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Back when I was on my high school wrestling team, I wasn’t exactly the ideal personification of a young wrestler.  I didn’t have any natural athletic ability–well, unless you call a guy who moves like a baboon with a club foot athletic.  In addition to my obvious lack of skill and grace, I was a total smartass.  Not a great combination as far as my coaches (or anyone else) were concerned.  I had one thing going for me, and that was my size.  I weighed over three hundred pounds as a thirteen year-old freshman. 

Back at that time, the body governing high school athletics in Oregon didn’t have a weight limit for anyone wrestling in the heavyweight class–the only prerequisite was that you weighed over 191 pounds.  Initially, that was all I had going for me.  Being a fat kid with no ability whatsoever, I pretty much got my ass beat at every meet for the better part of my first three years.  Most of my teammates were unsupportive jerks.  There was more than one time over my high school wrestling career when I wanted to quit–even did a few times–but I always went back and finished. 

I had three coaches–I think there was a head varsity coach and two assistants or something like that.  Like I said, I wasn’t a dream athlete–but my coaches weren’t exactly a bunch of Vince Lombardis, either.  I always had the feeling that it was more of an ego issue for them than anything else; more about their wrestlers winning than it was about their wrestlers learning and doing well.  One of their favorite motivational-type things to say toward the end of practice was “It’s gut check time!”  They never explained what that meant, but they said it a lot.  Looking back, I guess they were calling wrestling a test of courage or determination or something, and that it was time for us to kick it into a higher gear–even though we were dog tired.   They wanted us to focus and finish hard. 

My senior year was different.  Things changed.  Fed up with losing, I grew up–well, I grew out–and started taking things a little more seriously.  I won matches against decent wrestlers, and I even won a few tournaments.   The last tournament of my senior year was District Finals.  I wound up wrestling for third place, because I had lost a match earlier in the tournament to the guy who ended up taking the championship.  If I could win that third place match, it would mean a spot at the State Championships.  The ham-fisted, awkward, smartassed fat kid could go to State.  What a turnaround, right?  Look how far I’d come!  So I wrestled a guy that was not only bigger, but a much better athlete.  He had beaten me every time we wrestled in our entire four years of high school.   Despite my best efforts–I actually had him on his back at one point–he ended up taking a decision on points and won the match.

Since I was in the heavyweight finals–one of the last matches of the two-day tournament–my team had already left. My dad was waiting for me to get dressed, so I headed to the locker room to take a shower.  I was the only one in there, and was putting my shoes on when the varsity coach walked in.  I figured he was going to say something motivational and coachy–like that he was proud of me or I did my best or something.  But instead, he took a long look at me and said, “Well you sure blew that chance.  If you’da just listened to me and did everything I toldja to do in practice, you woulda won.  You just fucked up, kid.”  And with that, he turned on his heel and walked out.  HUH?!?!?!  What was the point of that, Coach?   I was graduating in a few months–and I didn’t have any future plans to wrestle–but really?  That’s what you’ve got for me?  Wow, I hope you weren’t hoping for a post-coaching career in motivational speaking…

Jerky locker room comments aside, he did say one thing that I still remember.  “It’s the daily practice that makes the difference–and you need to remember that when it’s gut check time, you can fold or you can push.”

I’ve been thinking that it’s gut check time for me right now.  A few months ago, I hit my goal of 225–but then I took it easy, and I’ve let my weight creep back up to 232 pounds.  Seven pounds doesn’t seem like a lot of extra weight, but it’s really starting to concern me.  Concentrating on my goal has fallen by the wayside, and I’ve started creeping back into unhealthy eating habits.  I have a chocolate monkey on my back from Halloween, and he is holding on tight.  I think I need to regain my focus and work on trying to finish hard.  Now that the end of the year is here, it would be easy to let my eating slide.  But in the face of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think the time is right–literally and figuratively–for a gut check.  

So right here, right now–I am renewing my commitment.  This is my test of courage; this is where my determination needs to shine through.  I will get those last few pounds off and hold strong through the end of the year.  I am going to attempt to get back to 220 by January 1, 2011. 

It’s gut check time.

Paulie

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