Leo gave me a book to read at the next workout after the AO. It is called Four Days to Glory, by Mark Kreidler, and it relates the stories of high school wrestlers in Iowa pursuing their fourth state championships and their prospective collegiate futures. I believe he is trying to give me some inspiration, which perhaps I am now lacking after what happened at the meet.
Even though it is story about wrestling, a major part of my identity for the last decade, I am finding it hard to relate. The characters have won just about everything at their level, and a constant theme is that their opponents have lost before they even step on the mat. But it seems to me that my own athletic career is entirely different. Everywhere I have gotten has come from incredibly hard work, and even then it hasn't come easily. One of my college teammates told me I was the hardest worker on the team, but I never earned a starting spot. In high school, I did well in large part because I went to extra practices and off-season tournaments. I even found my way into a couple of area and state rankings, but I never placed in the state tournament (which, by the way is THE metric for most wrestlers, even into and beyond college unless All-America status is earned).
I've seen athletes like the ones in this book. I saw Darian Kess, for example, absolutely tear apart his opponents with effortless-looking takedowns. I saw Brandon Lauer win his third and final state championship after an undefeated high school career, tech-falling (think: slaughter rule) the runner-up. I met and practiced with Mike Faust, ranked first in the country for high school 215 pounders and heavyweights at the time, who didn't give up a single takedown his senior year. And perhaps the most impressive of them all, I watched Kerry McCoy, an Olympic silver medalist and now the head coach at the University of Maryland, wrestling collegiate heavyweights and making them look like little kids. Hell, Lance Frye would have gotten a medal at the AO even if he had lifted three weight classes heavier.
I don't think I'll ever identify with the athletes who seem to just win everything in sight. It's funny, because academically I never had so much trouble (I was valedictorian in high school, after all). I did the necessary work, and when I was interested in a subject I would go further, but for the most part I cruised through everything. Athletics were the opposite, but I had a good enough work ethic that in most sports I could do well. Even so, I look back on my wrestling career mostly with disappointment, though perhaps I could say I did my best. I am weightlifting now because I found out I was good at it. I only hope I can come anywhere near my goals.
There is one thing in the story that I do feel, sometimes acutely, and that is the notion that the drive for success is a lonely one. It has nothing to do with whether or not people support you - the wrestlers in the book have practically the entire state behind them - but rather how the demands of a sport and the necessary work will separate you from even your closest fans. I am incredibly thankful to my girlfriend and my parents and my coaches for trying so hard to be there for me. But no matter what they do, it will always have to be me who trains almost every day of the week, and nobody can lift the weight for me out on the platform. My training has often enough put me at odds with Christy, and while she does her best to help me process events and move forward, it's still up to me to keep on going. And while it seems that my friends all but assume I'll be in London in 2012, I couldn't feel like that was further from the truth. In the end, I will be the one who lifts alone in my basement several times each week, I will be the one on strict diets to get my weight down, and I will be the one standing in a sauna sweating off as much as five pounds to make weight later that morning. Maybe it's the same for the top athletes.
Who am I, then? Am I destined to be a champion lifter? Do people ever see me on a level even close to the athletes I mentioned above? What if I don't accomplish what I set out to do? Am I doing as well as I am because there is a lack of national interest in the sport? Are the setbacks I'm encountering the same that all eventual champions encounter and then overcome? And what if I fail? I don't consider myself a "top athlete," and maybe I never will. Besides, maybe seeing myself as an underdog will be the inspiration I was looking for all along...