Failure and the Fireman’s Carry

When I was a sophomore in high school, my football coach suggested that I take up wrestling. Wrestling, he argued, would help me stay in shape through the winter. I had never wrestled. I had no clue about the sport. It was the most challenging sport I ever played. It combines strength, endurance, agility and intelligence. I had the first three but not the last one (at least not in the realm of wrestling).

My inaugural season started off rather well. I had a simple technique. I would chase down, tackle and pin my opponent to the mat by holding his arms down. No intelligence needed. Every kid has utilized some variation of this technique at some time or another in his or her backyard. I would repeat this technique until I exhausted my opponent. I won my first few matches through brute strength and endurance. Things would begin to change, however, as we got deeper into the season. I started losing and losing and losing.

I did not like to lose then. I do not like to lose now. I could handle losing (sort of) if I put up a good fight and did not give up. Then I came up against the Kentucky State Champion in my weight class.

I am from Ohio. I was born and raised by the river. I am a Buckeye through and through. Except for their bourbon and basketball, we don’t take things coming out of Kentucky too seriously — including their state champions.

He pinned me in 4 seconds!

Not 3 seconds, but 4 seconds.

You may think that surviving for 1 additional second would have been a good thing. It was not.

We crossed paths at a huge weekend tournament in a huge gymnasium packed to capacity. Our interaction happened so fast that it is probably best that I break with the traditional paragraph structure of writing.

  • I stepped onto the mat to face him.
  • The match started with the blow of a whistle.
  • He swept down to one knee and threw me using the Fireman’s carry (see image above).
  • I found myself lying on my back out of bounds.
  • The whistle blew stopping the match.

That was 1 second. You may know where this is going.

  • I stepped onto the mat to face him (again).
  • The match started with the blow of a whistle (again).
  • He swept down to one knee and threw me using the Fireman’s carry (again).
  • I found myself lying on my back (again) inbounds (this time)
  • He pinned me in 3 seconds (this time)
  • The whistle blew stopping the match (again).

My match with the Kentucky state champion lasted a total of 4 seconds.

In wrestling (much different than football) there is nowhere to hide. Your failures are your failures. Your mistakes are your mistakes. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I had had enough.

The following Monday, before wrestling practice, I walked up to my coach and quit. I told him that I wanted to concentrate on my academics. I lied. He knew it. He looked at me and asked “Are you sure you want to do this? You may live to regret this decision.” I said “yes” and walked out. It was the first time that I had ever quit anything.

Did I live to regret my decision?

No.

Why?

Those 4 seconds taught me to never not take on the equivalent of a Kentucky State Champion out of fear of failure.

Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)
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