Sunday, March 9, 2014

South Roanoke Circle Article - Featuring Maggie!

My latest article for The Circle, just click here. Or read below…

Through the power of social media, I am able to keep up with the athletic endeavours of all my friends’ children, happily “liking” pictures as we move from one sports season to the next. Many of these kids are always on one team or another. Up here chez les McKernans? Eh, not so much. We have a couple of summer swimmers and Eion gave soccer a try this fall but my kids seem to have inherited their mother’s tendency to be kind of an indoor girl. [Which, on a selfish side note, really bums me out as there is little I enjoy more than sports photography.]

But we also never give up! When Jerry told me he was signing his boys up for wrestling, we were on board. I thought it would be a great fit for Eion. So one night in November, I asked E if he would be interested. After explaining what the sport entailed, loosely, seeing as my body of wrestling knowledge came entirely from the movie The Breakfast Club, well, and a bit from Vision Quest, though I don’t really count that because I passed out when he got a bloody nose and my memory after that is fuzzy, he agreed to give it a try. Then, to the surprise of everyone, Maggie looked up at me and said, “Can I do it too?”

Huh. I had no idea if there were female wrestlers. Personally, I was a cheerleader (of the rah rah variety more than the large pyramid building, throwing people around type) and being a wrestler had never, ever crossed my mind. But I said I would look into it.

A few quick calls and I discovered that while they are few and far between, there were girl wrestlers. The coach’s daughter did for years. With no idea what to expect, Maggie was in.

Practice was directly after the Hidden Valley High School team. Our first day is burned into my memory. As the high schoolers streamed out of the room, a wall of heat, humidity, and, best of all, smell, followed them. Then we got the lecture on how post-practice showers were an important step in the battle against ringworm. When I dared the elements and peeked in, the kids were sparring and ended up in positions that looked quite unpleasant. All I could think was, fantastic, that is $60 down the drain. But Maggie came out, all smiles, talking about how much fun it was and how she couldn’t wait until the next practice.

Color me flabbergasted.

For the next few weeks, she happily skipped of to practice, never complaining no matter how hard they were worked. Maggie was the only girl but this bothered her not at all. Her biggest complaint was that her coach kept calling her Katie, which was, coincidentally, his daughter’s name. It really was a harder adjustment for Tim and me. Seriously, there is little more surreal than hearing a coach yelling, “Finish him Maggie!”

Then in December, we went to our first tournament. Jerry went to one we missed and briefed me on what to expect, but there is no way to prepare yourself for six or eight rings, all running at the same time, complete with yelling, whistles, refs who looked to be flashing gang signs*, and a surprising amount of crying. [*Not really gang signs, of course, but they meant about the same from my position of wrestling ignorance.]

Maggie looked nervous but was ready to fight. Having just watched Eion twisted into any number of unnatural positions was tough. But without sounding all sexist, watching Maggie was even harder. I was on the sideline, silent at her request, reading the pain on her face just wanting her to give up sometimes. But she never did. Not even in the round where all of a sudden holy mother of all that’s good in the world, her opponent picked her up and threw her to the ground. Not only did she get up, she fought another round after that before shaking hands, walking out of the ring, and falling apart in my arms.

The good news is the crying didn’t make her stand out. Boys of all sizes and ages would leave the ring with red rimmed eyes, trying to make it out of the spotlight before breaking down. The physicality and close struggle combined with pouring everything you possibly can into that short time just seemed so draining. There was a lot of raw emotion out there.

After that tough morning, I thought, well, we had a good run at it but she will probably want to quit.

Or not.

The balance of the season was met with usual sunny enthusiasm, happily going off to practice and already making plans for next year. After every practice she regaled me with the new moves learned and how she planned to use them at the next meet.

Speaking of the next meet, it was Tim’s first rodeo and it was shocking for him too. As we walked around the gym, we heard someone tell their son, “Now go out there and kill ‘em!” His face a mask of terror, Tim turned to me and said. “He could be talking about my little girl!” The whole family had a good laugh later watching the videos later as they revealed his every cringe as the camera jerked around. Maggie was quite calm as we relived it, but Tim and I winced each time she took a hit.

One of the very best parts of the season was the unilateral support Maggie received as a girl in a boy’s sport. Coaches, parents, and referees all encouraged her, complimented her and urged her not to give up. Certainly, none of the boys took it easy on her, but they never marginalized her either. She was just another competitor. After every loss, friends and strangers alike were there to let her know how well she did and how much they appreciated her spirit.  She leaned how to push herself, how to keep fighting, how to win and lose.

Tim and I learned a lot too, and not just what those gang signs were. Watching all those kids work so hard in such a physical and vulnerable way, we felt like they were all winners out there. (Dude, I know it sounds goofy but it is so true.) More importantly, we found out that sweet, sunny Maggie had more than a little fight in her and the intestinal fortitude to march into a gym full of boys and take them on.

We’re coming up on the end of the season and by all accounts, she’s going to be back at it again next year. I’m not sure how long Maggie will continue as one of the few female wrestlers in the valley, but we’re looking forward to the ride. Maybe next season, we can even make it through without wincing.

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