by Shane Valdez
The month of January has always been known as the heart of the wrestling season. It is when teams will compete at the toughest tournaments on their schedules. It is when league rivals will face each other in their toughest dual matches. It when wrestlers will get the first taste of some of their fiercest opponents. For me, my blood pumped a little harder during the New Year at the thought of tournaments like Five Counties, C.I.T., and the Ironman. But January is also the month that will test every wrestler. It is the month where you find out what you are made of.
I suffered my first high school loss in January at the Five Counties Tournament as a freshman 103 pounder. Ironically, I suffered my second loss of my career on the second day of that same tournament. I was crushed. I had dreams of going undefeated as a freshman and winning a state title that year. Yet, how would I accomplish that dream if I couldn’t win the Five Counties Tournament? When I had finally calmed down enough for our assistant coach, Jeff Roberts, to talk to me, I still remember what he said. “Shane, I know you don’t like to lose, and that’s a good thing. But you have to understand something. Wrestling season is like a long roller coaster ride. It’s filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, and twists and turns. It’s a long season, and you can’t let one match or one tournament keep you down.”
I used this advice throughout my entire wrestling career and I still use this advice today. I went into each season knowing that it would be a roller coaster ride and preparing for that ride, doing everything in my power to avoid the dips and valleys, but knowing that the dips and valleys would not keep me down should I fall into one. I was able to look at the big picture and focus on the finish line rather than the daily grind. Preparing for the roller coaster ride kept me from becoming arrogant or cocky, while allowing me to learn and gain from any of my set-backs. All the ups and downs, all the bumps and bruises, and all the sweat and tears were just practice so that the roller coaster could roll smoothly when it came down the home stretch.
I didn’t win a State Championship as a freshman. As a matter of fact, I didn’t make it out of my CIF tournament. But again, those words came back to me, only this time I applied it to my high school wrestling career. The next year I made it to the State Finals.
As January draws to a close, whether you find yourself in a rut or on a high, the key is to remain constant in your training and attitude. Make sure you are prepared mentally and physically to finish the roller coaster ride smoothly down the home stretch.