Monday, May 12, 2008

But, Mom - I really want to wrestle!

But, Mom – I really want to wrestle!

Several years ago my wife and I were at the Big Ten Championships at Wisconsin. We were watching the late first night consolation rounds when my wife poked me in the arm and said, “Look.” She then pointed, literally, up into the rafters of the old “Barn” in Madison. There, by herself, was the mother of a wrestler from Purdue whose match was going on at that moment. You know the scenario, win and maybe you go to nationals, lose and your season is over. She paced, she covered her eyes, she yelled – she agonized. Eventually her son won and moved on to wrestle the next day. I wish I could tell you the rest of her story, but I didn’t pay enough attention.
However, that was the moment when my fascination with the mothers of wrestlers began.

I met Dee Pollard at the 2008 NCAA Division III Championships. Her son, Joe, (a former wrestler at the Peddie School and then Rider) is on the coaching staff at The College of New Jersey. I mentioned to her that earlier in the evening I had watched the mother of a TCNJ wrestler as her son had scored a late takedown to ensure himself All-American status. Dee then talked a little about being the mother of a wrestler. I recently asked her to share a few of those thoughts.

“Joey was eleven years old when he started with Hamilton (NJ) PAL league. He was excited to join because his dad wrestled in high school. Joey got serious with wrestling when he was fifteen years old. That is when he began wrestling year round and attending clubs. Wrestling was number one to him instead of soccer. Wrestling started to take over his lifestyle. He was always working out or lifting or running. He was always doing something that pertained to wrestling, even watching wrestling tapes when he could. I was always there for his matches. It didn't matter what part of the state or the country he was wrestling in, I was there. I did the videoing of all his matches. If it got tense I handed the camera over to another mom and she did it for me. I think it would drive me crazy if I wasn't there because then I would worry if he (was) ok, did he win or lose, is he hurt. I couldn't stand not being there. I had to watch him wrestle because I'm his mom. I had to make sure he was ok win or lose.”

I asked Dee if she ever got over being nervous.

“No I don't think i stopped being nervous from the time he started to now. Because he is coaching now … I'm still nervous because now I have ten weight classes I have to watch and be nervous about. But there is a bonus, my son is the coach … I'm so proud of my Joey. He makes me, as his mom, proud everyday of my life. I couldn't of asked for a better son. I love both of my kids equally. I enjoy wrestling and would miss it if he ever gave it up.”

By definition, no relationship is one sided. Here are some thoughts Joe shared about his mother.

“My moms influence on me as it pertains to wrestling takes up many facets. She was a caretaker, a motivator, a provider and she was even part of my high school superstitions. Now, don't get me wrong my father played just as important a role in my development as a wrestler and an individual, but this is for Mothers Day, so I will focus on her.”

“Caretaker- she was there for me win or lose. Although, it did take a while for her to understand the "wait time" after a loss. You know, the time every wrestler needs to evaluate (aka "explode with emotion") their performance. At first she used to want to come up and give me a hug and tell me I wrestled hard. Then she realized that I knew I wrestled hard, but a loss was a loss. As my career grew on, she knew the wait time did also, as my training grew losses hurt even more. So, after a while she would just casually walk by and wink at me and that allowed me to put things into perspective, that a loss is a loss and it is supposed to hurt, but I would be able to train and compete again the next day, so it was not the end of the world.””Provider- she was at every single match I ever wrestled I think. I can't remember one match looking up into the stands and not seeing my parents there. The sacrifices they made to allow me to train and achieve and wrestle at the level I have are amazing.””Motivator- She may not give Vince Lombardi or Dan Gable worthy motivational speeches, but all she had to do was tell me "good luck and this is why you train the way you do" and it was more than enough.””Superstitions - In high school I used to look up in the stands at her just before stepping on the mat and she would wink at me and that was just another indicator that it was "go time".””My mom is an amazing person, wrestling fan, caretaker, motivator, provider and of course … mom. I could never repay my mom and dad for they have sacrificed in order for me to live the "wrestling lifestyle", because that’s what wrestling is, especially in New Jersey, it is a lifestyle. You have to allow the sport and the training (both physical and mental) to consume you and then and only then will you feel a true sense of accomplishment.” ”… I'm sure you could ask any number of wrestlers and they would have very similar stories about their moms! Wrestling moms are one of a kind, there is no question about it.”

