[first appeared in the Autumn 2003 issue of The Gettysburg Review]
by Greg McBride

WRESTLING THROUGH THE AGES

— In memory of Chris Poff, 1929–98

Some of us did something so well in childhood, and were so well rewarded for it, we spend a lifetime searching for the magic of that moment, remembering it, wondering how and why it happened. The younger self stalks us like a magnificent tiger, mauling our dreams. In my case, I won a Pennsylvania state high school wrestling championship in 1963.

At fifty-eight, I am a small man, 5 feet 4 inches, 125 pounds. I was a small boy, always. Through the fifties, my mother and sister and I followed my Army father from Texas to Missouri to Japan to California to Oregon to Utah to Arizona back to California to Okinawa back to Oregon to Maryland, and finally, in eighth grade, to Pennsylvania. By the time I was fourteen, I had attended nine schools. I learned early on how to negotiate for a tetherball, when to hand over a basketball, the skills of placation, of non- confrontation. But as I got older, my size set up the big surprise when we rolled into town: I could run, kick, throw, and field with the best of them.

Vestiges of the boy I was show up in the acrobatic catch of a falling bar of soap or the no-look, behind-the-back, across-the-room, off-the-wall, trash-can flip. These unwitnessed mini-performances ignite the small explosions of silent joy that punctuate my days. This athletic aptitude — balance, coordination, quickness, natural ambidexterity — of little consequence for decades of adulthood, once mattered beyond all measure, all reason. When that aptitude was married to physical and mental work harder than any life would demand over the next forty years, the marriage produced a teenage result so stunning as to alter the course of my life.

In wrestling, you are on your own, one-on-one, the two of you the same size, possessing the same weapons: limbs, minds, skills, and preparation, the meritocratic ideal reduced to hard physical reality. It was a kind of war, and so, anomalous for me, a noncombatant by temperament. But at fifteen, after successful careers in marbles, baseball, basketball, track, and football, I stumbled on this thing I was good at, so good that I was compelled to follow my talent, not my inclination. In finding and serving this talent, I satisfied an imperative of youth. The romance of that search and the work of that service prepare us for “real life.” But for me, nothing since has been more real; those brief years seared my memory, and me, the way war haunts its survivors.

Even now, on quiet Sunday afternoons, The Washington Post and books of Billy Collins and Galway Kinnell poems strewn around me near the fireplace, the throb of a knee or shoulder can send me lurching into deep memory — hopscotching over wife and children and grandchildren, thirty years of law practice, the dying boys in Vietnam recorded through my camera’s eye — back to the shooting star of adolescent ego, March of 1963, in Pennsylvania.

A half hour before my state final match on Saturday evening, I lay on my back in the locker room, balanced on a long narrow bench, idly adjusting and readjusting the kneepad pulled snuggly over my tights and the second pad beneath. The hole I had cut through the pad next to my skin created a pocket of air protecting my swollen left knee. It had troubled me all season and was still tender after my 8–1 win in the semi-final match a few hours earlier that afternoon against Bill McDougal of Kingston High School. My coach, Chris Poff, stormed in. I looked up, feeling oddly serene and somehow protected, like my knee. His grey suit jacket was buttoned, his crewcut recently trimmed. He stood erect as a skyscraper. I knew he had come to rouse me for this last battle. For six months he had focused on keeping me emotionally prepared to perform at a high level. “You can win this thing!” he barked. I heard myself respond, evenly, “I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t.” He seemed confounded by the measured confidence I expressed minutes before the biggest match of my life. He turned and wandered out.

After the warm-up, and as the first match began, Mr. Poff marched me away from the other finalists and their coaches, all seated on folding chairs on either side of the wrestling mat laid at the center of the arena. He was taking no chances. He pulled me under the packed stands of Pennsylvania State University’s Rec Hall, where the intricate latticework surrounding us looked like a roller coaster’s underside. Above, the crowd of more than eight thousand hummed and shouted like swooping coaster cars. We wouldn’t have long — mine was the second match. He glared down at me nose-to-nose, shouted, desperate to light my fire with his own, still afraid I would be undone by the pressure. “You can do this!” “Be tough!” “Throw everything at him!” I was silent. My eyes must have glazed over. Suddenly he stepped back and, with one quick motion of his right arm and shoulder, hit me across the side of my head as hard as he could with his open palm, a kind of slap-punch. I noticed another finalist nearby, trying to gather himself in the shadows, watching bug-eyed, mouth hanging open. I didn’t feel a thing.

