There are defining moments in every person's life. Those moments that make you smile or cry each time you replay them in your mind’s eye. Perhaps it is a song that triggers the memory, or a picture, a smell, or a movie. Whatever it is, I'm confident that each person has experienced defining moments that have strongly influenced who you are today.
I grew up around the sport of wrestling. Some of my earliest memories are from spending Saturday mornings in a gymnasium watching my "heroes" wrestle. Many people who hear "wrestling" and "heroes" probably think of Hulk Hogan, Sting, Andre the Giant, and the rest of the crazed men who once sported a Speedo and face paint. I am actually talking about names like Degood, VanDyke, Lampe, and the other young men who endured the excruciating work needed to become great high school wrestlers. I was young, but I took notice.
As I watched these guys wrestle, I began dreaming of the day I would compete and wrestle in front of a packed Gross Memorial Coliseum at the state tournament. My ten year old squirrely body would often—in the privacy of my own bedroom—rehearse my response to hearing the final buzzer sound in my imaginary state championship match. I would get up, throw my arms in the air, and thank God for the victory. I had no idea if I would actually ever experience this in real life, but it was a dream.
The small spark that was initially lit from watching great high school wrestlers compete when I was a young boy was fanned into flame by my dad. He spent countless hours helping young men become great wrestlers—over thirty years coaching the sport. He saw my dream, and he was equally committed to helping me attain it.
When I was in sixth grade, I attended a wrestling camp at the University of Iowa. In addition to driving me to the camp—it must have seemed like eternal distances driving across the Midwestern plains--my parents shelled out hundreds of dollars to pay for the camp. I walked around the campus amazed at the men I was encountering. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “There is Dan Gable!” I was star struck. Similar to a teenage girl at a Taylor Swift concert, I was in awe of seeing these people whose pictures appeared on posters that were hung all over my bedroom wall. In the midst of collecting autographs, I also managed to learn a few new moves. Most importantly, I jotted something down in a little notebook that would serve to motivate me for the next ten years. In messy sixth grade hand writing, I wrote, "My goal is to be an All-American."
I had a lot of dreams as a kid. Many of them were a little "out there." I proudly announced at my sixth grade graduation that my life goal was to become the middle linebacker for the Denver Broncos. That dream didn't quite pan out. Apparently, the scouts weren't looking for a 150 pound professional football player. But, the dream of becoming an All-American never faded.
Being an All-American is attained by placing in the top eight at a national tournament. My mom and dad were faithful to drive me all over the country during my high school years to give me the opportunity to accomplish my goal. In fact, it was common for them to drive seventeen hours only to watch me lose two matches and come home. Lord, bless them.
I had success in high school at the state level and eventually became a state champion. As sweet as the victory was, I couldn’t forget about my sixth grade goal of placing at a national tournament. I took the plunge and decided to wrestle in college. It didn't take long for me to realize that college wrestling is a different animal.
Halfway into my freshman year, I called my dad to announce I was quitting the team. His response was something that I can still hear ringing in my ears. "Son", he said, "You need to finish what you started." Being in college put me in a position where I didn’t technically have to listen to my dad’s advice. However, he had earned my respect as a man and as a coach. I chose to heed his advice and continued grinding along. I managed to barely qualify for the national tournament, and sure enough, my parents endured the marathon drive to Minnesota to support me. The result was the same as previous years. I found myself beat up, discouraged, and quickly out of the tournament after losing two matches.
It wasn't looking good for me to attain my goal, but I decided to wrestle for one more year. I had mediocre success during the regular season, and although I didn't earn an automatic bid by placing in the top 3 at the qualifying tournament, I was still afforded the opportunity to compete at nationals due to being named a wildcard selection. I obviously wasn't ranked and certainly wasn't expected to do much at the national tournament. To be honest, as bad as I wanted it, I really didn't expect it to happen either.
