Welcome to the first day of our final week.
By the time most of you head off to dreamland on Monday night, we can start thinking of our remaining journey together in terms of hours, not days. (-:
As for today, Countdown Day 4, let me ask you a question: Have you ever been to a wrestling match? Better yet, have you ever been to a wrestling practice. (Yeah, not to be too gross, but imagine enough collective sweat to fill a swimming pool, a parade of emaciated teens in rubber suits, trying to cut even more weight and, of course, you can almost always count on a few guys chucking in a garbage can. Definitely pretty awful.)
So, as you can imagine, having someone to direct traffic during such chaos is pretty critical. Lucky for me and others, we had the perfect guy right there with us.
Over the years, the thing that always impressed me most about him was that he wasn’t actually our team captain. He just had a way of providing comfort and reassurance to everyone he came across. So much so, that none of the guys even cared that he wasn’t the captain in name. And in the world of high school, where labels count for just about everything, that was a pretty neat trick. Even as a clueless 16-year old kid, I knew that this guy was special. He had a way of leading that you just don’t see when you’re that young, like he’d already lived through those awkward high school years once and was already well into his second go-round.
I still remember running up and down the hallway near our wrestling room, with our de facto captain leading the charge, running through the hallways in flat-bottom wrestling shoes, outrunning – even sometimes lapping – all of his teammates. (And this I’ll always remember, while he was doing all that running, or should I say outrunning the rest of us, he was constantly barking out encouragement, willing the rest of us to catch up with him. Yeah, believe it or not, we really did do laps up and down that long hallway in our wrestling shoes. That was pretty much akin to running barefoot.)
Years later, in my adult life, I managed to drag myself through a few marathon road races, often fueled by the memory of his boundless energy. In fact, one year, I pulled up lame with a damaged right calf and severe leg cramps. I’m proud to say that I never quit on anything in my life, but I was so physically damaged that day, things may have been different had I not known him.
As a wrestler, he was far from technically proficient, but he more than made up for it with the same brand of hustle and heart that he showed running up and down that long hallway just outside the wrestling room . While we weren’t an experienced team and didn’t win all that much, his victories were a lot less about technical proficiency and way more about will. And if that wasn’t enough, he was also a helluva teacher.
I had a match once during my junior year, and I was pretty much getting my ass kicked. With him screaming out encouragement, though, I started to mount a comeback. I was still way down on points, but I had an ace in the hole that he’d actually taught me just two days before the match. It wasn’t an especially complicated move, a headlock really, but he taught it to perfection. Things came down to the final seconds, and I somehow managed to win, 9-8.
Not sure I ever told him this, but the following season, the year after he graduated, I was elected captain of our team. You’ll laugh, but except for both of my daughters being born, and some 40+ years removed from high school, that may still be my proudest moment.
Sometimes those who mean the most to us are those people we don’t see enough. Or maybe we don’t even see them at all. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem fair.
Just last month, I learned that my friend had passed away. He was just 61 years old.
Even though I was all of 19 the last time I saw him, I’ll always be reminded of the way he willed so many of us forward in our lives.
Please join me in celebrating the life of John Pryor (1962-2023).
@Copyright 2023 by John L. Fischer