At practice three nights before, I had taken a bathroom break and found myself hanging over the edge of a sink, disoriented. I collapsed on the floor. My legs began to extend involuntarily, straight and hard as two-by-fours. By the time they found me, my arms were folding in on themselves like the claws of a crab. As coaches and wrestlers crowded around, I cried out, “Save my right arm!” The stress of preparing to “go to states” had caught up with me. I was hyperventilating, I later learned, but in my ignorance as I lay gasping on the cold tile floor, eyes clamped shut, I thought I might never wrestle, or walk, again.

This episode, so close to the state championships, compounded Mr. Poff’s reasons for worry, reasons that had built up over our years together. I had lost twice as a sophomore and once as a junior. Each time, I had lapsed into a kind of psycho-emotional swoon, a crippling attack of nerves at a crucial moment. The mismatch between my temperament and my talent made me an emotional “head case.” So Mr. Poff focused on managing my mind during our last season together. Early in the year, after a 10–0 win against a tough opponent at Allentown, he mused on the bus ride home that I did better if I didn’t know the quality of my opponent. Only after one 6–0 win did he tell me that I had just beaten the national prep school champion. He treated me like a thoroughbred racehorse, fast but of delicate temperament.

For the previous three years, Neshaminy High School’s coaches, Chris Poff and John Kopack, had created a world of yearning and awe we fully inhabited: State champs, Pennsylvania state champs, “tough as nails” — the sons of coal miners and steel workers — muscled their way out of hardscrabble towns onto the stage of our large and sports-mad state. Our coaches were the priests to whom we owed unquestioning obedience and daily worship, including practice on Saturdays, sometimes Sundays, even twice a day over Christmas vacation. State champs pumped hundreds of pushups daily, ran miles before breakfast, practiced untold hours, cut weight dangerously, then went off to populate the rosters of Penn State, Lehigh, Pitt, Oklahoma, Iowa — best of the best wrestling schools. All this meant “sacrifice,” Mr. Poff’s favorite word.

In October each year, 6,000 wrestlers from 500 high schools across the state set out on this path. The tournaments began in February after the dual meet season. Over consecutive weekends, building like a pyramid, the counties, the districts, and the regionals hosted the ever-dwindling number of survivors, until the four regional champions in each weight class emerged as state semi-finalists who would meet on a Saturday afternoon in March at Penn State, the last two surviving winners meeting that night in the finals of the most competitive wrestling state in the country.

As we won our way up this month-long pyramid, the opponents grew, not bigger, but stronger, quicker, and more skilled, more forceful in their movements, more gifted in their sheer athleticism. They were filled with energy and commitment and belief in themselves. Their confidence expressed itself in a locker-room hauteur, a swaggered magnetic force field that sent a message with equal power to the wrestling world and to the swaggering self. Their labored nonchalance at weigh-ins was exceeded in dramatic impact only by the kinetic self-presentation that began a match, larger wrestlers often affecting the flat-footedness of heavy strength, smaller wrestlers flaunting energy and speed by bouncing on their toes.

One September morning that senior year, Mr. Poff pulled me into an empty classroom. Both demanding and filled with fatherly affection, he cared deeply about me and the many students he guided over the years as coach and biology teacher. That day, our minds were on the same thing. He said I could “go all the way.” Until then, he had avoided laying that expectation on me, probably worried that it would add pressure I couldn’t bear. But it was now or never; he must have calculated that it was worth the risk. Perhaps I had matured into readiness: I received his expectation as realistic, even in the face of the daunting odds, and took the quest seriously. I would get my weight down early in the season to avoid the strength-sapping yo-yo of weight gain and loss from week to week. And mostly symbolic, given my unimpressive track record with girls, I resolved to have no dates until it was all over in March. As the season progressed, my focus narrowed, leaving no time for miniature golf, bowling, and pizza with my buddy Corky, and little energy for my lead role in the senior class play, for serving as Student Council President, for academics.

In the long history of Pennsylvania wrestling, Lower Bucks County, northeast of Philadelphia, had never produced a state champion. I was an unlikely prospect to break the streak. Small-framed, I was the subject of whispered ridicule when opposing teams lined up naked at pre-match weigh-ins. Even after building a reputation in eastern Pennsylvania during my first two seasons, with a 31–3–1 record and two county championships, I could hear the surprised cackles of well-muscled opponents as I stepped onto the scales, each small but rounded abdominal muscle raised and sharply etched, rattling down to where veins raced wild as lightning before snaking into pubic hair. My ribs angled like the skeletal slats of a boat’s prow, floating over bony hips and bowed legs.

