Description of competition day
Did I wish Debbie a belated happy birthday? If not, happy belated birthday, Debbie! And happy birthday to Leigh today!
Still easing back into reality. I trained for a bit yesterday, maybe 20 minutes, in the gi, at the open mat. Took a couple walks too, to stretch my legs. I know I just had kind of an intense experience, both the competition and the entire trip (not to mention the 30 hours of actual travel time on either end), but I keep feeling like a wuss for not wanting to train more. Though I guess it’s telling that even Sean said I should take it easy. Sean’s usually the one telling me I’m a wuss for not wanting to train. When I called him on that and said, “Who are you and what have you done with the Sean who usually gives me crap?” he said, “He’ll be back on Monday.” So I guess I have until Monday to enjoy a little idleness.
Okay, I’ll try to describe the day of the competition, which is now a week ago today.
I didn’t sleep much at all the night before, so I was almost relieved to get up around 6. They opened the buffet early for us and then we piled into the bus as usual. I spent most of the time with my eyes closed trying to stay relaxed. We started to get an eyeful of the competition, in their matching uniforms, once we arrived. It took me a while to get changed into my USA rash guard and board shorts because every time I made a move toward the bathroom, our coaches and the USAW officials called for another picture. But eventually I was able to get changed. We have red and navy shorts, rash guards, and compression shorts and were told we could wear any combination thereof. I had opted for all navy (slimming), until I put on the board shorts, which were a size 38 (as in 38 waist). I wear a 30. So it was red for me. Oh, and did I mention that I had to go to the bathroom about every 5 minutes? That’s par for the course when I compete.
You’d think after all this time I’d have a warmup routine that works for me. Well, I still don’t. What I’ve noticed is that what’s most important for me is to be warm. Not necessarily to have moved around or anything, but just to feel warm. So since there was no air conditioning in the venue, I put my jacket on and walked around a little bit. So far, so good. Then I started to sweat. Fabulous. So I just stayed covered up, put up the hood on the jacket, and stretched. Felicia wanted to rep a little technique, so we rolled some in the warm-up room, the floor of which was basically carpet on concrete. So, no throws.
The thing about any competition, especially one where you’re competing AND trying to cheer others on, is that it starts out under control but eventually becomes mild chaos. What I mean is, you’re trying to stay focused on preparing for your own matches while also watching for when your friends compete so you can get matside in time to support them. And sometimes two friends are competing at once, or one friend needs you to help them stretch while another one is on deck. So you quickly realize you need to focus your attention in about 5 different places at once. And you begin to miss things, hearing immediately after the fact and later about the match you missed or that someone was looking for you or that your match is happening NOW, Val! On mat 2! They’ve called your name twice already!!
This competition was no different. Lisa and Darren competed early on, and I was able to see both their first round matches. As it happens, my voice carries a LOT, so I hollered out for people when they or their opponents scored points, and kept track of how much time was left. Knowing those things is important for strategizing; if you’re down on points and there’s a minute left, you’re going to pick up the pace to find the submission or get some points. And if you’re up on points and there’s a minute left, you might take your time and be slow and methodical, working to improve your position but not giving an inch. Darren twistered his opponent at the suggestion of one of us—can’t remember who. Lisa won on points, I think. So things started out “organized.”
But then I began to lose track of everyone. I had to start getting ready for my first match, which was a couple after Matt Horwich and Ryan’s first (not against each other), against a Russian woman named Natalya. I got the usual jitters ahead of time, and then when we squared off, I immediately forgot everything I had ever learned about takedowns. Remind me to drill them live. Before I stepped on the mat, Juliano said, “You know how to fight a wrestler, right?” I said, “I think so.” He said, “Okay, then.” And then it was time.
My opponent was obviously well versed in wrestling, which is why Juliano was asking. Every time I reached out to engage, she grabbed my arm with both of hers and adeptly pulled me off balance. After that happened two or three times I remember thinking, “Oh, crap, enough of that!” I can’t remember exactly how we got to the ground, but I can assure you it had nothing to do with my expert takedowns. I ended up on bottom with her in my half guard—a position I know extremely well. I eventually escaped out the back door (I think) and took her back (I know). So she spent most of the time on her stomach with me on top of her with my hooks in trying to rear naked choke her. I eventually was able to, though my technique was atrocious. And she was tough. She did not want to give up the ghost. But she did, eventually.
Meantime, others (Malcolm, Ricky, Midget, Felicia, Bahar, etc) had their first matches too. After I was done with my first match, I continued to find my teammates and scream out minutes and points for them, amazing even myself with how loud I can be.
Notable matches: the one where Ricky had a triangle on his opponent and the opponent stood up, walked out of bounds (against the rules) and tried to slam him against the scoring table (DEFINITELY against the rules). So his opponent was disqualified. In his final, Ricky footlocked his opponent, and then we saw the poor guy later in the airport, with the foot bandaged. Guess he didn’t tap soon enough.
