CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, CLAP, echoes through my head as I walk to the middle of the mat. “At 160lbs Aidan Conner of La Junta vs. Rodney Jones of Hotchkiss.” All I can think of is every bead of sweat, every drip of blood, every mile, every push up, every tear. Why? All of this: just to be victorious. All in preparation for one match, six minutes. For some these six minutes may only be a glimpse, and then again for some it may be the biggest six minutes of their life. Many get the chance to experience it more than once. Some may work harder and want it more than others, but they may never get the chance. All they get is a moral victory. Every kid, every man comes into the tournament with a goal. For some is to win, for some is to place, others are just happy to qualify. These six minutes come on a cold frigid night in February at a place called the Pepsi Center. Once a year this gathering takes place when the small and the large, the best of the best, come to compete in front thousands of people. I am at the Colorado State Wrestling Championships.
Ever since the previous season I had my standards set high. I had placed fifth, which was all right for the time being, but I knew as time went on I needed to push myself and increase my level of wrestling. I decided that I would do whatever it took, through thick and thin. I traveled to small local tournaments in Colorado, and a couple out-of-state tournaments, I even traveled to Delaware. It didn’t really matter how I did at these tournaments because it was just all practice until February. So, I lifted and wrestled just about every chance I got. It was all in preparation for one match, six minutes.
Starting the season as the second ranked wrestler in the state, I was just where I wanted to be, noticed, but not the “top dog”. I did well during the season; not losing to anybody in the 3A classification. I didn’t do quite what I wanted, but I wasn’t going to complain. A broken hand after the second weekend of competition didn’t help any, but I fought through it and kept my eyes set on one opponent, one goal, one match, six minutes. The only problem was that I would have to go through an opponent that I had never overcome. He had played games with me and thought nothing of it, but I knew that I would have to get through him to get what I wanted. This all helped to drive me more; and every time I thought about not running that last sprint, I just thought about what he was doing. How many sprints was he running? The previous summer I had wrestled a close match with him, but it was just camp, and people come to camp out of shape all the time, and he was dieing. So I thought this was my year and possibly the last time I would wrestle him. I had lost enough, so as long as Aidan was at 160lbs he just wasn’t gong to be a State Champion.
At the first weigh-in, everybody gets sized up, and you know who is calm and who is not. Sitting on the couch in the little room stuffed with sixteen wrestlers was the one thing in between me and my goal: Aidan Conner. He was casually stripping down, talking to the refs that I had never seen. I had been here before, so there was no reason to be uptight. There it was: every bead of sweat, every drip of blood, every mile, every push up, every tear. It doesn’t go away. When you live for one thing for so long, it doesn’t just go away. When you get into the season so far miles just start running through your head. So when you think of all these things it’s hard to believe that you could fail now. Wait! There is no way that can happen, maybe to him, but not me.
I watched him over the next couple of days as he played with his opponents, it was hard to watch and think that I had a chance. However, Iknew that I had worked harder, and I wanted it more. The night after my semi-finals match, which I had barely won, the only thing that traveled through my head was my hand being raised on Saturday night.
The final day started off normal with the usual vanilla ice cream and frosted flakes. For some reason, I was making weight easier and was able to eat before weigh-ins. The room was a little more spacious today since the bracket was down to eight wrestlers. At this point, I had placed no matter what, but I knew that two kids in that room would go home without a medal. Sitting in the weigh-in room, on the same couch, was Aidan, casual as usual, but a little more tense. All I thought about was how he had been ranked first for three straight years and he was never going to get that win; the win of those six minutes that can mean so much or so little. He wasn’t going to get that win, because I had the same goal as him, and he wasn’t going to stand in my way. As the day grew shorter, the deep hole in my stomach grew deeper. The four HHS wrestlers that had made it to the final round, drove back to the hotel in an awkward silence. Each of us thinking of how our hand would be raised at the end of the night, or how the crowd might go wild after our victory. As I laid on my pullout bed, apart from the other room, the moves in my final match were in rhythm to the music of Metallica and Linkin Park.
5:30: Denver traffic at this time was horrible on Highway 6. Again there was that awkward silence except for the disrupting chuckles from the few wrestlers that had finished their season a couple of hours earlier. Warm-ups had started, and we walked into an empty Pepsi Center. It was not empty for long; seats were filling fast. Single leg, double leg, sweep, repeat. It was the same routine that Jake and I had used for two years but a little more crisp and a little more tense. The hole in my stomach was so large that I could feel the breeze under my sweatshirt and warm-ups in the warm Pepsi Center. “All wrestlers to their assigned tunnels.” Again I sized everybody up, listened to names. One caught my attention and made me chuckle, Jake Bates, man I thought after he’s already won one state title, they could at least get Jake’s name right. We walked out of the tunnel by weight, four red and white uniforms in a row Jake, me, Rudy and Justin.
During the lower weight matches, I shifted my position between talking to the future 5A State Champion, Jeremy Hils, who I had lost to earlier in the year 8-0, and warming-up occasionally on the floor. When talking to Jeremy he reassured me that Aidan was tough, but I should take the victory. When Aidan strutted through my warm up tunnel during one of the matches I just thought to myself that there was no way that I could lose this match. After Jake won his second straight title that night, all I could think about was that I had to keep it rolling.
I lost 15-5. All I thought about was every bead of sweat, every drip of blood, every mile, every push up, every tear; and how I was going to have to do it all again. I would do it again anyways, but now there would be that thought of defeat in the back of my head all year long. That defeat is what I will use to drive me for the next 12 months. I will get to experience that one match again, those six minutes that can mean so much or so little, on that cold frigid night in February, at a place called the Pepsi Center.