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Chapter 2 - Coach Ira
Hey there. This morning was bat shit crazy. Both the kids woke up at 5am so I didn’t have a chance to focus and write. I am just publishing this at 11:20 this afternoon. I am positive it will have spelling and grammar mistakes in it. I am writing my book in public for you to observe in real time, so please don’t reply with any snarky emails about how bad my spelling is. And yes, I’m talking to you.
Also, thanks to everyone who replied to yesterdays chapter and told me how much it moved them. That means a lot to me. Thanks for reading. :)
In 11th grade, for some reason, I decided to join the wrestling team.
Let me give you some context, because these things really matter.
In Pennsylvania, high school wrestlers are not like normal wrestlers. These kids are animals. They are basically bread to be wrestlers from birth.
Wrestling, in general, in extremally difficult. The sport is definitely technical, but toughness and grit and pain tolerance is part of the sport. It’s not a “beautiful” martial art like Jiu Jitsu. It’s much more smashmouth, and it’s like that on purpose.
I had never wrestled before. My friend talked me into it because he said it would get me in shape for lacrosse season (which it did).
I didn’t win a single match.
I went to a very small high school and my team wasn’t very good.
Back to the story.
In 11th grade, I joined the wrestling team. wrestled every day and did early morning runs and workouts with the team 3 days a week.
My coach’s name was Ira.
I have no idea what Ira is doing now. I double he knows how much of an impact he had on me.
Sick of Getting Pinned
The ultimate humiliation in wrestling is to get pinned. It means that your opponent controls you so dominantly that he is able to “pin” both your shoulders (more like your scapula’s) on the mat.
If you get pinned, you lose.
My team got pinned a lot. Although we had 3 all state wrestlers on the team, we also had a lot of people like myself, who wanted to challenge themselves or lose weight or their dad made them do it to toughen them up.
Coach Ira became so tired of getting pinned that he created a punishment for us. For every person who got pinned, we had to do 1 round of “lucky number sevens.”
What are lucky number sevens? I will tell you.
They are sprints, but they are designed to break you mentally. So you start at one side of the wrestling room and run to the other side, that’s 1. Then you run to the other side and then back again, that’s 2. Then you do 3 laps, that’s 3. You do that all the way up to 7, then you repeat 7, and then you go back down.
Completing one round of that is a lucky number seven.
We called them “sevens” for short.
Sevens are obviously a conditioning exercise, but they are more so designed to train you mentally. After you drill single leg take downs for 20 straight minutes, your body and your mind is on the verge of collapse. So after drills, instead of “resting”, Coach Ira would randomly call a set of lucky number sevens.
It was very rarely an exercise we did on its own. It was always some cruel joke that he would call out.
Imagine the entire team just got done drilling and then the alarm goes off. Every gets off the mat and puts their hands on their knees. And then after about 5 seconds, you hear Coach Ira call out “SEVENS!!!.”
Coach Ira called it rest. It wasn’t, it was a mental conditioning.
You have to understand, the wrestling room is completely padded, including the walls. So when you got to the other side of the room, you never actually slowed down, You just jumped and kicked yourself off the wall.
There was no rest. It was all mental. I didn’t realize how mental it was until Coach Ira tought me a lesson.
A Mental Breaking Point
Now, this will sound counter intuitive, but I actually enjoyed lucky number sevens. I was a runner. I played soccer and lacrosse year round. I was very fast and I had excellent conditioning. I could run for days.
So the idea of doing lucky number sevens for an hour didn’t bother me. They became torturous when Coach Ira would randomly throw them in a drill without warning.
Anyway, as I said, my team wasn’t very good. The match we had where we were specifically trying not to get pinned was the worst match we had all year. I think we got pinned 7 times, which meant seven rounds of lucky number sevens, which meant 392 total laps.
It took us the entire practice to complete. The entire practice was nothing but running back and forth in the wrestling room.
Believe it or not, I finished first.
Coach Ira was sitting against the wall, watching his team run themselves past the point of puking (Oh yes, people were puking).
He wasn’t an angry coach. He didn’t yell. He didn’t blow a whistle. He was a very methodical, intense, and intentional coach. So he sat against the wall for the entire practice, just watching his team.
After I finished, I sat down next to him. I was exhausted and so I flopped my butt on the mat and sat with my back against the wall.
After a few minutes of watching my team mates run back and forth, eventually my other team mates started finishing as well. We lined up against the wall together, but I was still sitting next to coach Ira.
Without warning, Coach Ira smacked my leg. He said …
“Tim, look at that.”
He was pointing to one of my team mates, let’s call him Ryan.
Ryan was running and he was in agony. His arms were flopping around and his legs were dragging behind him. He was clearly exhausted and he was ready to quit. You could tell it was only a matter of time before he gave up.
Then coach Ira told me something that I think about every time I am on the rowing machine or when I go running. He said …
“I’ve been watching Ryan the entire time. I can tell you this. He is no more tired than he was 3 minutes ago. His body didn’t break down, his mind did. Somehow, his brain tricked his body into thinking it couldn’t run any more, but he could run for another 5 hours if he really needed to.”
Coach Ira was right. Ryan did break mentally. You could see it. You could witness his soul being fractured in real time.
Ryan really wasn’t any more or less tired than he was before. What happened?
(To be continued tomorrow …)