BEYOND THE MAT
by Michael Williams
During high school and college I believed the time spent off the mat was just as important as the time I spent on the mat. Everything that I did during the season affected my wrestling. Every year I competed, I stayed at school over breaks, watched my diet, and devoted time to extra practices. In 2012, I knew it would be my last chance to create my legacy. I knew I would do whatever it would take.
That year I earned the title of captain of the Ursinus College wrestling team. It was the start to the year when I would make my last stand. I was already recognized for my commitment, determination, work ethic, and ability to connect with everyone on the team. I was outgoing and social off the mat and very focused in the wrestling room. As the season went on, I agreed with Stan Lee who states, “With great power comes great responsibility,” as I was the go-to person for my teammates when they needed support and direction during the season. I did not want to be a captain that never stepped on the mat when it mattered most. A leader should be able to both inspire and motivate those around him by leading by example. I did not know if I would have the opportunity, but I knew I would seize the moment if it presented itself. That moment arrived in March.
The team fell short of winning The Centennial Conference the year before and this year was all about building the team up by filling the holes in the lineup. There was an opening at the 174 weight class. I had always wrestled 174, but every year I fell short of taking the top spot. My senior year, however, we did not have anyone to fill in that weight class. This seemed like a dream come true, except I was starting the season at 206 pounds, and this is after starting the school year weighing 220 pounds. The coaching staff approached me with their outlook for my season depending on at which weight class I chose to wrestle. I could either wrestle up that year battling every person at either 184 or 197 trying to take spots that were still filled by the previous season’s starters, or I could make a commitment to continue to drop weight in order to compete at the 174 pound weight class and fill in a much needed hole in what could be my best chance to help lead this team to a Centennial Conference Championship. Reflecting on that moment, I don’t know whether it was my ego or my naivety that made me tell my coaches that I would make the cut to 174 in order to do what was best for the team.
My commitment to my coaches and my team led to the greatest challenge that I have ever endured. I changed my diet and workout routines almost overnight. Even though I was losing weight I had to take in more calories than I did before in order to keep my body running day in and day out. I went from working out twice a day to four times a day. Each day I would wake up around six in the morning and go for an hour run. Afterwards, I had my first class at eight. I headed back to the gym for another hour run, went through the rest of my day of class hours until wrestling practice at four. Practice ran for about two and a half hours. I ate dinner and headed to my room to do work or relax before my final workout. This last workout was another hour run. I continued this workout routine till January 26 when I officially weighed in at 174 for the first time. The worst part of my journey from October through January was seeing my teammates compete successfully, while I could only train and prepare for my debut that seemed like it would never come. The things that kept me going were the encouragement of my teammates, coaches, family, and friends. Overall, I knew it would be worth it, and all those days I spent running myself ragged were worth it because the amount of effort I put towards my season led me to my ultimate goal.
The team had one of the best seasons it ever had. We were once again undefeated in The Centennial Conference team matchups. Even though this was the case, we had been here before the previous season and still ended up taking second at the championships. This year we were convinced we had the toughest lineup in the division, and we would not be denied finally taking home the trophy. Ursinus had not won the Centennial Conference since the 2006–2007 season.
The 2012–2013 season Championship day began. I had dropped my first match of the day, and I knew that I was not going to end my first conference tournament with two losses. I wrestled back in two matches in order to get in contention for third place which boosted my confidence. The team had eight men in the finals, but we still had to make sure we could secure our victory by winning a majority of the bouts we had left. As I headed into my final match, my coach pulled me aside and told me, “If you win, we all win.” As the captain of the team, I could not accept the possibility that the team would go another year without winning a conference title. It was something I wanted to be a part of ever since I had joined the team. I won a tightly contested match by one point, and celebrated what I thought would be one of my last greatest achievements. I not only took third in the conference at 174, but I helped in the effort of Ursinus’ win of a conference title. The team ended the day with four first place finishers, four second place finishers, and a third place finisher. All my hard work paid off then, and it continues to give me the confidence to push to get better in my continuing career.
I ended my season taking fifth at East Regionals and getting Academic All-American Honors. The sacrifices throughout my years of wrestling finally felt like they were worth it. Every day I spent in the wrestling room was a stepping stone toward what I accomplished and what I became. However, I thought, when the season ended, what can a wrestler do with all that experience they have gained? If you are not planning on trying to make a run for the World team or the Olympic team, then you have the option to coach. I tried that option for a season, and it proved to me that I was not prepared to throw in the towel with my own personal career. I was competitive and I still had a passion that could not be quenched by working with youth, but only by putting myself through more training to hone my craft. I have rededicated myself to my passion of wrestling by pursuing success in another sport. There are very few places where ambitious adult athletes can go to train regularly throughout the year for a sport that requires a mat. I finally found Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as I sought to prepare for the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Association (MAWA) Tournament in October 2014. I was able to train at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu facility where I learned a new form of both combat and self-defense. I was able to incorporate my wrestling techniques with Jiu-Jitsu, which allowed for a smoother transition into the sport. I have been able to meld together one passion with another in order to train myself to be a better competitor. I have experienced success in competing in both wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu circuits, and I hope to continue my success in both. I am happy I chose to pursue my passions at a time when most people conform to working a 9 to 5. I have a life-long passion for wrestling and I won’t give that up until I am no longer able to compete, because the word ‘quit’ is not in my vocabulary.
Michael Williams is from Bronx, New York, and wrestled at Westtown School, a boarding school in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He attended Ursinus College where he wrestled all four years while pursuing a degree in Exercise and Sport Science.
Originally published at www.wrestlingstories.org.