I don't tell a whole lot of personal stories from my own wrestling experiences here at JT#1, but everyone once in a while I get an itch to. This is one of my favorites that I like to look back on every now and again. A humorous story with an important life lesson involving former Iowa State legend Eric Akin.
It was the summer of 2003. The year before my senior year of high school. I was attending a University of Nebraska wrestling camp where Eric Akin was an assistant at the time. While there, I was a part of team Pella. I actually attended Sigourney High School, but we didn't have enough kids go to the camp for our own team & for that fact neither did Knoxville. So we teamed up with Pella. My entire high school wrestling career I was a Sigourney Savage, but for that week in Nebraska, I wore the Pella Dutch green & white.
It was a pretty good week for me. Probably the best I ever wrestled my entire High School career. I guess it was because there was no pressure. I didn't have a Dad there to yell and scream at me if I lost. I didn't psyche myself out overthinking. I just wrestled. Overall that week I went 15-5. This included beating state qualifiers from Colorado & a state place-winner from Nevada, as well as a class 3A wrestler from Cedar Rapids Washington.
It was a good week for me until I wrestled Chris Dunkin who was on our team in a dual where the other team didn't have anyone at our weight. Chris just annihilated me. A cowcatcher to the back, up 5-0, he then got on top of me and turned me with two guillotines back to back. Up 11-0 going into the second, he let me up & took me down right away for a 13-1 lead. He then let me up again & took me down for a 15-2 lead. Third period started, he chose on the feet & took me down for a 17-2 technical fall.
It was embarrassing. Dunkin handed me my rear. I sat in the corner starring off into empty bleachers ashamed to look at anyone. I was in my own little world until I heard a voice.
"That was awful wasn't it?"
It was Eric Akin.
He asked me what happened out there and I told him that I wrestled like crap. He said he could see that, but why? Was Dunkin really that much better than me, or was I not focused? Was I not prepared?
I told him I didn't know. He said I better figure it out & once I figured it out, there was an open mat with nothing happening on it. Challenge Dunkin to a rematch, he'd be there to officiate it.
I went up to my Coach and asked him if it'd be all right if I were challenge Dunkin to another match. He said he was more than cool with it. I then went up to Dunkin and asked him if he would wrestle me again. He agreed.
I think when we first walked out onto the mat, he thought he'd whip me again, but he soon found out once the whistle blew, that this time he had a fight on his hands. We fought in every position, neither one of us giving an inch to the other. After many attempts and no scoring, Dunkin was finally able to counter a shot of mine and go up 2-0. Second period I chose down & when Dunkin tried to throw in the boots I caught his leg & used it to tie up the match 2-2 with a reversal, as I was able to ride him out for the remainder of the period. We went into the third period tied 2-2. As the as closing seconds wound off the clock I took a shot. Dunkin countered, I recounted & in a scramble he came out on top. I had lost 4-2.
I walked off the match feeling pretty good about myself. There's a lot of difference between getting humiliated 17-2 & then losing a close 4-2 battle. My Coach was proud of me. Told me I wrestled so much better in match #2 than I had in match #1.
A big, goofy grin on my face, I sat feeling much better than I had felt previously. In my own little world starring off into space, I suddenly heard a voice again.
"I don't know what the Hell you're so happy about."
I turned to see that it was Eric Akin again.
"You Still lost."
It was a lessen to be learned. Should I have been happy that I was in the fight? That I gave it Hell & showed that I belonged on the mat with Dunkin? Or should I have still been dissatisfied that I didn't win? Dunkin was an Iowa High School State place-winner. Something way beyond anything I ever achieved. He was 5th in the championships. I look back on the match I had with him knowing that while I don't have any accolades or credentials of my own, I once nearly beat a kid who did.
I think sometimes we can have a habit of become content and complacent. I think sometimes because we did so much better the second time around than what we did the first time around, we forget that there is still more work to do. Chris Dunkin toyed around with me, chewed me up and spit me out 17-2 in our first match. In our second match, he had to do everything he could to overcome me in a last second 4-2 victory. Instead of thinking of what I could have done differently to maybe have won 4-2 instead of losing 4-2, I was concentrating solely upon the improvement I had already made, instead of the improvement that I still needed to make.
I think that's what Akin was trying to get across to me that day. I don't think the "you still lost" was code for, "go sit in the corner and mentally beat yourself up some more." I think it was, "Why did you lose that takedown battle at the end?" That I should be questioning myself, my coach, maybe even him for what strategy & techniques might have worked had I had that situation to do over again.
Wrestling is a tough sport as is life a tough endure. Nothing wrong with acknowledging our improvements, but we can't sit back and 100% satisfied with them either. There's always room for growth and to keep getting better.
I think that's the lesson Akin was going for. Hell, he might have meant something completely different. I don't know.