As a high school wrestler I spent a lot of time saying the following sentence “Wrestling isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle.” While a little cheeky, this saying embodied a sentiment about the totality of dedication necessary for performing with your body at the highest level. As a wrestler I woke up standing in front of the bathroom sink holding a cup of water about to drink it on many occasions. I have vivid memories of standing in the shower manually closing my mouth because I couldn’t afford to take in the water weight of a few mouthfuls of greywater flowing down from my scalp.
I was not someone who had to cut much weight; I wrestled at or around my natural (though beefy) weight throughout all four years of high school. I know explicitly the dedication and self discipline needed to stay fit and lean by eating a proscribed diet, working out for hours a day, and never compromising, even for Thanksgiving dinner! That’s what it took for me to be a champion, and that’s what it took for me to master my body.
The mano-a-mano attitude that saturates wrestling is part of what makes it so compelling to me. There are no excuses on the mat other than that you are not as good as the human being having their arm raised while you slink off in defeat.
In combination with this respect for discipline, I have a healthy dose of libertarian notions about personal choice. I always used to say I could beat someone who is any two of the following: Stronger, Better, Tougher. As long as I could identify in which category I had an advantage, I would find their cracks and expose them through mental and physical warfare during the 6 minutes we had on the mat. I’m not trying to brag, but with a 94-18 record through 4 years, I won 84% of the time with this approach.
One of the other wrestlers on the team with me was two years older than I and much better. He had more talent, was stronger, and was really tough. I rarely if ever scored a point on him. Sometimes just because he could, he would hold both hands behind his back and brush me or others off throughout a whole period of “live” wrestling during practice with only his forehead and temples. When he graduated, he joined the military, and I believe became a Green Beret or Army Ranger, or some level of national service even beyond the exceptional dedication necessary to put your life on the line for our glorious country.
He also often reeked of vodka. He was not (to my knowledge) drinking during the day or before practice, but especially reeked when we had practices during school vacations or extra hours other than our usual 3pm-6pm Monday-Friday. The alcohol came out of his pores as his body cleaned up from his previous nights’ debauchery. I do not know how good (or how emotionally unstable) he would have been without drinking. I do know that I treated my body with the utmost respect and demanded every day that I improve my performance, and drinking or doing drugs would have inhibited that.
What does it mean to cheat? Where is the line between performance enhancing and performing at your best. Who is to say that he would have been better without his vices, and who is to say that his vices held him back? When we let rules be our guides rather than performances and facts, we lose the opportunity to express ourselves fully. I believe that systems are an integral part of how we relate to each other, and institutions should be strengthened through time. However, those same institutions should also be curated to allow us to ascertain which rules exist to restrict and which exist to enable.