I mentioned that Darren twistered his first opponent. Jeff tapped his first opponent in about 30 seconds. Bill the Grill tapped all of his first three opponents before losing by a point to Don in the final. He was disappointed, but as I told him, sometimes guys like him have to lose; otherwise the mere mortals among us who will never be as good as he is already would have to pity shoot ourselves.
So obviously, Don won his final. Tara won her final in sudden death overtime with a takedown. She’s so funny when she competes; she gets bemused expressions on her face and shrugs confusedly and acts like she doesn’t have her head in the game. But she does what she needs to to win. I remember yelling at her when she and her opponent squared off for overtime; I yelled something like, “It’s yours, Tara! Just take it!” And she did.
Lisa kimuraed her finals opponent and then apologized afterward, which was hilarious. She said she apologized because she had to hold the submission until the ref saw, so she might have cranked it a little more than would normally be necessary. But I think I’ve mentioned before how people will sometimes tap and then lie about it, and we had discussed that as a team before we got to Turkey, that we had to make sure the ref saw and stopped the fight. Felicia beat Bahar in their final, with the same head and arm choke she used to beat Bahar with in the team trial in Vegas. Darren and Sanchez had to fight each other in their final, and Darren won on points. Malcolm beat Horwich on points. Jeff beat Ramon; not sure how. I rear naked choked Bethany, who is a US sombo player who joined the grappling competition, along with other sombo players and beach wrestlers from the US team.
So, holy crap! Out of nine weight division, my teammates and I won nine of them! There was also more than one division that had multiple US medalists: Felicia, Bahar, and Midget; Malcolm, Horwich, and Ryan; Darren and Sanchez; me and Bethany; Jeff and Ramon. It was completely crazy, especially when they herded us all together for pictures of the first place finishers, all the medalists, and then had individual medal ceremonies for each of the weight classes. For those, they had the first, second, and third place finishers stand on a podium, with the first place finisher on the tallest podium, etc. Then they put the medals around our necks and played the national anthem of the winner while the three competitors’ national flags were flown.
They played the US national anthem nine times and hoisted our flag highest nine times. Whoa. It was pretty crazy, and it moved a few people to tears. One person exclaimed, “What a f*cking year it’s been!” People hugged each other and smiled, even while they were crying. I tried desperately to take pictures. They didn’t all come out great, but I got some, and Midget got a crapload. It was all very Olympic, which for me was surreal, because, in case you didn’t notice, I’m a 37-year-old former educational administrator with more than a few gray hairs and about 13 cats, not an Olympic-caliber athlete. Okay, I don’t have any cats. But you know what I mean.
So it almost wasn’t a surprise when, about 30 seconds after the last awards ceremony, someone who vaguely registered in my brain as one of the USA Wrestling delegation started yelling, “The bus is leaving in 5 minutes!” We had just pretty much done as well as a team could possibly do (I think we took 21 of a possible 35 medals), but lest we get too big for our britches, we were immediately told to grab our TP and hightail it back to the bus. The guy was so insistent in his yelling that I finally yelled back, asking him to please give us a freaking break because we had to gather up our stuff and maybe bask in the moment for another minute, for Chrissake, and I highly doubted anyone would die if we didn’t leave within 5 minutes. (Yep, I was cranky about it.) He gave us 5 minutes more.
That whole situation reminded me of an iconic picture I’ve seen before, of a piece of graffiti on a wall that says “Clapton is God,” as in Eric Clapton, the guitar genius. In the lower right corner of the picture, there is a dog pissing on the graffiti. Clapton himself has commented on that picture, saying that it gives him a reality check about what it means to have some people feel such adulation for you.
I hope it goes without saying that I don’t equate my grappling with Clapton’s guitar playing. It was just hilarious how the two things—the awards ceremonies and the admonition that our bus was leaving and would leave without us if we didn’t get going—were juxtaposed. It must be like having to clear the plates at your own wedding. We got treated like royalty one second and then the next were rudely reminded of how life goes on and when all is said and done, one person’s crowning moment is another’s logistics challenge.
I don’t even remember the bus ride back. I don’t remember much about getting back to the hotel. I must have showered, and then I do remember that a bunch of us met up at dinner and walked around with Gamze as our tour guide. I’ll post pictures about that too, slowly but surely.
And then it was back onto the bus at 1am local time to get to the airport in time for our 24 hour trek back home.
Since then, I’ve gotten lots of love, which I greatly appreciate. My friends, my family, my parents’ friends have all been calling and sending me cards, presents, emails, etc, to congratulate me and wish me well and call me “world champ” and “gold medalist”. I would be feeling weird and uncomfortable about it (because I don’t for a second think I’m the best in the world at my weight class, which is what winning this competition implies) if Adamarie hadn’t summed it up nicely: On that day, in that venue, I was the best. No more, no less. I’m comfortable saying that.
Next installment: More pics and more about our night on the town with Gamze.