Coach blew his whistle, which brought us to a stop. His favorite conditioning exercise was to have us run on our hands and knees back and forth across the wrestling room. He started us off by blowing his whistle and ended the exercise in the same way. In between, we were supposed to run as many laps back and forth as possible. It was exhausting, especially after having already practiced for a couple of hours.
“One more time,” Coach called after about thirty seconds of rest.
He blew his whistle again, and off we raced. In order not to skin our knees, we ran in what we called a bear run. Back and forth we went, hoping for the whistle to blow. Finally, it did, and we dropped to the mat.
“How many did you get, Howard?” Kevin, our 185-pound wrestler, asked.
“Ten,” I answered.
“Ten?” he said, rolling his eyes. “What, are you trying to be the bear-run champion?”
“How many did you get?” I asked.
“Three,” Kevin replied. “And that is more than plenty.”
“One more time,” Coach called, feeling we had had enough rest.
“But you’ve said one more time for the past five times,” Kevin said.
“I didn’t say it would be the last time,” Coach replied. “I just said do it one more time.”
Coach then blew the whistle. Only a few of us took off at full speed, while most of the others only loped.
As the weeks progressed, most of the team didn’t take this part of the conditioning seriously. While the same few of us pushed as hard as we could, the others only did it halfheartedly—if they did it at all. Kevin was the worst. He would find some way to slip out for a drink, or flop on the mat, or claim an injury.
At the first of the season, it didn’t end up being too bad for him. The opponents we opened the season with weren’t too tough, and Kevin, as good as he was, pinned each of them in the first or second round.
But then came the first night that Kevin faced an opponent who was able to fight his way out of the pinning holds Kevin tried on him. Though Kevin was ahead by six points at the end of the second round, he was gasping for air, and his lips were blue.
Kevin was in the top position in the third round, and his opponent quickly dropped to his knees on the mat. Kevin moved slowly, taking every second possible, trying to catch his breath. He was finally ready, and the ref blew the whistle. Instantly, Kevin’s opponent did a reversal and was on top.
Kevin’s lead was cut to four. Kevin should have been able to defend against that, but he was moving too slowly. Kevin’s opponent started plowing him into the mat, positioning him for a pin.
Suddenly, Kevin hollered, “My eye! My eye! I think I jammed my contact in my eye.”
The ref stopped the match and looked into Kevin’s eye. “I don’t see a contact,” he said.
“Oh, no!” Kevin said. “I’ve lost it.” He immediately dropped to his knees and started searching. The ref signaled to Coach, and Coach called us all out to help. We moved our hands carefully across the mat but found nothing.
As the rest of us were heading back to the bench so the match could resume, I whispered to Kevin, “I didn’t know you wore contacts.”
“I don’t,” he replied.
I then realized he had just done it as a diversion to catch his breath, and though he was able to hold on and win by two points, I was disgusted.
“So, are you going to take conditioning more seriously?” I asked.
“I doubt it,” he replied. “But I might take up wearing contacts.”