I was naturally skinny, but cutting weight, in my case 15 pounds, made me gaunt. We lost weight by reducing food and sweating off three to five pounds at each practice. Prohibited from drinking in the wrestling room, which would have defeated some of the purpose of our extended workouts, we limited our fluid intake after practice as well, to consolidate as much of that day’s weight loss as possible. I kept charts, faithfully recording my weigh-in and weigh-out weights, and the difference, practice-by-practice. Sometimes we wore rubber suits that gripped our neck, wrists, waist, and ankles with elastic to keep the heat in. It was stifling as well as clammy, like wrestling in a material woven of aluminum foil and Saran Wrap. On the day of a match, we would spit into drinking fountains and toilets while at school to rid ourselves of every ounce possible.

Practice ground on for an exhausting three hours after school each day. The tiny wrestling room reeked of old sweat and disinfectant and the smarmy stink of the mat. We worked in the heavy, wet atmosphere of a hothouse, like buds forced to flower unnaturally, pushed to perform beyond anything we thought possible. Light-headedness came and went. The small room heated up to unbearable temperatures, its air filled with our grunts and the squeaks of slipper-like wrestling shoes. Our coaches barked like drill sergeants. The tall scales loomed as a reminder near the door, our last stop before the showers each night.

The room was the size of one wrestling mat. From its edges, the padded concrete walls rose at a menacing right angle. This was an unusually dangerous arrangement, the only one of its kind I ever saw. Wrestlers often fly off a mat into the surrounding open space we lacked. It was like trying to play table tennis in a room only slightly larger than the table, but much more hazardous. In the winter of junior year, while practicing with Lee Clickner, my elbow landed near the edge of the mat, and my wrist hit the wall. An instant later, the full weight of Lee’s body landed on my forearm/hypotenuse. I howled and cradled the damaged arm all the way to the hospital. After x-rays, the doctor explained that the elbow had fully dislocated, seriously injuring the surrounding soft tissue, but that it had popped back into place on its own like a rubber band. It was a month before I could wrestle again.

Our knees, shoulders, wrists, and elbows absorbed a daily pounding for which they weren’t designed. After the first day of practice, we nursed one injury or another throughout the season. Jammed fingers and turned ankles were taped before practice. Mat burns were ignored. Daily collisions caused blood to pump into our ears, swelling them as air fills a balloon; once drained, these masses took on permanently bizarre forms. We wore our cauliflower ears as hard-won battlefield ribbons. I had to shave my arms so my chronically hyper-extended elbows could be taped. Then there was the occasional knee to the groin. In the male preserve of wrestling, we had to prove ourselves every day, over and over. You wrestled in matches only if you beat everyone on the team in your weight class and continued to beat them all season. No excuses for injury or pain, unless you had a limb in a sling or cast. No missing practice. No giving in to the fear and doubt that dogged the best of us.

My mother couldn’t bear the brutality of wrestling, but she was determined that I be the first from our family to go to college and thought my athletic talent might help me get there. She washed my sodden laundry constantly and served me poached eggs and toast and tea for breakfast and, at night, a hamburger patty unadorned in the center of a dinner plate. She held her tongue about my skipping lunches, about my sunken eyes and hollow cheeks and the fatigue that sometimes left me crawling up the stairs to my room on hands and knees after dinner. I got home late every night and very late when we had an away match. As I came in the door one night, my younger sister Rhondda asked how I had done. I told her I had won, and she said, a bit annoyed, “Don’t you ever lose?”

For most of my career I had wrestled not to lose. Especially against a strong opponent, I’d score a few points, then control him for the rest of the match to secure the victory. My disinclination to go for the pin aggravated Mr. Poff. A pin gave the team more points, and a wrestler of my caliber should have been more aggressive. If one’s aim is not to lose, however, the strategy of holding back and maintaining control makes a lot of sense. As in chess and war, a decision to attack aggressively means extending yourself into a position of risk. You might get the pin, but a skillful opponent might exploit the opening you create by countering with an escape, a reversal, or worse. More significant, however, was the fear of losing, of humiliation. For me, a loss equaled a verdict of “beaten, bested man.” This problem only grew as I won week after week through the seasons. I carried the expectations of my coaches, teammates, and friends as a heavy burden they surely never intended.

