It is about being relentless
In the pursuit of your goal
In the face of adversity.
Beating an opponent, you know is better than you, is a great feeling.
One that catapults your confidence into the stratosphere.
It is a key ingredient for future success.
I can remember the exact moment when my son Maverick first beat an opponent that he felt was better than he was.
It was on July 1st, 2010, during a summer camp match at Hofstra University.
That is when I first knew that Maverick would become a state champion.
On February 22nd, 2012, Maverick turned my feeling into reality.
In between those months, it almost didn’t happen.
There were times when Maverick wanted to quit, and rightfully so.
Times that he felt he gave a 100% effort, for a 0% return.
Times that his relentless, consistent pursuit of greatness was going all for naught.
I knew the feeling well.
In his sophomore year, just after beating the opponent that was better than he was, Maverick set a goal to become a High School All-American.
He set out to become one of the top eight wrestlers in the country at his weight class.
A very formidable goal.
Especially, for a wrestler who at this point in his life, probably considered himself to be a better baseball player.
Together, Maverick and I formed a plan, along with the action needed to turn that goal into a reality.
The plan was for him to always be in training, to travel to different states to attend quality tournaments, to become a student of the sport by watching videos, to prioritize wrestling above all else and to become fully consumed by his goal.
He did just that.
He did it to near perfection.
He did it for a full year.
365 full days of unadulterated hard work.
And during the hours he wasn’t working, he was resting so he could work harder the next day.
A maximum effort.
Anything less would have been foolish.
Maverick even gave up playing baseball so he would have more time to concentrate on becoming a better wrestler.
That decision was a very difficult and painful sacrifice to make in the eyes of his mother, but a completely necessary sacrifice to make in his own eyes.
Second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, season after season, Maverick focused and worked toward achieving his lofty goal.
A full year went by.
It was finally early spring, NHSCA Sophomore Nationals Tournament time.
In order to become a High School All-American, with over one hundred wrestlers in his weight class, Maverick would need to win five consecutive matches.
Win five consecutive matches in the toughest tournament in the country for a high school sophomore, and he would reach his goal.
The weight class was filled with land mines of state place winners, state champions, and multiple-time state champions.
We knew that every match would be a battle.
In the NHSCA Sophomore National Tournament, Maverick would have the best tournament of his life; he would wind up beating four state place winners and champions, with one opponent being a multiple time state champion.
Notice that I said four and not five.
That is because Maverick would come up short in his fifth match, the match that would determine his All-American status.
He would come up short by 1 point.
He was crushed.
I remember that after the match, he ran off by himself to privately absorb both the loss of the match and the loss of his goal he had worked so hard to achieve.
After a few minutes, I went searching for him, to console him, to tell him that I was proud of him.
After searching in all of the obvious places, I found Maverick in a back alleyway of the Virginia Coliseum, near the outside docking section, on the floor in a corner, curled up in a fetal position.
It broke my heart to see him so crushed.
I didn’t have the heart to even speak to him; there was nothing I could say that would make him hurt less.
To set such a lofty goal, to work at your maximum capacity for more than a year to attain that goal, and to come so close to accomplishing that goal, is always more than just a gut check for most competitors.
It is usually a breaking point.
I believe that everything happens for a reason.
I believe that in that loss, there was something Maverick needed to learn for a bigger, future goal.
One that the universe would one day reveal to him.
A goal that he was unaware of on this day.
On this day, he just hurt.
He hurt badly.
Eventually, Maverick got out of the fetal position, sat up, and started to untie his wrestling shoes.
After a few very frustrating pulls and tugs, he had both wrestling shoes off.
Maverick then meticulously tied the laces of both shoes together, got up, and attempted to hand his shoes to me.
Every wrestler who has ever competed in this sport knows the significance of this gesture.
Translation for those who haven’t wrestled.
It means… “I’m done.”
“That was my last competition.”
“It’s just not worth it anymore.”