I remember distinctly how that tournament felt different than all the others. It wasn’t because I fully expected to attain my goal of placing in the top eight, It was simply because I realized that this would be my final tournament of what had been a seventeen year wrestling career.
I always got nervous when I heard my name announced through the booming loud speakers indicating that it was my turn to grapple. With extreme butterflies in my stomach and a less than confident look on my face, I started walking towards my assigned mat. When I arrived, I looked over and evaluated my competition. He appeared to be bigger, stronger, and more confident than I. He was nationally ranked and expected to be an All-American. Most people who knew the sport expected him to cruise through his first match--yes, against me.
I looked across the coliseum and spotted my dad who had worked his way into a front row seat. Seeing him gave me confidence. The look on his face communicated that he really expected me to win. What was wrong with him?! Had he already forgotten about all of the other years? Did he really expect that this year would bring a different outcome?
I walked on the mat, shook my opponent’s hand, and within the first minute found myself flying through the air only to experience an abrumpt thump as my head bounced off the mat. Worse than the pain was the reality that I was on the verge of being pinned--and humiliated. I half-heartedly fought off my back and considered giving up. My mind instantly started replaying the same old thoughts: Here you go, again. It's not going to happen. Give up and get this over with.
Somehow I managed to fight off my back and even scored a reversal as we went off the mat. As I walked back to the center, I heard something that will forever be with me. It was the sound of my dad's voice as he yelled, "Come on, son. Fight." I can't explain it, but something inside me came alive. Confidence flooded my soul.
I was taken aback by his boldness. I think the entire section of the coliseum heard him. How embarrassing it would have been for him to boldly support me only to watch me come up short again. He believed in me, and it did something in me. The words that carried across the floor of the coliseum and overpowered the voices of hundreds of other fans ignited something that needed to be lit.
The faded dream of becoming an All-American suddenly became clear again. With a renewed sense of direction and passion, I fought back to pull out an upset win, 8-7. This was a defining moment in my life. My eyes were opened to see that the story doesn’t always have to follow the same ship-wrecked script.
I won my next match 10-8, which put me one win away from becoming an All-American. I can't explain the feeling I experienced when it dawned on me that this may actually happen. I got away by myself and prepared for the most important match of my career.
I was nervous but optimistic as I stepped foot on the mat. I didn't have a chance to see where my mom and dad were seated, but I was confident I would soon hear my dad—and so would the rest of the fans in the arena.
The first two periods were close and hard fought, but I trailed the entire time. I was a man on a mission in the third and final period, but my opponent defended well. He simply had to hold on for ten more seconds in order to seal the victory and crush my dreams.
In what felt like a miraculous moment, I snapped him to the mat, and shucked him by to score a last second winning take down. My coach went crazy, and so did I, but the thing I remember the most was the speed in which my dad sprinted down from the upper seats, picked me up, and gave me the greatest bear hug of my life. Tears were freely flowing as we both embraced this moment that had eluded us for years.
It's been twelve years, and I still think about that moment often. As much as I wanted to become an All-American, that’s not what I think about or remember. Instead, I recall the joy of making my dad proud. He was delighted, and because of it, so was I.
I am convinced that it would not have happened if I hadn’t heard his words during my first match. I was defeated and on the verge of giving up, but my dad's belief in me was unwavering. He spoke courage to me when I needed it the most. In reality, he demonstrated the nature of our Heavenly Father.
I have since learned that this is how God operates. He believes in you whether you believe in yourself or not. The script that He's writing for your life doesn't include timidity, fear, or continual failure. As your Heavenly Father, He's speaking courage, life, and power. I believe He's daring you to believe that things can and should be different. Lean in and listen to His inspiring words, the very words you most need to hear.
And muster the courage to believe in the reality of a new script.
Thank God for dads who believe in their sons/daughters and give them the necessary encouragement so they can have their defining moment. This is a beautifully written article with a message for those who want to give up and need to carry on. You took the reader along with you to your victory and he/she was able to feel the joy that you and your father felt that moment of that day. Great story.