Mr. Poff was a widely respected and beloved coach who attracted exceptional athletes like my underclass teammates Jackie Dunn and Eddie Curran and fellow senior Lee Clickner. Lee and I met in the spring of 1959, in 8th grade, as teammates in the 60- yard dash. I was fast, but he was faster, though as it would turn out, I was quicker on the mat. Close to the same size, we gravitated to each other. Lee was blond, ruddy and flushed, with a brush cut like mine, but his taut and powerful body put mine to shame, especially his sculpted “pecs.” Veins criss-crossed his body as though his circulatory system had been crowded to the surface where it strained to escape his bleached skin. The month before, Lee had won the county junior high wrestling championship in the 103-pound weight class. At track practice one day, he said with his usual open enthusiasm, “I’d like to wrestle you,” a comment that struck me as odd, since I knew nothing about wrestling. But he was prescient: A year later, after I moved again to a new school, we met in the county junior high finals where I eked out an overtime referee’s decision. We then spent three years as teammates at Neshaminy, serving as co-captains our senior year. Natural rivals, we weren’t close friends, but we liked and respected each other. No one worked harder than Lee. Other than with my wife, I am sure I had more body-to-body contact with him than with anyone else in my life. I understood his body, its scope and tapered waist, its tendencies under the pressure of mat-borne struggle. In 1969, the Army sent us both to Vietnam, where he was killed.

Mr. Poff’s blow to the head still ringing in my ears, I heard my name reverberate off the walls and ceiling of Rec Hall. My tape job, uniform, kneepads, and headgear felt right, my black, Tiger-brand shoes comfortably laced and double-knotted. I had had the usual bout of pre-match diarrhea. Remembering my hyperventilation on Wednesday night, I forced slow and deep breaths as I walked out with Mr. Poff and Mr. Kopack to take our positions at one corner of the mat. Dancing side to side on my toes, I tried to shake my arms free of tension, as their calm, insistent voices corralled the bedlam in my gut. “Be tough.” “You can do this.” Then hard slaps on the rear sent me trotting onto the mat, snapping the headgear tight.

Checking in at the scorer’s table, I tried to ignore the chug of my heart. The officials gave us colored elastic bands for our ankles to correspond with the electronic scorekeeping machine overhead. My opponent, Terry Magoon of Erie Strong Vincent High School, was 21–0 for the season. So was I, but coming into the tournament he had been favored to win by the newspaper pundits — he came from the strongest region of the state. He wore a solid white satiny uniform with red piping; mine was a white top with blue tights. We faced each other across the inner circle of the round mat, shook hands, and crouched in readiness. The husky referee in a black and white striped shirt — good, evil, good, evil — win, lose, win, lose — raised his hand, then chopped through the air between us as he released a piercing burst of the whistle.

I intended to take Magoon down the same way I had McDougal in the semifinals that afternoon. Throughout the season, Mr. Poff had allowed me to develop my own favorite moves in the standing position, since no one had ever scored a takedown against me. I watched the feet of my opponents closely, noting patterns during a match. Each wrestler has unintended habits that distinguish him stylistically from other wrestlers. These are especially evident in the standing position and most telling in the patterned movements of his hands and feet, just as the stride of a sprinter and the waggle of a golfer differ from those of their rivals. Early in the season, for example, I noticed that one opponent reached, repetitively and rhythmically, out toward my left elbow with his right hand, out and back, out and back, as we danced warily. So in the early seconds of the match, anticipating and timing his movement, I reached diagonally between us, caught the triceps of his extended arm with my right hand, and “dragged” him by me to the mat for an easy takedown. Another opponent tried to protect himself by remaining on one knee. But his habit of reaching out with his hand left his body open along his left side. Again timing his patterned motion, I stepped forward and swept my right arm up and under his extended arm. As he reacted by helpfully clamping down on the arm bar I now had, I collared his neck in my left arm with a deep and tight half nelson, then swung his body into the air and onto his back for the pin.

