Rant: Vision Quest.
February 13, 2013
Today, I learned that the IOC voted to omit wrestling as part of the Olympic games. Outraged by this, I decided to write about it since I hadn’t formed an opinion on anything in quite some time. What came out was a lot more personal than I intended it to be but I figured what the heck. It’s my blog, I’ll write about what I want. Here’s part 1 of why I think it’s outrageous to hold an Olympic games without wrestling.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m Joe Wrestler. I participated in the sport of wrestling for a relatively short amount of time but long enough for me to develop a deep respect and admiration for it. I’m sure any real wrestlers out there would be able to smear me across the mat but nonetheless I was still a wrestler before I was truly an Olympic weightlifter. That was actually my first coaching gig. Yes, before I was an Olympic weightlifting coach, I was an assistant high school wrestling coach. I loved it. I loved seeing my athletes develop a greater understanding for it and see their hard work rewarded by winning matches even though I was still learning much about the sport myself.
My first introduction to the sport was when I was just a little chubby kid watching Rulon Gardner beat Aleksandr Karelin in the 2000 Olympics. I had never seen a wrestling match in my life but I had seen Rocky IV countless times. And to me, this was as close as it got. I mean, we beat the Russians! How cool is that? But it was even better because Rulon was a chubby kid just like me which was enough to adopt him as one of my personal heroes. I think I was a freshman in high school at the time but sadly I didn’t try out for the wrestling team because I was just too ashamed of my body. I played football because that’s what you were supposed to do if you were a fat kid.
I hated football. I hated it for a number of reasons but mostly because we were terrible and as an offensive lineman there was really nothing fun or glorious about my job. It was mostly just stressful. I did, however, LOVE lifting weights and football gave me my first introduction to the weight room. Yeah, buddy. There was nothing better than hitting the weights with the other linemen. We called ourselves “the fatties.” But by the time I was a senior, I wasn’t fat. I was JACKED. I also found my self-esteem that I had somehow misplaced sometime during my adolescence. Armed with my new tools, I decided to venture out into other sports.
My entire life, I was picked last for everything and now I was Ben Claridad, sportsman. Rugby was among my favorites. I thought I was pretty good at it too. But that was a pipe dream soon squashed when I tried out for the all-star team after high school. You see, my entire football career, the only time I would touch the ball would be to hike it. As it turns out, catching and throwing a ball are a skill set that you don’t just develop overnight. I finally joined the wrestling team and it was every bit as awesome as I hoped it would be. During my first practice, I made some kid cry! I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but managed to win a good amount of matches through sheer brute force and a can-do attitude. I was having a great time until I partially tore my rotator cuff which put me out for the remainder of the season (an injury which still plagues me today). That should’ve been the end of my wrestling experience. After seeing a PT and rehabilitating my shoulder I was able to get back in the weight room. Fate had brought me my true love, Olympic weightlifting (a story I will save for later).
A year later, I had graduated and was practicing Olympic weightlifting at Sacramento High School. I had a conversation with the wrestling coach who was looking for some extra help for the season. I explained to him my lack of experience but gladly accepted when he offered me the job as an assistant coach. That first season was sort of like a crash course in everything pertaining to wrestling. Not only did I become proficient in the techniques used at the high school level, but I also learned the ins and outs of coaching at tournaments and duels. I coached for two more years after that. My role on the team grew with the more knowledge that I gained. At this time, MMA was just starting to blow up and the idea of being a wrestler seemed to be cooler than identifying as an Olympic weightlifter. Nonetheless, I developed within the two sports concurrently until ultimately I had to choose which I wanted to excel at.
Stay tuned for part II.