Wrestling Wrecked My Body

Russ HartleyContributor IAugust 27, 2009

BEIJING - AUGUST 21:  Davyd Bichinashvili (L) of Germany competes against Harutyun Yenokyan of Armenia in the Men's Freestyle 84 kg Repechage Round held at the China Agricultural University Gymnasium during Day 13 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 21, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

I woke up, lying in the middle of my school, with pain in my head and nothing in my stomach. I didn't wake up from a nap; I'd passed out in the pool room. I rolled over, staring at the ceiling, and at that moment I realized that this was the worst moment of my life.

I had just finished my daily weight cutting for my wrestling team. That day I cut eight-and-a-half pounds—the most I have ever lost in a day.

I came into my freshman year at 5' 6'' and 120 pounds with nine percent body fat. At six percent body fat a person must go directly to the emergency room.

At the first practice I found out I would make varsity, and I was very excited, to say the least. I was coming off a 14-4 record at my middle school, so I knew wrestling was one of my top sports.

You see, in middle school a wrestler weighs in about three times a year, while in high school it's about three times a week. I soon found out that our team was missing a 112-pounder, and I soon found out that that 112-pounder would be me. 

Soon came the first meet and I thought I was ready. Fast forward to 20 minutes later when my coach was screaming at me for weighing in at 113.5 pounds. I had no idea weighing in was that big of a deal, and from that day on my depression and exhaustion began.

The next meet I made weight and had to lose about three pounds that day, which was a huge change for someone who has no fat to lose. The next month I experienced food depression and felt physically tired every waking moment. My coach pushed me every day to make weight, and I also had to do it on my own.

Let me give you an idea of how a regular weigh-in day was for a wrestler to make weight. 

I would wake up, ready to go to school, and would have to skip breakfast because that would add on weight. Then I would go through my first half of classes tired, with no energy.

Then lunch would come, except that wasn't the case for me. I would only have a quarter of a sandwich to get my metabolism going. Then I would finish my day at school, and then the depression came. I would load up with around five layers of clothes, tape my wrists, and put on three hats.

Then I would head for the hottest place in the building, the pool room. Our pool room had stairs on the top that wrestlers could run on for cutting weight. That's where I spent the majority of my time.

I would continuously run from 2:30 to 6 o'clock. That was torture, I had no energy in me and had to condition vigorously. Then I would head for the bus to our wrestling meet. Then I got to rest. I had no choice, my body went into sleep mode and there was nothing I could do about it.

We would arrive at the school, and my teammate would have to wake me up. I would walk in and weigh in. I made weight, a feeling of accomplishment and shame at the same time. Then I would go to the wrestling mat and warm up. A warm-up isn't a warm-up when you have no food in you.

Then, when I could eat, I gorged myself on anything I could find in the 10 minutes I had.

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Now it was time to wrestle. I went on the mat already exhausted. You see, the energy from food takes hours to reach your body and I only had 10 minutes so nothing clicked.

I would go onto the mat and lose, not because I was a bad wrestler, not because the opponent was better, but because I had absolutely no energy.

I would walk off the mat and head directly to the bathroom. I just ate five pounds in food and did the most strenuous activity there is. What would you expect to happen? I threw it all up in the bathroom stall of the high school. 

That was a daily occurrence for me. Try going through that not once, not twice, but for four months. This was by far the worst experience of my life. My goal that season was to get big in the weight room.

Well, that wasn't possible when cutting weight. When the fat is gone, cutting weight will take away muscle and body fluids. That is where this can become dangerous. This is the point at which wrestling wrecked my body.

I even had to miss days of school because I was so tired. My parents noticed and emailed my coached, but of course that didn't stop him from getting me down to weight.

I made it, somehow, through the season to the last weigh-in. It was the last day I had to cut weight. I was recovering from the flu and I was eight-and-a-half pounds over. This would be my largest amount of weight cut yet. I woke up on a Saturday at 10:00 am and headed for the pool room.

When I got there, I started crying, the first time since my grandmother died a year ago. I had to go through this for my team, for my coach, and I knew it had to be done. I will never ever let down my team, even if that means I have to jeopardize my health. I went up to the stairs with only one object on my mind: food.

Food has been the only thing on my mind for the last 120 days. I started running, trying to get distracted from the thought. Three hours passed, and I was still running. I headed out the door to go check my weight.

And that's when I hit the floor. No one was around and I went blank. No dreams, no thoughts, no nothing; I felt dead.

Fifteen minutes later, I woke up. I had passed out, my heart beating rapidly and constantly falling over from the dizziness. I managed to make it to the weigh-in room to check my weight; I had dropped five pounds. I then went back up to the pool room and ran.

I could explain the next four hours, but I think you get the idea. 

The official weigh-in came. This was the first day of my life that I ate absolutely nothing.

I made weight for the final time of the season. I felt it was over. I ran, not in the pool room, but to food—something I haven't done since middle school. I first saw a bagel,ma regular-sized, plain, bagel. I ate it, and guess what, I was full.

From one old bagel, my stomach had shrunk. I could no longer eat as much as I used to. Still to this day, I can't finish a meal. The year was over, and the weight cutting was over.

I went directly to the trainer because I knew something was wrong with my body. Here were the results: I had a shrunken stomach, weak bones, was injury-prone, had stunted my growth, and had increased my chance of becoming dehydrated by 200 percent.

The weight cutting had taken a toll on my body. The next year I tore my hamstring and was out for the season. 

You don't have a choice when it comes to cutting weight. Your team depends on you and your coach will stop at nothing to get you down to weight. If you have fat to lose, then don't get me wrong, wrestling and cutting weight the healthy way is a good decision.

For those who have under 10 percent body fat, you need to stand up for yourself—and trust me, you don't want the experience I went through. 

I am happy now. I quit wrestling and made the best decision of my life. I still have to live with some of the effects that happened from cutting weight. My skin turns red and gives me a warning sign of dehydration. I am now up to an average of five waters a day, two Gatorades, a vitamin water, and a green tea. Not because I want to, but because I have to.

I still have a waiting MRI on my spine, which weakened from muscle damage, and kidney checkup from the permanent body fluid I lost.

But like I said, I am happy now. I can relax. And best of all, I can eat.

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