Bad side of a great sport

A hand darts through the darkness, in a frantic search for the snooze button.  Never a morning person, he has to set his alarm extra early each morning, hitting snooze a few times before finally rising.  Just one more day, he thinks to himself.  A little over seven pounds left.  His stomach churns, voicing its displeasure with him for being empty.  Why do I do this to myself again?  Because you want to be the best, his subconscious answers.  Yeah, that and you are too short for basketball, not to mention a terrible shot.  Even his subconscious was a smart ass in the morning.

Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he gets a chill as he reads the alarm clock.  6:15 a.m.  He’s always freezing in the morning for two reasons, both of which are his fault.  One reason is that he has barely any insulation left, due to the loss of 12 lbs. so far this week.  The other being the simple fact that he never turns the heat on in the winter.  This is because he knows that the colder the room is, the harder his body will try to keep warm.  And the harder his body tries to do that, the more energy it burns, which in turn means that much more weight he will lose in his sleep.

For five years he has endured morning runs.  He thinks back to his freshman year.  For the first three weeks, the team never even stepped on a mat.  They ran at least fifty miles a week, leaving him to wonder if he had mistakenly turned out for the cross-country team, and not the wrestling team.  Now, the only athlete that stuck it out from his freshman class, he recognizes that 6:30 a.m. morning runs are a necessary evil.  Not only are they good for the legs and lungs, they are also the perfect way to filter out the weak souls on the team.

Still half-asleep, he throws on his normal morning outfit.  Fleece pants, long sleeved T-shirt, hooded sweatshirt and a beanie.  A tattered pair of running shoes that have seen hundreds and hundreds of miles complete the ensemble.  Always a cheap bastard, he has been known to sew up holes in his shoes rather than buying new ones on more than one occasion.  As he sets out on the half-mile jog to the gymnasium, his thoughts wander to the local weatherman.  Apparently he wasn’t kidding when he said to expect temperatures in the teens for the morning.

He walks into the gym and sees his teammates scattered about.  What a pathetic looking bunch, he thinks to himself, half joking.  He knows that some of the best athletes in the country stood in that very hallway, but they all did look fairly lethargic at the moment.  This was crunch time.  The last day before the big home tournament.  Everybody in the room was battling their own physical and mental demons brought on by having to drop those last few pounds to get down to weight.

Coach walks in, and informs them that they will be running The Loop this morning.  Heavy sighs all around.  The Loop is THE longest run on their circuit at a solid 6.7 miles.  But they know that they need it in order to get those last pounds off.  It’s only around the third mile that he finally sees the sun come up.  As usual, he finishes about a quarter mile ahead of everyone else on the team, and jogs straight up to the wrestling room.  He strips down to his socks and underwear, and steps on the scale.  The LEDs flash a couple of times, finally reading 154.8 pounds.  Knowing that his socks and underwear average about four tenths of a pound, he knows that he only lost 2 lbs. on that run.  Unbelievable.  Fully hydrated, he would have lost at least three or so.

After a quick shower, he’s off to class.  He had always been fortunate when it came to school, just about every subject coming naturally.  Today, calculus and digital electronics are the last thing on his mind.  He spends the entire time writing and rewriting his goals for the tournament on the back of his notebook and planning out the rest of his day.  He still has 5.4 lbs. to cut before tomorrow morning.  Considering how far he had already come, he knows this will be the hardest part.  He also realizes that the diet of one cup of rice and half glass of apple juice a day that aided his swift weight drop that week will probably have to be foregone tonight.  Damn. 

He shows up for practice 20 minutes early to check his weight again.  He knows he shouldn’t do it, he doesn’t need a reminder of how much work he has left to do.  Sure enough, he only lost 1/10 of a pound walking to and from class.  Discouraged, he reluctantly throws on his gear and begins to warm up.  As practice gets underway, tensions are running high.  The last half-hour consists of live wrestling, and he grabs the 165 pounder as his partner.  He knows this guy is somewhat of a hothead, and will give him some competition.

Despite the weight disadvantage, he holds his own with the heavier grappler.  As they scramble across the mat in a barbaric dance, they get near the wall.  He never saw it coming, because his opponent is well-known for being a cheap shot artist.  A hard crossface thrown like a haymaker catches him just under the eye, breaking the skin over his cheekbone that had just healed the week before.  He wipes his face clean of the blood, furious.  He turns to his teammate, grabs him by the face, and slams him up against the wall.  It is then that the rest of the team intervenes, pulling them apart.  He fights to get back at his temporary enemy, but his coach sends him into the training room to get a couple steri-strips.

The bleeding controlled, he heads to the locker room for another weight check.  More lights flashing… flashing… flashing… 152.0 lbs.  Just three more to go.  After a long, relaxing shower, and an apology from his teammate, he sets off for his apartment.  He walks into the icebox he calls home, and slumps onto the couch.  He knows he can only stay for a short period of time before Satan beckons.  Satan is the name of his refrigerator.  Too late.  Like the little devil on your shoulder, it called out to him.  Knowing he was about to crack, he takes off to the store.

His stomach cramps as he walks into the store.  If the refrigerator was Satan, he had just walked into hell.  A million smells taunt him, but he fights back.  He is a man on a mission, tonight.  He needs to get weighn-in food for the morning.  Tonight’s shopping list includes a pack of blueberry bagels, three PowerBars, four Gatorades, and some fresh-cut pineapple.  He snags them all in record time, pays, and leaves as fast as he can.  He has an important date this evening, and the sooner he got there, the better.  Not with a person, with a room.

He steps into the sauna at the public pool, and as expected, sees three familiar faces.  Highly illegal in the NCAA since 1998, most athletes ignored the sanctions and continued using them to drop weight.  While they get the job done, these little hot boxes are the most mentally draining things in the world to him.  He just sits there counting the droplets of sweat as they hit the floor.  Typical of his body’s protocol, his vision begins to fade after 15 minutes.  Experience has taught him that he can only handle the sauna for short bursts of time before passing out when he is this dehydrated.  He steps out the door, and the rush of cool air instantly sobers him.  He dips his face into a cool water fountain, not daring to drink a drop.  Feeling refreshed, it’s time for yet another round in the box from hell.  This cycle repeats for an hour and a half until the pool closes.

Extremely lightheaded, he steps on the scale hoping that this will be the final time for the evening.  Alas, 149.8!  He could not have engineered it better.  He knows that his body will burn off for a solid pound while he sleeps, so this will be perfect.  He goes home feeling like he was just creamed by a semi.  Satan will not stop screaming his name, and he gives in just enough.  He knows he is allowed just the slightest sweet reward for his efforts tonight.  The two chunks of pineapple feel like heaven inside his mouth.  He drifts off to sleep with that taste lingering inside.

The alarm explodes in his ear at 5:30 a.m. and he snaps awake.  The mornings of tournaments are the only time when he doesn’t need the snooze button.  He walks into the gym at 6 a.m. sharp, to see hundreds of wrestlers desperately attempting to lose those last few fractions of a pound.  Stepping on the scale, he crosses his fingers.  He does not want to join the masses running this morning… 148.9 pounds!  Perfect.  He finds a corner in the wrestling room, and pops two more chunks of pineapple.  The only thing between him and his hearty feast is the longest hour of his life.  After that, it will be time to battle once again.

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