Standing about two feet from me, Maverick had his arms outstretched holding his wrestling shoes.
He expected me to take them from him.
I did not.
I told him that I was more proud of him than disappointed.
It is not what he wanted to hear.
He dropped the shoes at my feet.
I said to him, “You did everything right for a full year. You made tremendous strides as a wrestler and as a person, you beat four multiple state place winners or champions in the hardest wrestling tournament in the country and you came within 1 point of accomplishing your goal.”
“You can’t stop now – you are right there.”
He muttered, “I’m done.”
I said, “You need to do it again.”
“I don’t want to do it again, I’m done,” he stated vehemently.
“I never said this was going to be easy, I said it was going to be worth it.”
“Why do you think some wrestlers All-American, and some don’t? What is the difference between the two?” I asked him.
He shot back at me a vicious blank stare, with a quivering lip.
“The difference is the wrestlers that All-American figure it out, they find a way,” I tell him.
“When it means that much to you, and you want to figure it out, to find a way, pick up your shoes and let’s do it again,” I said to him, and I walked away.
Just before I got to the area of the hallway where I needed to make a right turn to be out of his view, I glanced over my shoulder and I saw Maverick bend over and pick up his shoes.
He was ready to do it again.
To become a high school All-American in his junior year was the new goal Maverick set for himself.
To his credit, Maverick worked harder than he did the previous year to achieve that goal.
For a full year, Maverick put his head down; he was focused, determined and did everything right.
When the tournament approached, Maverick felt he was ready to accomplish his elusive goal of becoming a High School All-American.
The NHSCA Junior National Tournament, held in Virginia Beach in the early spring, runs over 48 hours on 24 mats.
Maverick was the first match of the tournament on mat 1.
Six minutes into the start of the tournament, before any other matches had started wrestling, and even before the National Anthem had been sung, Mavericks goal was shattered.
He drew the 3x National Champion (random draw) in his first match and did not win a close 4-2 decision.
A moral victory for most wrestlers.
But not for a wrestler pursuing greatness.
For those rare wrestlers who strive to be great, they take no solace in moral victories or in losing close matches.
They see things in black and white, not in shades.
Black was losing, even by two points, to a 3x national champ.
White was winning.
There is no gray.
That time, I gave Maverick a much bigger head start before I went looking for him.
When I found him, he cut me off before I could even say anything.
“Don’t even say anything.”
“This time I’m really done.”
Disregarding the risk that my message would be stale and fall on deaf ears, I said to Maverick,
“You need to do it AGAIN.”
When you decide to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, sometime during your seemingly infinite journey, the weathervane will just change direction and the new winds of positive change will blow at your back instead of into your face and suddenly, things will get easier.
When that day comes, you will know it will be just a matter of time before you achieve your goal.
To become a High School All-American and a New York State Champion is Maverick’s goal for his senior year.
He embraced that goal.
To his credit, he worked even harder during the summer and fall going into his senior year than he had ever worked before.
There was no wasting time; he worked with a tremendous sense of urgency and I am sure that in the back of his mind, he heard his high school clock ticking.
Hard work wins.
In the fall of his senior year, Maverick became a High School All-American by placing 8th at the Super 32 Tournament in North Carolina, one of the best preseason high school tournaments in the country.
In the winter of his senior year, Maverick won a New York State Wrestling Championship at 126 lbs. and had a magical high school season.
In the spring of his senior year, Maverick became a 2x All-American, placing 4th at Flo Nationals.
After his last match at Flo Nationals, I remember Maverick taking off his shoes.
Patiently, this time.
Every knot was undone with ease and diligence.
I remember him standing up, walking over to me, and looking me right in the eye, and handing me his shoes.
And I remember gladly accepting them from him, knowing that this time they were handed to me with a totally different meaning.
“Here Are My Shoes”
And 30 other inspirational wrestling stories can be found in:
Capturing the People and Culture of the Greatest Sport on Earth.
All of JohnA Passaro’s published works are available at these fine online stores: