His real love though, is motocross. If you are not familiar with this sport, let me just say that I will get much deeper into the world of motocross in the future. For now, just know that it is at the core, hard riding on fast motorcycles on very challenging dirt tracks with turns bumps and jumps that seem impossible. Again, this was his idea, not ours. He came home one day asking to go to a race with a friend to “watch”. Watching motocross racing is the first step. The next step is to join in. He has been racing now since age eleven and loves it as much as one can love a sport. On my end, I have to say it is a wonderful group of sons and daughters with very fine parents. Yes I said sons and daughters. Smoke, oil, speed and horsepower are not only for the male of the species. We head to the track nearly every weekend from the first of April through mid October. This past weekend we were at a track in the middle of Missouri (about 500 miles from home) to watch my son compete in what is a qualifying round for a National Amateur Championship.
The riding has become his total passion, with the desire to pursue it on a professional level. You will never know what you can achieve if you don’t try. It is my job as Dad, to support my children in their efforts. The event was three days: Practice all day Friday and races on both Saturday and Sunday. The weather was great on Friday and Saturday. Sunday however was a different matter entirely. In a few words let’s just say, big ugly mud pit. After two days of glorious riding Sunday arrived. The rain had started in the evening after racing on Saturday and lasted for a good number of hours. The “dirt” at this particular track that Sunday morning was pretty much adobe. You know the stuff they used to build houses for the past few millennia. Clay and straw. Add water and you have what strongly resembles concrete. Get the picture? Ten minutes on the track followed by up to an hour of aggressive power washing. What fun! It was even worse than that with races so close we could barely remove enough mud to make the bike rideable.
Our whole family teamed together between races to get him ready for the next one, urging him on to tough it out. Mud is his sworn enemy, his nemesis, that which sucks all the fun out of racing. It is so, only if you let it be. Until Sunday this was the case. Then it happened. He came off of the track after the first race coated from head to toe. I was ready for the onslaught: “This sucks! What’s the point? You can’t ride in this!”etc., etc., etc. The usual litany we have experienced in all years past. This time was different, way different. He came off like a prize fighter after a beating of a round. Tired and worn, but head held high, ready to steel himself for the battle of the next round. We scrambled like a pit crew to get him and his bike ready. Clean goggles and shirt, as much mud as possible off of the bike and that most important thing the fighter gets in the corner between rounds, those words of encouragement and strategy; From me, from dad, there in his corner. You can’t plan those moments, they just happen. He needed to ride feet on the pegs, standing to better handle the corners. He already knew this as the fighter knows his long practiced technique. But when they stray, fighter and rider need those reminders. Off he went and around he came, standing in the turns, controlling the bike the way he never had on mud in the past. No longer the sworn enemy or nemesis, mud is now just another challenge to be beaten, beaten with calm and confidence. My son is becoming a man. If the room your are in seemed to go just a bit brighter, that is me, the proud Papa, beaming with pride. Not at what I have done, but for my son. That alone would be an excellent Dad day. But there was more to come.
Wrestler and Rider, two sports that work together like hand in glove. Both require courage, strength focus and discipline. Both are very, very hard work and they both make you stronger. Initially, my son pursued wrestling only as a way to stay in shape during the winter months to be stronger and better prepared for the coming season of motocross, but a funny thing happened along the way, he got hooked. He couldn’t go out on the mat and just go through the motions, not even in 7th grade. He was pretzled into positions that I expected would break bones, but he never quit, he always fought to the end. So it went again in 8th grade. The aggressive training and “live wrestling” was making him stronger and tougher. Along came freshman year. I wince at the mere thought, my youngest child in high school. The pangs of the soon to be empty nest are beginning to get to me already. He was excited about the new coaches, cousins who had been champions in both high school and college. The practice and training was grueling. He had a love hate relationship with the sport. The love came in not only when he won, but also when he had held his own against a tough opponent in a hard fought match. He lived for the challenge. Pre-season practice rolled into season and a spot was available for him on the Varsity roster. Freshman on Varsity. Humbling and a bit daunting to say the least. He fought hard every match and although wins were few and losses many, his coaches told he and I often that they appreciated that he wrestled with so much heart. So did I. I was in awe. Where did he get this? I have to be honest, not from me. He brought a strength and determination to the mat time after time that I could take no credit for. It was all him. Later in the season after a tough, tough schedule they moved him to JV to wrestle at the Conference Championship. At Varsity level they compete for conference, region, section and state. At the JV level, conference is far as you can go. He lost his first match and promptly told me in anger (at himself) that he should have won. Here was the fighter, between rounds. I was there in his corner and told him what he already knew: “focus! Go out there to win every match!” he did just that. He won the last four and took the title for his class.
Several hours into our 500 mile drive home, my son commented that he was missing the wrestling awards banquet. A few minutes later as he texted with his friends at the banquet he said “I got my letter”. “Varsity letter? I said. “Yes” was the answer. We knew it was coming, but to hear it, for it to be real, at that moment, well it was the perfect end to a perfect day for this Dad. The room goes brighter still. Mud and Letters. What could be better?