Trey Hawkins is a 10th grader at Eastwood Christian School. I saw him recently at a sports event. He came up to my wheelchair eager to remind me of a story I had told his class from my childhood.
School sports began for me in high school. I played city baseball before that. And, with the physical activity associated with a family of five boys, who needed school sports? During my 9th grade year I played football. Well, played is a generous word. More accurately, I practiced football and watched the games; I had a great seat on the sideline. Though fierce enough for the sport, there was a problem. A boy 4’10” and 87 pounds does not make high school football material. I was a favorite when the coach wanted to demonstrate a tackle.
Football ended and wrestling began. I thought it held promise. I would compete against boys my own size, sort of. The lightest weight class was 95 pounds. But, I figured it couldn’t be worse than football. There were extreme physical workouts and the learning curve was steep. I ended up wrestling for the junior varsity team.
One morning at school, halfway through the season, the varsity coach saw me in the hall and said, “Geiger, my man is sick, so you are wrestling varsity tonight.” He didn’t seem all that thrilled to have an inexperienced rookie filling in for his seasoned veteran. Gulp. I suddenly felt sick as well. Wrestle varsity? Not on the night when our opponents were the notorious Hanford Falcons! Fear gripped me in its talons. Then, the teasing began by my buddies. “Gonna be a tough night.” “Heard the guy you’re up against is a beast.” “Did you know the Hanford guy is undefeated?” “Did you know the Hanford guy has pinned everyone this season?” Now, I took all this with a laugh and didn’t believe a word of it. Nobody is that good and I was scared enough just having to wrestle with all those upperclassmen.
While we shook hands and before the referee’s whistle, I remember thinking that the Falcon’s frame looked taller and stronger than 97 lbs. should. (Our league gave an extra two pounds halfway through the season. I still stayed steady at 87 lbs.) But, he was a senior and I was a freshman, so I imagined it was some optical illusion.
I was swooped up and thrown to the mat before I knew that the whistle had blown. A player receives 1 point for gaining control of his opponent, 2 points for reversing the control, and 2-3 points for almost pinning the opponent. A pin is when a wrestler’s shoulders both touch the mat for two seconds. If you’re pinned, the match is over. To prevent being pinned, a player usually bridges (arching the back and supporting oneself with the head, neck muscles, and possibly the elbows). In a matter of 6 seconds I was already down 4-0. I lay bridging for the entire first round . . . and the second . . . and the third. My memories (Oh, they are still so vivid after 46 years) are hearing the fans yell, “Get up, John!” and the Hanford Falcon saying to the referee, “He has to be pinned by now!” and the ref saying, “No, not yet.” The match ended in my suffering a humiliating defeat, 14-1. My one point was awarded because the Hanford boy, out of frustration, performed an illegal move. (I think I recall him jumping on my chest.)
The referee pulled up the hand of the winner and kindly adjusted my dazed body so I would walk back to my bench. As I approached, my teammates were cheering and clapping. (Teens can be cruel, I thought.) The coach seated me beside him and the next match began. I couldn’t bear to lift my head and watch. At some point Coach Lloyd leaned over to me and said, “I am proud of you.” (I remember thinking that coaches could also be cruel.) “That boy you wrestled has pinned everyone this season. You spoiled his record.” I looked across the mat and saw the tall, muscular boy sitting with slumped shoulders and head down, disappointed. It is amazing how quickly one can go from shame to a sense of pride. I sat up and watched the rest of my teammates wrestle, enjoying my first experience as a varsity grappler. Sometimes you win even though you lose.
Trey remembered that story; he then applied it to me. My body is losing its fight against ALS. Some days I feel like my only option is to sustain a bridge move as long as possible to delay the inevitable. However, though I lose in the body now, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection offers victory for my spirit and hope for a renewed body: “We are more than conquerors through Him [Christ] who loves us.” The broken world will not stay as it is: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” We will not always hold our head in shame: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’”
Thank you, Trey. It does make a difference how we see life’s events. Because . . . sometimes you win even though you lose.