Magoon was far too skilled to give me such openings. As in the semifinal match against McDougal, my strategy was to launch the attack just as he began a sideways step, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, when it was too late to go back and too soon to complete the step. I struck soon after the referee’s whistle. I cleared his body, turned, and secured a tight waist for the takedown. Two points! But this time I was higher on the back, and Magoon reached up with his right arm, grabbed my head, and pulled it down tight against his shoulder. He quickly “sat out,” his legs bent in front of him, and using my head as a pivot point, turned to free himself from my control. Escape, making it 2–1 in the early moments of the match.

One second is an eternity in wrestling, so instinctive reactions to position, strength, and speed of movement are essential. Endless hours of training help educate the instinct to know what response in a given split second will provide advantage in the time and space about to become briefly available. But at high levels of competition, individual creativity often makes the difference. In our continuous, physical calculations we become animal-like, rational and analytic functions rendered useless by the speed. This factor makes the difference in the second and third periods when wrestlers begin in the “down” position, one on his hands and knees, the other “on top.”

To begin the second period, I placed my left arm around Magoon’s waist. I had done this all season, as though I were left handed, because it placed the down wrestler in an unfamiliar position that would slow his response to the whistle. Midway through the period, Magoon sat out and reached back to grasp my head, this time with his left arm.

The position was looser than it had been in the first period. Again using my head as a pivot point, he began his clockwise spin. I arced my head back, bringing his arm with me, stretching his body out as he continued turning toward an escape, just as in the first period. I had a number of options available, options that would likely allow me to maintain control safely. Instead, I sensed that this was the critical moment. If he succeeded in escaping, the score would be 2–2 halfway through the match, while if I merely kept control, my lead would remain at a slim 2–1. I chose, or some ill-defined alloy of mind and body chose, the most aggressive response. As he turned clockwise, I let his body go while I moved counterclockwise at a pace measured to match his rotation and continued arcing my neck to further extend his arm. All of this happened with the smoothness of a dream. For one millisecond, his body was fully open to me. As I lunged into him, chest-to-chest — as though we had begun at twelve o’clock and now met at six — my left arm encircled his neck in a half nelson as my right arm encircled his waist, forcing him flat onto his back.

I was, as they say, in deep, so deep that I was able to lock my hands. From above, I angled my body, drove with my legs, so that my full weight pressed down heavily onto his chest, the pin, the victory, just a second away. In this position, I would expect to complete the pin of almost anybody, even someone outweighing me by thirty pounds. But from flat on his back, Magoon lifted off the mat onto the top of his head and his feet, just as we were trained, but then he continued rising as though my weight were nothing. He took the shape of an abruptly arched bridge, lifting me high off the mat into a precarious position, I who had the pinning combination on him! I had no control of his legs, which he could use to power one way or another, and with his upper body strength, the slightest miscalculation of balance could result in a reversal putting me in the very position I’d put him. A genuine pinner would have maintained the hold, but I knew I had scored two points for putting him on his back and now led 4–1, and I had a lot of experience protecting a lead. So, much to my coaches’ dismay, I released the hold but retained control.

Later in the second period, after a quick flurry, we ended in an ambiguous position: my legs controlled one of his, but I was on my side and he had a strong “whizzer,” an overarm bar, that tightly trapped my right arm wrapped around his waist.

He was awarded a two-point reversal; the score was 4–3, and I was in some trouble. I struggled to a more neutral position, the two of us side by side, he bearing down with his whizzer, which was pinning my right arm tightly across his back. We both hesitated. I glanced up and saw Mr. Poff making a circular gesture: the “limp arm.” I rose quickly against Magoon’s forcing arm, then riding his downward reaction, slid my arm quickly across his back and wound it between us, beginning a huge windmilling motion. As he grasped at my sliding arm, I lifted a second time, ripping my arm free. It flew high into the air as though, with all my might, I had ripped the starter cord right out of a lawn mower. His head hit the mat as I wrapped my arm around him. Reversal. I was up 6–3 with one period to go.

As the third period began, from nowhere, the nightmarish haze Mr. Poff so feared settled over me like a hunter’s net in the jungle, so that instead of quick precision, I thrashed. All season, no one had been able to hold me in the down position. But now I couldn’t execute the moves I knew so well, and Magoon wrestled powerfully in the top position. My one rational thought was to keep standing up, to avoid making on-mat moves. That would reduce the risk of a fatal mistake. As the period wore on, his strength gradually wore me out, until he threw a half nelson while I was on my knees, then another with his other hand, forcing my forehead to the mat. Both my arms extended above my head dangerously as he tried in growing desperation to turn me onto my back, the remaining seconds ticking away. I spread my knees wide and let my shoulders go limp, using the unusual lability of my joints to provide him no resistance against which to leverage his power. We struggled and struggled. Until the whistle blew.

