OWNING THE MAT: The Making of A State Champ or At Least A Good Man! (Blog 1)

Blog 1


While in the pandemic lockdown, nobody was wrestling anywhere around us in Connecticut. Fortunately, though, we received a stimulus check that gave us the ability to buy a small 10X10 basement wrestling mat. It isn’t big enough for us to go full speed on. But it is big enough for us to do some drilling, mat wrestling, and stretching on. So, we were pretty pumped about getting the home wrestling mat to continue my son Dakota’s journey of becoming a good man by trying to become a state champ wrestler.

However, nothing is ever simple in life. After a few weeks, the delivery came. But only half of the wrestling mat showed up. We had one 5X10 section of the mat. The other half of the mat was lost in the mail. We were frustrated and reached out to Amazon. They refunded us and told us we could keep that one mat section and order another one.

So, I went down in the basement and moved a few more things over to make additional room for three 5X10 sections of the mat instead of just two of them. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise. The downside is that the new 10X10 mat that we just ordered would take a few months to arrive because everyone was bombarding Amazon with their stimulus check spending. And various events around the world were slowing down the circulation of products like that huge boat stuck in the Suez Canal.

Over the next few months, Dakota and I did the best we could on our new tiny 5X10 one-section mat to get a workout and some technique in. We did a bunch of light drilling but had to be really careful not to fall off the mat onto the hard concrete floor.

Eventually, the other mat showed up, and Dakota and I were pumped! My four daughters were happy, too. They used the wrestling mat for some aerobics training around Dakota’s drilling sessions with me. Unfortunately, though, almost as soon as we got the mat, my shoulder hit the wrestling mat funny when Dakota took me down. And I heard it crack three times, and it sent shooting pains all over my body. So, we had to immediately stop for the day. I couldn’t do any more wrestling that day. That shoulder injury haunted me for the next few months, not allowing Dakota and me to take full advantage of our new wrestling mat.

Also, Dakota had an ongoing elbow injury for the last few months that just wouldn’t go away. So, that too made it harder for us to take full advantage of our newfound luck of having a wrestling mat in our basement. Sadly, injuries and the pandemic continue to plague our progress in man’s oldest and most demanding sport.

Neither Dakota nor I seemed able to shake our injuries, so we decided to take some time off from working out to let our bodies heal. However, as Murphy’s Law states, if something can go wrong, it will. On Dakota’s first day back working out, he did a light trail run, and unfortunately, Dakota’s foot came down wrong, and he heard it crack. I brought him to the doctor, hoping it wasn’t broken. Thankfully it wasn’t. He just sprained it. But now, he needed a few more weeks off to let his ankle heal.

After a few weeks off, Dakota’s ankle seemed well enough for us to do some light drilling again on our new basement mat. Immediately, my heel flared up and gave me a lot of pain. My heel had been bugging me the previous few weeks, and it nagged me for the next few months. I wondered if Dakota would be better off with a much younger drilling partner than myself. Also, within the next couple of workouts, it became apparent that there was still something very wrong with Dakota’s elbow.

I finally gave in and brought Dakota to the doctor to look at his elbow. The doctor said that he had severely sprained his elbow to the point of dislocation while wrestling a while back. And that Dakota had not given it the proper amount of time to heal. For six weeks, the doctor told Dakota to cease all upper body physical activity, including wrestling.

Dang! We were fortunate enough to get a new home wrestling mat because of the stimulus money, and now one thing after another is keeping us from taking advantage of it. However, I always try to look on the bright side of things. So, I told Dakota not to worry about it. Better to take time off now for an injury than during the wrestling season. With this injury happening in the late spring, he had plenty of time to heal and still get in good shape before the wrestling season started on the Monday after Thanksgiving here in Connecticut.

We soon learned that there was a Nutmeg Wrestling Tournament scheduled for July 25th at New Britain High School, where I used to teach and coach wrestling. This was awesome. Perfect timing, too. Dakota’s six weeks of resting his elbow ended when we’d return from our family summer vacation. And we would still have two weeks for Dakota to train for the tournament and get in shape. We were pumped over this stroke of luck. It has been a very long time since Dakota has wrestled competitively,

As soon as we got back from vacation, Dakota and I went into training. On the third day of his training, I went online to register him for the tournament when I found out that the facility decided to keep the mask mandate in place until the end of the summer. Thus, the wrestling tournament was canceled.

The pandemic had struck again. And once again, Dakota is stuck standing on the sidelines just watching his high school years pass by without him competing. He hasn’t competed in the sport of wrestling since his freshman year. And it’s becoming very frustrating. But I guess that’s how life is sometimes, right?

Well, at least Dakota and I were able to get some more drilling in while we’re waiting to see what will happen next in the new Covid and wrestling world. However, once again we had to slam on the brakes in Dakota’s training because I now had Lyme Disease. But, in about a month, it looked like my Lyme disease and the blotches it had left all over my body had cleared up, and Dakota and I resumed training. But these training sessions were a bit painful for Dakota because he was now dealing with an ingrown toenail. Ah, there is always something, huh? We both keep getting these damn painful pebbles in our shoes as we try to walk through our lives toward more success and happiness.

Finally, everything seemed to be in place, and both Dakota and I were healthy. We were back into training on our new basement wrestling mat, and everything seemed great until my arm got caught in Dakota’s shirt right as he hit a move on me. My elbow popped, and my tricep tore. We couldn’t seem to win. There was a never-ending one thing after another holding us back from making progress.

But we refused to be beaten. And it’s a good thing, too, because this was when Jude Knapp, Johnny’s younger brother, and I talked on the phone. Jude told me KT Wrestling was opening back up, and Dakota should come down there to wrestle. I thought that was a great idea. Dakota could finally wrestle with someone besides me and occasionally Shirzad, who Dakota has gotten a little too big for.

Even though KT KIDZ was an hour car drive away, it was awesome. It was exactly what Dakota needed for his fall training with me laid up with a bad elbow and torn tricep. Dakota had a successful fall season of wrestling with KT KIDZ. However, life continued to be crazy because Dakota injured cartilage in his chest near the end of the fall season, causing his chest to pop continuously and painfully. And to make matters worse, then we found out that his high school head wrestling coach took another job, and Dakota might not have a head coach or even a high school team to go back to. Life is crazy!

I didn’t realize what I am going to say next when I was a wrestler and two-time state champ, and two-time Junior Olympian in high school. But I understand it now. Okay. Here it is. Are you ready for it? It’s almost a damn miracle for a kid to win States…

Well, regardless, we’re going to reach for that miracle anyway. And if Dakota fails to capture that miracle, he’ll at least build his character and become a good man who knows how to work hard and come back from setbacks. And that’s all anyone can ask of him. Wouldn’t you agree?