I took Joe’s suggestion and asked some “friends of the blog” to write about the influence their mothers have had on them as individuals and wrestlers.

From 1988 Olympian and wrestling instructor extraordinaire, Ken Chertow…

“Both of my parents were integral to my success. My mom was always there for me throughout my childhood, while my dad was busy working intensely to support our family and pursue his career goals. My mom saw a beginners wrestling program advertised in our community and encouraged me to try it. She took me too my first practice and I have been hitting the mats ever since. Though I was not successful in my initial years wrestling in the Midwest, I kept wanting to do more and she was always willing to get me to the wrestling room.””Without my parents unwavering support throughout my teenage years, none of the success I achieved on or off the mats would have been possible. I went to junior high and high school in West Virginia and there was not access to a lot of high-level competition and coaching, but I made the most of it. I would spend my summers at camps to learn as much as possible, and my mom would help me plan the schedule and budget so I could benefit as much as possible.” ”Not too many WV wrestlers go to college, let alone earn the opportunity to go to Penn State, so I was very proud that was able to excel in school and wrestling and earn a scholarship to Penn State. When I went away to college, my mom gave me a good luck card that said
"Don't settle for being good...when you dream of being great!"
I kept that card on my dresser throughout college. I even took it with me to the Olympic Trials in Florida, and I still remember vividly reading it multiple times before I would leave my hotel room to go to the arena for sessions. My mom's words of encouragement definitely helped me live my dreams and make our Olympic Team. I often share my mom's words of encouragement with my dedicated campers and strive to motivate them to think big and work hard so their dreams will come true too.”

Cornell College coach, Mike Duroe, sent this …

“Being the oldest of five boys, (all wrestlers) my mother influenced me in a very strong way about being independent and standing on my own two feet. I had to do a lot of things in terms of work around the house, helping with my younger brothers and in general "being in charge." Constantly hearing, "if you want to be better you have to work at it" forced me to develop a strong work ethic early on. For sure some of that on the job training and being in charge has definitely influenced my coaching.”

Growing up in a small Iowa town, Charles City, which had a rich wrestling tradition was also a part of it, but the family support system, Mom being at everything she could be, practices, games, meets, etc., encouraged me and my brothers to excel in everything we did in terms of sports. School and academics were important too but sports and specifically wrestling is what made a huge difference in my life. I'll always remember one of my first few practices for wrestling I brought home my sweaty, smelly workout gear and my mom said, "if you're going to do this you better learn how to run the washing machine and dryer because I'm not touching that stuff!" That tough love at an early age helped shape our futures and pushed all five of us to become successful adults.”

According to Lee Roy Smith, the mother of the most successful “brother act” in the history of American wrestling had a slightly different approach to the laundry than Mike’s mom …

“My mom (Madalene Volturo Smith) is the best… I was the first of four boys in my family to take up wrestling. Mom did not warm up to the sport at first because she didn’t like the fact that I had to diet and control my weight. She comes from a third generation Italian immigrant family whose culture is to celebrate mealtimes, holidays and church feast days. However, once she realized what the sport did for our self-esteem and confidence she embraced it. She drove us where we needed to go, even though she had her own full-time nursing career. She made sure our workout gear and uniforms were clean and ready for matches and tournaments. If we needed some type of pregame meal, she would make sure it was prepared. She was always compassionate and sympathetic to our needs win or lose, but would never allow excuses to get in the way of being the best. After all, how could she while managing a full-time job and giving birth to 10 children! She never really liked to watch me or my brothers wrestle because it would make her too nervous, so she would leave the gym before our matches and return once it was over. Even though we mostly enjoyed success on the mat, she wanted us to have a humble heart. She and my father made for a good team that provided us with many blessings and an unconditional pro-life spirit.”

Thank you to all who contributed to this blog.

I hope you remembered to thank YOUR mom.

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