The roar of the crowd flooded Rec Hall. The referee clenched my wrist with his right hand, Magoon’s with his left, as the result was announced, “6–3!” He thrust my hand high into the tumult so suddenly that my shoulder lurched unnaturally, and the whole left side of my 105-pound body lifted toward the steel girders arched above. As my hand hung in the air, limp as an empty jock strap, my eyes surveyed the scene through miasmic fatigue. I felt released, as if my lungs, filled by months of inhalation, were finally and fully able to exhale. My muscles, tendons, and ligaments no longer complaining, my body was unspooling itself. On the brisk Saturday evening of March 14, 1963, twelve days after turning eighteen, I had won a Pennsylvania state championship.

I was numb, though somehow over the course of the season I had come to the near expectation that it would happen. I looked at my coaches. They too were contained, small upturns at the corners of their pursed lips signaling satisfaction, masking their joy. There would be bear hugs once I made it to them. Meanwhile, no jumping around. No thrusting my free fist into the air as if I hadn’t expected to win. Magoon, the referee, and I stood in the center of the mat, at the center of our world, like ancient Greek combatants. At last, in a motion slow and controlled, the referee lowered my hand as though reeling in a battle-tattered flag ready for retirement.

Magoon and I turned to shake hands a second, final time. As I looked at him — his blackened eye and mat-burned face, no longer my opponent but my colleague in yearning and accomplishment, now shattered — my numbness gave way to a small sadness, a deformation of my heart under the weight of his disconsolation. He had come so close. We turned toward opposite sides of the mat, I to the satisfying embrace of Chris Poff and John Kopack, he to the regrets and what-ifs and tendered solace that would stalk him, perhaps for as long as the victory has stalked me.

Forty years later my foot drives itself into the living room floor, and my back strains against the chair to ensure the two-point reversal. My heartbeat lifts quickly to meet the physical demand imagination reenacts. Soon, the present asserts itself, and I think my pulse back down. In that senior year of high school, I had achieved a state of grace, believing in myself as never before, perhaps as never since. The final match was life writ small, a few intense minutes, then victory! I did not play it safe. In wrestling, going for the pin is the quintessential expression of risk-taking. A non-pinner by nature, I put the toughest opponents of my career on their backs in both the semifinals and the finals. Going for the pin against Magoon was a form of courage; it got me the points I needed to defeat a first-rate opponent. Holding the pinning combination longer would have pushed risk-taking into foolhardiness. In “going for it” at that crucial moment, I wrestled maturely: aggressively enough to win, prudently enough not to throw the win away. It was my triumph over the safe-playing self, the self that was capable of success, but not ultimate victory.

I have spent most of my career as a government attorney working for the causes of railroad safety and effective transit systems. The work is quiet and contributes to the common well being. The irregular beat of my daily life thrums on within a range that, as for most of us, rarely includes the peaks and valleys of adolescence. Yet the wonderment of that season remains. Telling this story, I feel as if I’ve won the lottery, and I’m tapping on shoulders, blurting, “You’ll never believe what happened!” For one moment, I was a champion. Injury soon foreclosed more glory in wrestling; the passing years made clear the need to accept the rarity of that gift.

I am a domestic kind of guy, attending the world as Billy Collins does, mostly from the comfort of home; perhaps coming to terms with that unromantic bent and moving on, accepting the gentler rhythms of adulthood is another form of courage. Some of the choices I made as a young man have left me pondering my own what-ifs. Five years after this victory, while in the Army, I looked into the helicopter pilot option and decided against it before going to Vietnam in 1969. I served as a photographer, and liked it, but did not pursue photography after the war. Nor did I go into coaching despite an encouraging year of it at the college level. Law school seemed the safer course, and I have been good at lawyering. It’s been a success. But not a triumph.


Greg McBride is a former Princeton wrestler, class of 1967. His collection of poems, “Porthole,” won the 2012 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry. His work appears in Gettysburg Review, River Styx, Salmagundi, and Southern Poetry Review. His awards include the Boulevard Emerging Poet prize and a grant in poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council. A Vietnam veteran and retired lawyer, he edits The Innisfree Poetry Journal.

Originally published at wrestlingstories.org.

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