Jimmy Angana – the #1 freestyle wrestler in the Philippines today – was laughing at me, pulling me up, and cajoling me to stand up and fight.
Albert Balde – then-president of the Wrestling Association of the Philippines – was at the edges of the mat, looking at his stopwatch, and telling me, “One minute, 30 seconds. We need to build your capacity. We have 21 days left.”
If you compete in anything at all, you can imagine this is a big fucking ideal. To be coached – not to mention by the best in your sport – is a tremendous privilege.
To be clear, I am a wrestling novice. I’ve only trained for eight sessions. And I gasp for air 30 seconds into a sparring session.
How did I get here? Well, one day I got it in my head that I wanted to join the Olympics. It’s not a lifelong dream or anything. I just thought maybe competing in the Olympics would be a cool thing to do. No biggie.
So I went to a wrestling gym and said hey, I want to train and I plan to compete. And here I am. 25 years old, started training less than a month ago, and about to compete in my first Takedown Challenge 2 weeks from now.
None of this is normal. Most competitive athletes start super young. In their teens? Younger? There are few women in wrestling. The minimum training time before Coach Albert lets an athlete compete is three months.
And I got here – where here is training with two of the most prominent wrestling figures in the Philippines today – by making a choice to be different.
When looking for something worth doing, most people look at what’s popular – today, it’s marathons, Crossfit, boxing – and work super hard to be the best at it. Statistically, they will fail.
Due to the sheer number of the competition, they are setting themselves up for failure.
If I can’t be the youngest, fastest, or most conditioned, then what can I be? Well, I can be the person who chose to do something different and was willing to do things most people like me are not.
Like compete in a little-known (outside of its niche) sport. Or roll around in a mat with sweaty men 1.5x my weight.
Will I get to the 2020 Olympics? I don’t know. It’s probably a long shot and very naive of me to even consider a possibility.
All I know is… Just by choosing to be different, just by being willing to do unconventional things and forego what’s fashionable, I have a chance. I’m on my way. And I think that’s pretty cool.
Working to be the best at the most fashionable thing is a bad life strategy. There’s more to winning at life than paying your dues at what popular culture tells you is worth pursuing.
The more I seek unique experiences and choose to do things most people are not willing to do, the better my life gets.