The second period began with me on my hands and knees. The other wrestler was positioned likewise, but at a 90-degree angle to me, with his right hand around my waist. He held my left arm just above the elbow with his other hand, and his chin was nestled firmly between my shoulder blades, at the base of my neck. We remained motionless, our eyes focused on the referee. Then, he blew the whistle, and I exploded exactly as I was taught by my fellow teammates in practice—or, at least I tried to. But this time, my opponent was wise to me, and before I knew what happened, he pulled my shoulders down, and pressed them to the mat. In an instant, he had his left arm around my neck, pressing on my far shoulder with his hand, while his right arm cradled my legs behind the knees.
Oh, no, I thought, here we go again. He was trying to pin me. I was frantic. I couldn’t get pinned! I tried bridging, as I had done before, but I couldn’t swivel onto my hands and knees. I was screwed. With a monumental effort, I somehow freed myself from the grip of my opponent’s left hand. Simultaneously, I kicked his other hand away, and was quickly back on my hands and knees. Thank God. The referee pointed at me, and raised a finger in the air. It was some kind of signal, but I had no idea what it meant. Before the other wrestler could catch his breath, I executed another perfect sit-out, and, once again, I was free. I scrambled to my feet, as did my opponent, and we spent the remainder of the period circling each other—more or less stalling—until the whistle blew, and the second period was in the books. It was a good thing, because I could hardly breathe.
Gasping for air, I stood as far away from my opponent as I could and waited for the whistle to blow again. I didn’t have long to wait. There was a loud tweeeeeeet! and the final period was underway. The “circle dance” began anew. My arms hung limply from my shoulders, and I could barely feel my fingers. I shook my hands continuously, just as I had been taught in practice, and waited for some feeling to return to my extremities. Meanwhile, the clock continued to wind down. Gradually, the blood flow returned to my fingers, along with the feeling, but I was still having trouble breathing—and my head was starting to spin. I felt certain that I was going to faint.
“Get a takedown! Get a takedown!” yelled someone. I didn’t know where the voice was coming from, but I knew that I didn’t want any further contact with “Mr. Pointy Chin.” However, I also didn’t know what the score was. “Take him down!” screamed Coach Begin. “Take him down!” Somehow, with a final burst of energy, I shot my right arm between my opponent’s legs and pulled hard on the left one. To my surprise, his leg buckled, and he fell to the ground. I quickly scrambled around behind him and gained control. The referee did his pointing thing again, and raised two fingers in the air. Coach Begin yelled “Yes!” and then the whistle blew. It was over.
I collapsed onto the mat, gasping for air. The gymnasium was spinning around, and I though for sure I would pass out. Thank God it’s over, I thought, not caring whether I had won or lost. Suddenly, someone grabbed my right hand and yanked me to a standing position. It was the referee. He raised my hand high above my head. Across from us, on the other side of the mat, was the other wrestler. He was down on one knee, his head hanging low. I looked at the referee and whispered, “Wha . . . what happened?” He smiled a huge smile, and said, “You won, kid. You got a takedown and won the match.”
Before I could react, the entire team had rushed out onto the mat, and each of my fellow wrestlers was shaking my hand and patting me on the back. Before long, the referee tired of the impromptu celebration and began blowing his whistle, again and again, until, finally, everyone returned to the bench, and the meet continued. By the time we got to the heavyweight division, we were far enough ahead that the result of that match didn’t even matter. We won the meet, going away. We all hurried to the locker room to shower and change into our street clothes.
I must have taken a really long time in the shower, because when I got back to the locker room, I discovered that everybody was gone, and I was all alone. I quickly dressed and ran outside to the waiting bus. As I boarded it and made my way down the aisle to a seat in the back, a cheer went up, and it was directed at me. “Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!”
I might have only weighed 90 pounds that night, but on the bus at that moment, I felt like a giant!