Wrestling: Shaping a Life On and Beyond the Mat

Gehrig Leary — Westford Academy College Essay

I feel that your college or university can gain a full understanding of my unique qualities through my experiences as a youth and high school wrestler. Wrestling, as you may or may not know, requires complete commitment, highly refined technical skills, deep reserves of mental and physical strength, and a spirit that neither climbs too high with a win nor sinks too low with a loss. Upon reflection, it would seem that wrestling and the pursuit of a college degree share many of the same keys to success.

In my life, I have yet to come across another activity that has affected me as wrestling has. Wrestling is the most demanding sport I have ever experienced. Strenuous practices leave you sore and often sick to your stomach. Tough matches leave you mentally drained for days. And little reward comes from the sparse crowds at matches. Reward comes from within — and from those coaches, teammates, and opponents sharing the mat with you. I will tell you quite honestly that most wrestlers hate the sport that demands so much from them. However, no active or retired wrestler I have ever met can imagine their lives without it. I know wrestling has helped shaped me into the person I am now — and will be in the future.

Wrestling requires discipline. The technical skills are learned over years. Mat strength is built during grueling workouts six days a week. And “making weight” requires constant vigilance throughout a wrestling season that runs from December to March. In wrestling, if you miss weight, you don’t wrestle. In four years of high school varsity wrestling, I have never missed weight. And my skills and strength have advanced each and every year. While yearly improvements to my win-loss record serve as proof of wrestling discipline at work, further evidence is offered through my academic record. Here, I thank my wrestling discipline for two specific academic achievements. First, I have established an exceptional homework record throughout my high school years — even during the very trying fall (football) and winter (wrestling) sports seasons. Second, my grades have improved each year, culminating in the strong grades you see in my junior and senior reports. I believe strongly that wrestling discipline instills discipline for life.

Wrestling has also taught me to persevere — no matter what. I lost track years ago of the number of times I have risen from the mat with a loss. Or how many times our team has lost a school meet. My freshman year, there were only eight wrestlers on our entire team. We were competing against teams with 30 or 40 wrestlers. There were school meets where I wrestled three times — once for the varsity match, once for the junior varsity match, and once for the freshmen match. At the varsity level, I was always wrestling stronger and more skilled seniors and juniors. We went 0–20 as a team that year. And, as you can imagine, this skinny freshman developed a good understanding of what it was like to fall, but get back up. And from what I have learned about wrestling and life, it’s the getting back up that matters most.

Today, I look at these past losses, pains, and disappointments as building blocks for the successful program and team we have become. This year, we have 38 wrestlers in the program. And although our season just started, our first match resulted in a win versus a team ranked in the Top 5 in the state. Our team is a favorite to win our league championship and will challenge for a sectional title. A number of my teammates have a real shot at being crowned state champion in their weight class.

As for this once skinny freshman on a fading team, I was elected Captain by my teammates and coaches for the 2007/08 season. This means a great deal to me for it indicates that I have gained the respect and admiration of my peers. This recognition certainly showed me that the greatest reward doesn’t always come from filled stands or shiny trophies. Being Captain is further defining me as a leader both on and off the mat. During practices, I make sure I help out a different wrestler each day. One day, it’s a freshman just learning the basics. The next day it’s a potential state champion working to perfect one single move. Beyond practice sessions, I feel especially privileged to represent our team at the beginning of every match and tournament. My team and I have come a long way indeed.

Wrestling programs in colleges are scarce and no college I am applying to has a wrestling program. There’s a good chance that when I wrestle for the final time this season, that will be the end of my wrestling career. However, I am certain that the many lessons learned through wrestling will take me a long way in life. I may leave wrestling, but wrestling will never leave me.


Gehrig Leary currently attends the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he studies Finance and Economics. Previously he was the Assistant coach of Westford Academy in 2009, placing five at the Division II state tournament. He wrestled for Westford Academy of Westford, MA from 2005–2008. There he served as captain of the 2008 Dual County League championship team, the first in school history, and was a two-time Division II state qualifier. His wrestling mentors include the legendary David Shunamon and Bobby Donovan of Tewksbury, and Billy Corr of Westford. Future goals include business school and equity research.

Originally published at wrestlingstories.org.

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