. Desperately, I tried to fight to get out, and by some miracle fueled by the memories of past failure, I managed to roll on my head for the save. I was down five points with 1:30 to go in the period, but hey, I was still alive.

Using methods that escape my memory, I managed to make it to the edge of the mat. My guess is it happened after he tried to run my left shoulder but ended up pushing me towards the corner. I turned my head to the left and tried to crawl to the edge, which the other coaches were none to happy about, going so far as to call for a stall. Not the bathroom kind, though they they were full of shit. Understandable for the biggest match of the year, but still annoying.

With 1:10 seconds left in the first, Matt and I walked back to the center of the… mat. Huh, I just noticed that. Anyways, we went back to the center of the mat, and I was ready to come out swinging. That is, within the limits of the sport. So, I got on my knees and I said to myself, “my turn.” Off the whistle, I kept my arms to my side and pushed his arm off my wrist, climbing up and getting him off of me. That was just the start, though. He wasn’t planning on letting me go that easily. With a quick-thinking adjustment, he got low and lifted my legs off the mat, slamming me back down to the floor like he were the sun and I were Icarus. When we returned to the same spot we were in at the beginning of the first period, I knew: this would be my biggest test. I wasn't already at my base, I was gonna have to fight for that shit back. And so, I did as I was taught by the greats before me: keep myself big, crawl forward (we were in the middle of the mat, so there was no hiding this time), slide to my base, and fight for control. Up, up, up, up, until finally I made it! 5-1 Matt's favor with 30 seconds to go.

On one hand, I knew I had plenty of time. On the other, dark thoughts were starting to creep in. Memories of floundering around started to tempt me once more. Although, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Maybe, if I did it right, I could take advantage of how Matt viewed me and use that to my advantage. Win or lose, there was only one way to find out, so I took a bite of the forbidden fruit. Despite the audible fury of my coaches and the likely silent disapproval of my father, I wrapped my arm around Matt’s head and tried to throw him. Or at least, that’s what it looked like, when in reality my designs were far more shifty. I made him think that I was gonna go for the ol’ grab and toss, when all along, I wanted him to try to half nelson me. Why?! So I could grab the elbow, hold it close to my chest, and reverse trip him into a precarious pinning position! To paraphrase Funk Flex, “I baited him for it, I baited him for it! "he baited me for it! He baited me for it!" And like THAT the entire momentum of the match had completely shifted in my favor! His coaches could scream all they wanted, but once I hit him with the Viscount Clutch, it was all over. For your information, the Viscount Clutch as I call it is me   putting my chin in his elbow, switching from vertical to horizontal, and pinching his head with my elbow to lift his shoulders.

I can’t possibly put into words what it meant to me the second I realized was state champion, I really can't. I wanted to lower my head, let the moment soak in, but I knew the moment I did that, the second I. What happened next? Eh. I showed up my dad, thanked my coaches, gave my metaphorical flowers to Coach Mezala, and thanked Matt for the greatest sixty seconds of my life. In other words, compared to the moment that I did what I wanted for myself and saw my hard work produce fruits, my answer to what happened next is 'who fucking cares?"

May 20, 2023 03:02

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