Grappling with ALS

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.

32 thoughts on “Grappling with ALS

  1. John, thanks for those encouraging words. We are victors in Christ, and this world is His. We are just passing through for a time, but we are still the victors because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. Galatians 2;20.

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  2. Our love and prayers continue for you and your family. We wish we weren’t so far away and we hold you in our hearts and in God’s presence for daily grace and strength. Thank you for your honesty, faith and love. What a gift to call you friend, Rob & Kathleen

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  3. John,
    You are the most extraordinary man I have known. You always see the best in everything and look for that teaching spiritual moment!! You will always be in your students memories and hearts!! How Blessed they all are to have been tutored under you. We, your friends, feel pretty blessed, too!!!
    Your friend, Barbara

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  4. John,
    You are the most extraordinary man I have known. You always see the best in everything and look for that teaching spiritual moment!! You will always be in your students memories and hearts!! How Blessed they all are to have been tutored under you. We, your friends, feel pretty blessed, too!!!
    Your friend, Barbara

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  5. Thank you’ Such encouraging words, John, even to those of us not battling ALS. We may be battling sin and sickness and many various trials and tribulations, but your words remind us not to give up! To keep up the good fight because ultimately we will win! Philippians 4:13.

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  6. Thank you, John. What a great reminder to fight the good fight! I know nothing about wrestling , (except when trying to escape my brothers!) but I so clearly felt your emotions and saw through your eyes, as I read this post! I LOVE reading these and eagerly await the next! I love you, my friend.

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  7. Thank you, John. What an encourager you are. God blessed this world when He made you to love Him and shared His gift of Jesus in you with so many people. You help us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” and help us run the race He gives us. We are cheering you on, along with the saints who are watching from above. How we love you and your Jesus!

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    1. Hi Carol. Thank you for the encouraging words. I want to tell you that for 31 years now I have heard your name and stories. Each time Dawn is so positive about you and filled with admiration. You helped to shape your friend into the wonderful wife I enjoy. Keep it up! Soon you will be influencing grandchildren! Let us know if you and Charles are down this way.

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  8. I don’t know you John but thank you for a beautiful, encouraging, and moving post. Only our great God can give our hearts such a beautiful response and hope durring our sufferings.

    Mark Smith

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  9. From someone who has felt like a loser a good. It in life, I APLRECIATE the wisdom and encouragement from you brother. The world may see the score but we see the final result!

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    1. Thank you Penny. I saw little Roger recently. He is a fine man. I know your Roger is struggling with a broken body as well. May our Lotd give him strength and peace to endure it. Much love.

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  10. Hey John, I love YOU, brother. God placed YOU on my mind and I just read that great story.
    I have been hired by DALRAIDA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL as a TURNAROUND SPECIALIST. Who you come and speak to my 125 fifth graders about making the most and the best out of their public education experience. This group according to the principal and teachers is out of control. I have been telling them, ANYBODY CAN CHANGE. RU available anytime soon from 8:30-9:30 am? Amen.

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