By Ryan Divish
Let's be real honest here. With the exception of his parents and maybe Montana State University-Northern wrestling coach David Ray, nobody tells Emmett Willson what to do.
I guess you could try. And I guess you could spend the better part of your summer in traction after he bends your left leg back behind your right ear and turns you into a modern day Stretch Armstrong.
We're talking about a guy, who once picked up a live porcupine to play a practical joke. I love a good joke and all, but picking 200 quills out of my hands? That's not funny, that's insanity.
So, don't think for a second I am going to sit here and tell Emmett what to do. But I am going to politely, sincerely and ever so carefully ask him one simple thing:
Don't quit wrestling just yet.
I know it feels good to be done. There is no training, no running, no drilling and no watching what you eat.
If you feel like lying on the couch and watching Dr. Phil and Oprah all afternoon, you can.
If you feel like retiring your running shoes and wearing cowboy boots for the rest of your life, you can.
If you feel like eating six cheeseburgers, drinking six beers and topping it off with a large Oreo Blizzard all in one sitting, you can.
But if you think that you can just forget about a sport that has been the single dominant aspect of your life the last 10 years, you can't.
The only thing in wrestling that you can't do - is forget about it.
You can try. But it won't work. Because you'll find out that afternoon's spent with Dr. Phil and Oprah become more painful and agonizing than an afternoon spent in the Northern wrestling room.
That's saying a lot because you even called the room hell. I know one thing; it is hot enough in there to think that. And the heat might be the best part.
Let's talk about the smell for a second. Imagine if you will, the scent of the boys lockeroom in high school - a smell so nauseating that your stomach does a backflip just thinking about it.
Multiply that scent's intensity by about 10 and throw in the smell of stale sweat, rancid gym socks and maybe day-old vomit and you've got the smell of a wrestling practice room. Makes you want to eat cottage cheese doesn't it?
And the smell is tame compared to what goes on in that room. Basically, you beat on your workout partner and he beats on you. During breaks in the so-called "drilling," you run laps, do situps, pushups and anything else to sweat every last drop of water out of your system.
You don't think practice is hard. Just look at a college wrestler's initiation mark. No, it's not some tattoos on their shoulders or backs, which signifies that they are tough SOBs. It's a mark earned, not inked. Something much more painful
Look at a wrestler's ear for a second. That's when you know what he's accomplished in the room. If it looks like somebody tried to fill in all the open spaces with hard flesh, then you got yourself a longtime wrestler.
They call it "cauliflower ear." I call it permanent disfigurement.
So with all the training, running, dieting, inflicting pain, absorbing it and spending hours upon hours in a room filled with an odor similar to rotten cheese mold, why shouldn't I want to let Emmett hang it up?
Why? Because there is still something left to conquer.
Why? Because the window of opportunity to compete at such high levels closes when you least expect it and seldom reopens.
Why? Because you'll miss it.
Why? Because you don't wake up one night five years from now and hate yourself for not trying.
I realize that it would be tough for anything to compare with what you have accomplished this year. All 50 times you stepped on a mat this season, you won. It didn't matter what level your opponent was - Division I, Division II, NJCAA or NAIA - you beat them all with the same ferocity and relentlessness.
The national titles, the outstanding wrestler awards and now the Dan Hodge Trophy, signifying you as the top collegiate wrestler in the country, what's left to win?
How about a gold medal or a world championship?
Look, I am a firm believer in going out on top. But there is still another level out there. Don't go out being the top college wrestler in the United States., go out as one of the top WRESTLERS in the United States.
Still, going out on top is overrated if you aren't ready to go out. Look at Michael Jordan. He retired on the heels of his quintessential moment - a game winning jumpshot to win his last NBA title. Two years later, he was back in the NBA because retired life without that rush of competition wasn't really much of a life.
For people who like to compete at high levels, it is a harsh reality check when it is taken away. Many people spend the rest of their lives searching for something to compare to it.
And yes, you will miss wrestling. You will miss the running, the training and watching what you eat. You will miss working on single-leg takedowns, delivering crossfaces and the sensation of sticking an opponent's shoulder to the mat. You will even miss the wrestling room. Because you said it yourself, the room makes you stronger. It turns strangers into teammates and teams into families.
As for regret, ask any other college athlete about it. They can list their regrets quicker than they can their statistics. Whether it is not working hard enough or not savoring the moments when they happened or walking away to soon.
For many athletes, the chance to continue to compete after college isn't passed up, but taken away. You are one of the few who is staring opportunity right in the eye. Don't blink. Don't hesitate. Take it. Cherish it. Relish it. And put all the fury and dedication that got you to this point into that opportunity.
I know you want to get your teaching degree and be done with school. Do it. Finish it up here at Northern, but continue to wrestle and prepare for the future. There isn't a person in the school or the program who doesn't want to see you succeed. They'll do anything and everything to help you get there.
I am not asking anymore. I am telling you - in the most polite, sincere and respectful way - don't give up wrestling just yet.