Even more important than the great workouts were increased body awareness and self-esteem. Being a bit on the small side, I couldn't excel at football and I got picked on by bigger kids in junior high school. Wrestling gave me the chance to compete against others who were my size. My victories gave me a sense of personal accomplishment, and even when I lost I felt good about giving it my all.
If you're considering taking up this sport, I highly recommend it. Whether you're 6 or 60, there is a youth program or a club for you. I wish that there had been a youth program in my hometown when I was a kid; it could have helped me build my self-esteem before high school and thereby prevent some of my emotional wounds.
The high school and college wrestling season is generally late November to early March, but the sport is by no means relegated to the winter only. I look back fondly on various off-season clubs and tournaments, and summer wrestling at both the YMCU in Boston and Monomoy wrestling camp on Cape Cod.
College wrestling is a large step up from high school. I was a regional champion in high school but won only about a quarter of my college matches. Keep this in mind if you're a high school wrestler and you plan to wrestle in college.
I consider wrestling to be just about the best all-around sport because it's extremely physical, it exercises every muscle group, and it's an individual sport. I believe that it takes more character to step onto a wrestling mat than it does to play a team sport. Like the saying goes: "It is better to wrestle and lose than it is to play basketball." The only other sport I've done that comes close to wrestling in terms of whole body usage is kick-boxing. I got 9 years of great workouts in this endeavor, sparring with many amateurs and pros, but I still favor wrestling because it's a more fluid sport.
Through the years I've wrestled at many weights. In high school I got down to 134 pounds by starving and dehydrating myself to the point where I could not sweat. In college I did not diet, so I wrestled at 167 and 177. In my 20s, after I moved to Maryland, I competed at anywhere from 158 to 190 pounds in AAU and USA Wrestling tournaments.
Alas, age has taken its inescapable toll. I first noticed it at 29, when ligaments would tear more easily than they had previously. Through my 30s my muscles would fail me with increasing frequency, cramping up on me even while doing mundane things like showering. Now, in my 40s, I get beaten up by guys less than half my age. But even though I have lost some cardiovascular conditioning and considerable strength, I do not feel old. I feel like I'm in my 20s, and I'm happy to still be able to participate in this sport that I love and that has given me so much. I give back by volunteering my coaching services to a local high school.