Some of you may have heard that wrestling was dropped from the Olympic program last week. Most of you may not care. If you have been around me for a few seconds the past three years, you might know that we are a wrestling family...it consumes a big portion of our lives for quite a few months out of the year and now with a high school wrestler will consume a big portion year round.
Hearing this news was pretty devastating for my kids. I have a child who wanted the chance...someone took his dream without even thinking about him. Do I think my son will actually make it to the Olympics? I don't know, I have to be honest I haven't really put that much thought into it. I was doing good just surviving his first year of high school wrestling. What this whole controversy has done is opened my mind to what wrestling has done for my child and why it hurts me that some committee has made the decision to squash the dreams of innocent children all over the world.
Many people don't know that Neil was diagnosed years ago with a high functioning form of Autism. It has been quite a journey to find the child the Lord has blessed us with. What does that even mean? For years, Neil was a shell of a child...hard to crack, hard to connect with. On the outside, he looked like every other kid but he wasn't. He didn't really talk to them, interact with them, make friends with them or even socialize with them. He was 9 before he ever said the words, "I love you" to me. Even at that point, I doubt he knew what they meant...he was simply mimicking his brothers...just the same it was a small victory for me.
Neil was a championship chess player. He was good...above average. He had no clue that he was good. He went out and played, excelled and went home. People always asked why he wasn't excited after getting a trophy. I couldn't answer that. I prayed for the day that he would show some form of emotion...anything. He tried...oh how he tried. He'd give me a small smirk but I knew it meant nothing. Others tried to pull some kind of feeling from him, but he didn't know how to release anything...he didn't recognize he had anything inside him to give to others. It was tough to live with that.
In the 5th grade, we had the blessing of a wonderful teacher for Neil who wanted to help us really try and break through the shell. Together we worked at pushing him toward a potential he didn't know existed. Slowly...we started to see that hard shell start to crack. He started to laugh a bit more, smile a bit more and he exhibited a confidence we hadn't seen before. We had created an environment that was safe for him and he started to understand his emotions a bit. Then he graduated to 6th grade and we moved.
Moving here was hard for him, all that he had known in his world where he had let his protection down had suddenly shifted. He started to retreat. I was scared...I couldn't lose him...I wouldn't lose him. He went to 7th grade and came home wanting to play football. I was nervous, he hated people in his personal bubble. I watched tentatively all season. He spent lots of time frustrated, he didn't catch on as quickly as some of the other kids, he felt picked on by the coaches but he kept trying and he didn't stop. He wasn't completely sold on football but he started interacting with other kids more and making friends. Suddenly his brain was waking up and he was able to make more connections socially. Some of his new buddies moved on to wrestling and he wanted to go too. I was even more nervous! Way less personal space and lots of sweat. Neil was a freak about germs and showered sometimes 4 times a day. I wasn't sure he was ready for this. I was nervous he wouldn't catch on and would be frustrated. To my surprise...he loved it!
He was terrible his first year. Somehow he made it to the state championships and got knocked out early but he was excited! I mean real emotions...happy and excited. Still somewhat reserved but there was feeling coming alive. I suddenly started to see a new person or rather the person that had been there all along, just one I didn't really know. I cried a lot that year. I got teased by a lot of other seasoned wrestling parents because of my anxiety but they didn't know the history or the deep fear within. I worried that if something went wrong, it could trigger him to go back so deep into himself I would never get him back. Every victory comes with the fear of a huge setback. It's scary.
After wrestling season ended all he talked about was his goal for next year. He set a goal! By himself! He was looking forward...into the future! When Neil was 7, he told the therapist he wanted to die. He imagined that living with Heavenly Father was much better than living here on earth. He never really looked toward his future and now he was! He played football and did much better! Was defensive captain, had an accomplished year. I was so proud. He was a leader, he continued to connect socially, it was AMAZING! He went into his 8th grade wrestling season with a goal to place at state. He worked hard towards it. He made friends! He connected with his teammates. I saw him encouraging the other wrestlers, he was a leader! My heart ached with joy and pride. This child...my child...he was showing me who he really was and he was AWESOME! He made it to state but he didn't get a medal. He was disappointed...to be disappointed he had to connect within emotionally. I was heartbroken for him but happy at the same time that he felt something. He made a decision then that he wanted to wrestle in high school, college and get to the Olympics.
He committed to working all summer between his 8th grade and freshman year. Going to camps and working with the coaches. He went into his freshman year as a wrestler with high expectations for himself. More expectation than I had ever seen him set. He was given the opportunity to wrestle JV and Varsity. His insecurities got the best of him sometimes and it would affect his matches. He would come home and retreat slightly. My fear came back...I was worried that it would be too much and I would ask myself if it was worth it. When would I need to interfere and stop him before he got to a place he couldn't come back from? I didn't give him enough credit. Yes, he retreated inside himself but just to figure out the next step. To recommit. I realized that I was letting my fear cripple him. I was holding him back.
My eyes really opened during a match in a town just 30 minutes up the road. He had wrestled a few days earlier at a big tournament and had not done well. He had come home defeated. I prayed for a good match to help bring him out of the emotional rut he had gotten himself into. I went from being worried about no emotions to too many emotions. It was an intense match. I watched his every move. There was an injury time out called by his opponent, it prolonged my anxiety. Neil fought hard, never stopped. At the end of the match, he won by one point. I can still see his reaction in my mind. He was pumped! He jumped slightly in the air, his fists clenched...I could see the adrenalin flow through his body and he had the biggest smile on his face! After having his arm raised by the referee, he ran to his coach and hugged him. I sat on the bleacher and cried. The victory in that moment wasn't what the scoreboard read. The victory was seeing my child...for the first time ever as the whole person he was meant to be.
Wrestling has given us our son. It has blessed our lives and been the breakthrough to give me the beautiful boy that laughs, cries, jokes and dreams...I hope that he'll at least have the chance to make his dream come true and go to the Olympics but even if it doesn't...I'll forever be grateful for what wrestling has given to me...my son.