One More Step
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One More Step

A foreword to the 2016-2017 folkstyle season.

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One More Step

“‘One more step. I’m gonna go one more step.’” Dan Gable once said. He was being interviewed informally by Mark Bader of FloWrestling, prior to an Iowa vs Oklahoma State dual meet in 2012. Gable was explaining the philosophy behind mental toughness, while working on an Air-Dyne. I never forgot the words, maybe it was because I told myself that I had to listen to Coach [Gable] when he tells me something.

I was a senior in high school when I recalled the words. As many wrestlers know, once you eclipse a certain level of commitment, i.e., moving out of the JV level and mindset, the road work (running) becomes part of the winning combination. It may not be required, but it’s essential. Gassing out of a match due to lack of conditioning comes down to the person you see in the mirror. But when you’re 10lbs under your ordinary weight (I weighed around 122lbs a month or so earlier) with 6lbs to go, getting past that run on a Saturday evening in double-layered sweats often came down to a binary: do or do not, there is no try.

The loop I had put together through my neighborhood would give me about a 0.10 mile warm-up before an alternating cast of inclines and declines. The run was dominated by a half-mile incline (“hill”) immediately following the warm-up. My experience with the loop was (and still is) but a side note; it’s hard every time unless you’ve kept yourself in shape. The hill was as much a cerebral challenge as it was a physical one. Due to its temporal location in the scheme of the loop, one could easily exert too much energy in ascending it, just to be tired for the subsequent two-and-a-half miles. It was perfect preparation for wrestling.

With my headphones and shoe-laces secure, I broke into a steady run, breathing in deep lung fulls of the winter air. I could smell the wrestling season in that air. I felt my body resonate with arousal, as my body autonomically prepared itself for the imaginary enemy in my mind’s eye. I hand-fought him there, as I climbed that hill. It was my opponent, it was that which needed to be dominated. My calves burned hotter than my lungs as I chipped away at the incline. I had tuned out the world with my playlist and focus. It was me and the hill, climbing ever higher. The evening sun cast a peculiar shadow across me as I struggled up and over the hill, reaching the peak with the knowledge that I was not yet finished-- I still had miles to go.

“One more step. I’m gonna go one more step.”

As I ran on the short stretch of flatness at the top, I wrestled with a small voice in my head that begged me to stop. It rationalized that I had done “enough” to be in wrestling shape, that I had given enough to the proverbial grind. Unfortunately for that small voice, “rational” doesn’t often coincide with wrestling. I kept running. As I ran, only partially cognizant of the sidewalk ahead of me, a figure began to emerge from the other side of the hill. He ran towards me as I ran towards him. I recognized his gray and gold hoodie as identical to the one I wore, our team emblem dominating the front of the sweater. Without breaking pace, I smiled and high-fived Ryan, our 147lber, who did the same. I smiled wide as we ran away from each other. It cost me a few breaths I wish I had later.

I was motivated by our parallel efforts. As I ran, I found myself within my mind again, combating the hill, visualizing technique, visualizing victory. As with wrestling, this run was to be defeated alone. Seeing my teammate put in roadwork spurred me but I knew I could not run for him anymore than he could run for me. I could not wrestle the matches for him, nor he for I.

Only I could put that foot in front of the other, up that hill or to the center of the mat. One more step. I’m gonna go one more step.

The incline on campus was a much more prominent hill than the one in my neighborhood. But the smell was distinct, so I was at home. The season is coming. Step outside at sunset, you can smell it in the air. The stiff old shirt from my sophomore year in high school was once again soaked in sweat as I ran up my college campus. My competitive days are behind me, but the fire never leaves, nor does the hill. You beat the hill one step at a time.

One more step.

Believe those words. Whatever your mantra is, believe it. Your word is as good as the action it represents. Why do wrestlers quit or burn out from the sport? Because it is hard. “Not everyone wants to do hard things,” says US Greco-Roman Coach Matt Lindland. Few people like to do hard things, despite valuing perseverance, fortitude, and passion. Those values are necessary to complete the season, much more complete it the way you want to. A season of wrestling is a four-month incline that always gives you a clear out. You can always quit. This sport has brought the greatest of champions to their knees, but it is the response to defeat that defines an individual, not the defeat itself. Remember that this is a solo-pursuit. Embrace the responsibility of dictating your own destiny on that wrestling mat. This coming wrestling season, enjoy the sport for what it offers and challenge yourself to actualize your potential.

One more step.

“I have dreams to this day where I’ll wake up … I’ll be dreaming, thinking that I still have eligibility. I can go back and I have one more year of eligibility. And I gotta figure out how I gotta leave Cornell to get that year, and how I can talk to [Athletic Director] Andy Noel about letting me have one year off. This is the only time in your life you’re gonna be able to do this.” --Rob Koll, Head Coach of Cornell University

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