Braxton, Age 17, Sharpsburg, VA
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the conquest of it.” –William Danforth

As a fledgling varsity wrestler, I walked into a massive gymnasium as a novice in a sea of experts. Even though I was an underclassman wrestling what would only be my second ascent from the familiarity of the realm of Junior Varsity wrestling into a place of high-intensity combat, I found out that my first opponent was the holder of the coveted state championship title. It seemed as though the lively school was hushed as he walked into the gym while his reflection painted the eyes of every onlooker. My team mates as well as other spectators pointed and whispered while their attention was taken from their sons, friends, and cousins who they had come to cheer to victory and given to him warming up to wrestle in the far corner of the hardwood floors.

Scouts lined the front rows of the bleachers eagerly awaiting the referee’s declaration of the beginning of the competition. Though I was dry-mouthed and uneasy, I threw off my McIntosh sweats and put my nervousness aside to walk confidently to the center of the wide, blue mat as if I were the favorite to win the bout. I turned around, took a knee, and strapped on my green referee’s band, signifying my identity in the match. As I stood up and turned to face him, I shook out my last bit of visible doubt, while inside my mind, I frantically tried to devise a way to make it through the first round without having my shoulder blades shoved into the floor. I placed my foot on my team’s green starting line as I saw a pair of hands signifying our currently neutral position and heard a firm voice command, “Shake hands, gentlemen.” I firmly shook his hand and looked him in his eyes as if to say, “I’ve already got you beat.” As our referee shouted “Wrestle!” I lowered my stance and acted like I was as experienced as he. He swiftly and decisively dropped his level away from my line of sight and took both of my legs from under me as I helplessly turned over in order to avoid getting pinned. He realized I would not turn over like his other opponents that day, so he applied pressure and returned to a stance. As I turned to face him, I repeated his action, only to be met with an arm of steel preventing me from completing my journey to a takedown.
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