Drops of sweat ran down my pale and beaten face as I continued to do my endless set of burpees. The purple-padded mats had been marked with our hand and shoe prints due to the maddening repetition of this grueling exercise. The newly installed heaters sucked the life out of the remaining six of us, as we conditioned in the scorching hot, one-hundred-degree enclosure. It was 6:30 PM, and practice had already ended an hour ago. “You fatasses better make sure you make weight!”, coach Contreras remarked. “If you don’t, you’ll be running laps around the school all day tomorrow during the tournament!” For Christian, this kind of pressure was normal. He had to cut for every single tournament and dual meet. Sitting naturally at 230, he always had to lose at least ten pounds for every event. “Just do what I do, and you’ll be fine,” he advised me. Knowing that I was not going through this grind alone brought me some peace of mind. Nevertheless, it could not alleviate the physical beatdown I had to undergo. This was the first time in my three years of wrestling that I ever needed to cut weight for a competition. It was also the last time.
The next day was the 2012 West Catholic Athletic League Finals for wrestling, the closing tournament of the season, with the exception of those that made it to CCS and CIF. I had been cutting weight for the last three days and needed to make the 160s group in order to be eligible to compete. I walked over to the locker room and turned on the electronic scale; and then took off
the multiple layers of soaking wet clothing that engulfed my fatigued body. This consisted of two long-sleeved flannel shirts, one sweater, one hoodie, one pair of shorts, and two pairs of Champion sweats. I had started this arduous trek three days ago at a whopping 172 pounds, and was now down to 163. “Only three more to go,” I thought to myself as I stepped off the scale. What I tried not to think about was the fact that weigh-ins were in only twelve hours, and this meant the only thing I would be consuming for the duration of that time period was water. It did not help that the only thing I had eaten that day was a banana, a Builder Bar, and some oatmeal. Up until this point, I had never truly gone a night hungry.
Possibly the most agonizing component of the entire experience presented itself when I arrived home for dinner that night. All of the food was already prepared: pork chops and beef ribs, black beans, quinoa, brown rice, mashed potatoes, and a Ceasar salad. My parents always made home cooked meals, and this night was no exception. Food had always been highly valued in my household, and dinner was a time to be together, a time for family. My dad was very understanding when I explained that I would not be able to eat the delicious meal they had prepared. My mom, on the other hand, was not so supportive: “I can’t believe these people actually expect kids to starve themselves for a stupid sport. They’re only in high school!” My dad tried, without success, to rationalize with my mom: “It’s only one night. He’ll be fine. All wrestlers in high school do it for big tournaments like this.” She went on for several minutes about how unethical and irresponsibly extreme the sport was. Eventually her anger subsided, but she was left in a rather rustled state of mind for the remainder of the night. After forcing myself to the desk in my room instead of the dining room table, I began to crack down on some homework. As I was reading George Orwell’s 1984 for my AP English Language class, my stomach began to growl. Instead of focusing on how O’Brien had actually turned out to be an antagonist working under the wing of Big Brother the entire time, I could only think about how hungry and tired I was. I began to feel stomach pains, and I was overwhelmed by a lack of energy, which in turn rendered my brain numb. My thoughts were dominated by the images of crunchy fried chicken and juicy fruits as my stomach continued to growl at me. To make matters worse, a massive migraine began throbbing behind my eyes, like a pair of sticks repeatedly pounding on a hollow drum. The effects of this caloric deficit were really beginning to settle in, but I knew that I had to muster the willpower to not eat. I decided that I would catch up on the reading over the weekend instead and try to get a good night’s rest. In order to force myself to sweat profusely overnight, I covered my body with more clothes than I ever had before and went to bed.
I woke up at 5:00 the next morning and ran straight to the bathroom. I stepped on the scale, and to my chagrin, it was out of batteries. I did not have the time to find a new pair of triple A’s to replace them with, and so I got ready as quickly as possible and raced to the car. During the entire ten minute drive to school, I was praying that I had dropped enough weight over night, or I would have to do even more conditioning for the next hour before weigh-ins. When I got to school, I went straight to the locker room and weighed myself. The number soared up to the mid one hundreds, and then began to fluctuate between 159 and 161. I was filled with both extreme hope, and immense anxiety. Finally the scale settled on its evaluation of me. It read “159.6”. I was elated. The coaches had always told us that beating the scale was the most important part. I understood from first hand experience what they meant. Unfortunately, I still had to wait until we arrived at the tournament for the official recording, which meant I had to wait even longer to eat. One by one, the whole team boarded the old and rustic school bus. Some of my teammates who still needed to shed a few ounces were filling empty water bottles with their saliva. This is a spectacle I had always attempted to avoid seeing. All I wanted to do during the long and crowded bus ride to St. Francis High School was sink my teeth into any form of edible matter. We arrived in Mountain View, hopped off the bus, and headed towards the gymnasium. There were eight scales. Eight machines that I dreaded so much because of what they had expected of me, yet couldn’t wait to stand on top of so that I could finally nourish my body. I had brought with me a large bag of fruit, sandwiches, cooked salmon, and rice. These sources of life would serve as my sanctuary in the moments to come. After going through groom check, where the referees check the length of my nails and hygiene of my skin, and waiting in a long line behind dozens of other young men, it was finally my turn. I stepped on the scale and made the 160s weight class. As soon as I got off the dreaded piece of metal, I snatched my bag of food and sprinted over to the stands. The next ten minutes of my life were filled with pure relief and happiness. I ate so vigorously that I didn’t even taste the fleshiness of the salmon or the sweetness of the fruit. I was so focused that I completely lost myself in the moment. Everything and everyone else seemed not to exist for five minutes, and no thoughts occupied my mind. The only thing I could feel was my stomach - how it began to fill up. It was, in a way, a transcendental experience, as if my soul retreated from my body for a brief period in time. At that instant, all of the stress and discomfort were relinquished from inside of me.
In high school, being part of the wrestling team taught me the importance of having a clean and healthy diet. I learned a lot about nutrition and how imperative it is to eat well if I want to be an overall healthy human being. This experience gave me an even deeper understanding of how essential food is. Before this, I ate when I felt hungry; but this time I had to conjure the fortitude to withhold my urge to indulge. This action, or rather lack of, showed me how crucial food is for sustenance and how my body will react if it receives none. Cutting weight for wrestling made me see food as a necessity, not as something to be eaten for enjoyment. Additionally, wrestling instilled many core values in me and significantly built my character throughout high school. It pushed me to my limits and forced me to be accountable, committed, determined, and resilient. I wrestled from the beginning of high school to the end of my Junior year. It was pure coincidence that I only had to cut weight once and that it occurred at the end of my last season. I felt that after these three years, I learned everything I needed to from wrestling. While the conditions for cutting weight are dangerous, being able to withstand them made me a stronger person. I have no regrets about my wrestling journey. In fact, I am very happy I decided to participate in such a rigorous sport because of the friendships I made and the morals I acquired. These characteristics carry over to the food I choose to consume today. While it doesn’t hurt to give into a craving once in awhile, I still choose to eat healthily for the overwhelming majority of my meals. Even after I stopped wrestling, I continued to harbor this mindset in my everyday life. I wrestled with food, and I won.