By: Richard Partheymuller II
After I finished my last year as a wrestler at Rowan University last February, I was caught off guard, honestly. My team went to Philly for a tournament, but I didn’t quite realize until a few hours in, that it would be the last wrestling match I would ever be at for Rowan. It would also mark the end of my career wrestling (I’ll explain what kind of “career” I mean eventually) and it left me wondering what to think. After two years on the team, one year on the E-board, and all of the crazy, inspirational, and strangely-heartwarming events in-between, I felt like I owed something a little bigger than a Facebook post.
A close friend of mine, Dougie, had his own road with the sport, and it was full of highs and lows. Right after a few seasons with The College of New Jersey and earning All-American status one year, Dougie wrote a little post on Facebook that caught my attention. He wrote a “Dear Wrestling” piece that inevitably inspired me to do it myself. His idea was one also used by Olympic Gold Medalist Jordan Burroughs, who posted his letter onto his personal blog. So, I decided to give justice to my time wrestling, as well as the relationship I developed with the sport before I even put on a pair of wrestling shoes.
Who would’ve expected that this would be happening right now? I think if I told myself five years ago about everything that went on between you and I, my 18-year-old self would probably cringe with fear. Who knows, maybe he would look past the painful struggle and be excited because he knew it was what he really wanted. You were the kind of thing in my life that I wanted, but was too afraid to pursue. I was a wimp, that’s all I can say. I was a fearful teenager who didn’t want to get hurt. It didn’t matter how much I really wanted to do it, you were something for somebody else. What did I have that I could possibly use for you? What athletic ability did I have? The same athletic ability that couldn’t stand lacrosse practice sometimes. You weren’t made for me, and my mind wasn’t suited for you.
It wasn’t like my name carried any weight if I tried to anyways. I wasn’t a Hamann, or a Royle, or a Young, or a Winston, and I certainly wasn’t someone that people associated with athleticism in the first place. I felt like I didn’t have the clout or ability, so I passive-aggressively ignored my desire to wrestle. When I watched my best friends, Randy, Dylan, and a Dougie wrestle, I was their biggest fan. I made it to just about every match and made the effort to get to know the team. I guess this was a good substitute for me in place of actually trying out. Like I said, I was pretty wimpy at the time. Watching Dougie and all of them become so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted helped me develop more respect for you and those who were brave enough to take you on. My friendships with these guys grew because of my time hovering around the team. Even after all this time, they are still some of my best friends. Watching them like that made me want to get off my butt and be in the action instead of just watching.
I actually did step out onto a wrestling mat at Open Mats the year before though. I remember being a little nervous and skeptical about it when Dylan asked me if I wanted to come along that night. I went though, and it was such an experience for me. It was weird, because I had finally gotten a real taste of something I really wanted to do. So, I tried it out like two or three times after that, because I felt myself really getting into the groove of going there every Monday and Wednesday after school or lacrosse practice. That wrestling room began to become a place where I was safe. I’ll never forget what I was told that one day when I was given ammo to pursue you someday.
I was just rolling around with a guy for practice, when one parent of a kid in the room decided to watch. He saw as I got my butt handed to me and didn’t hesitate to give me his two cents. He pointed at my sparring partner and said,
“You see, this is a wrestler and this is a spectator,”
Of course, the “spectator” he was talking about was me.
I was just a spectator. To him at least. To be honest, that was kind of how I felt too. I knew that I wanted to do more than just watch, but I was too scared and too fragile to take the leap. I thought that if I became a manager for the team, I would be close enough to the action to say that I was in it. I didn’t want to face the fact it wasn’t enough for me. Even Randy once told me “you can’t understand wrestling until you actually do it.” It wouldn’t be for another four years that I would actually grow the backbone to be who I wanted to be.
No more watching for me, that’s for certain. I refused to let myself believe that doing this was a matter of fate. No matter what I did in life, I always felt like I was only a supporting role for the things I did. I wasn’t an EMT, but I acted like knowing a paramedic was close enough. I cleaned a gym and helped behind a counter, thinking that was enough to call myself a front desk employee. There were so many situations in my life where I just wasn’t bold enough to be on the fighting side. To step into action and be brave. It felt like I was fated to be that way. Yet, I decided one spring while I was at community college that I would defy my “fate” and actually figure out some way to wrestle. I went out and bought my first pair of wrestling shoes, because I wanted to have them as a mark, saying that this decision was what I wanted. It wouldn’t be until six months later that I would finally get to look you in the eyes and make you my close, personal friend, once and for all!
When I came to Rowan, you were a possibility for me, not necessarily a certain truth. I wasn’t absolutely sure of what would happen to me when I told my roommate that I would be going to wrestling practice that night. I remember it being a Tuesday and I remember being quite green. I would never imagine though that my time spent with you there at Rowan’s Rec Center gymnasium would introduce me to some of the most important people in my life. Especially the guy who taught me how to walk like a duck.
His name is Oscar, and because of you, I grew a brother-bond with him. Yet, in the beginning, we were still working out some things in our lives. We weren’t really thinking about the growth that would occur later on down the road. I can’t remember much of that first day anymore. My memory is not what it used to be, but I just remember the initial thoughts I had of everyone. I thought about how everyone seemed to be in such great shape and how I…was not. Even with that, I still thought I would have some sort of edge, beings that I spent so much time with the team at Jackson. I kind of used that to puff myself up a little bit.
Experience is the best teacher and Randy was absolutely right. The only way I would ever understand you was by actually getting myself into you and seeing what you’re made of. You certainly didn’t hold back with seeing what I was made of. You were the lightning I needed to strike me, for without it, I would not have been able to tell this story. It was easy sometimes, but for the most part, you really taught me how stand on my own feet and be tough. You’re kind of like life. A lot of the time, life doesn’t hold back, and we have to be able to fight back sometimes. When you wrestle, you learn that you can’t just go down easily if you wind up on bottom or if you get tossed. I learned through you that if there is at least a little bit of nerve in you to keep fighting you should use it. Even if somewhere inside of you knows you’re going to lose, you know better than to call it quits right then and there.
It wasn’t easy to get the hang of you. Even if I did seem to have grasped some stuff from Dougie and Randy, like the ankle pick and snaps I would use. Yet, beyond that I was humbled as I realized how much I needed to learn. That wasn’t terrible in the long-run, because you taught me how to learn patiently. Even if I couldn’t grasp a move or technique, I learned how to be more gracious with myself. You were something that took diligence, and lots of repetition. Lots and lots of repetition. I would get frustrated of course, but it was all a matter of time before I got the hang of it and was able to put up a much better fight.
I was confident too. You helped me to see a side of me that was capable of putting action to my own words. I would almost always lose, but I learned that the losing part isn’t quite as important as what happens in-between when you start and when you lose. I loved using my stamina to make whoever I was rolling around with work. Especially if they just wanted to take it easy after a long day of classes. If nothing else, I at least wanted to give them the practice they needed. Some of the team actually competed. So, they needed the training.
As time went on, I began liking the sound of calling myself “a wrestler” for once. It was something I treasured then and something I still treasure now. You made me proud because I was finally walking down a path I wanted to. I don’t think I could ever repay you for that. I never quite got to see myself in an actual match though. You see, I found it a pity at times that I called myself a wrestler, because I never seemed ready for a match with real competition instead of my teammates. You made me question myself a few times, because after I lost my wrestle-off, I guess that was it for me wrestling competitively at the time. I knew what a demand it would be to try and compete my first year wrestling. That didn’t stop me from throwing my hat in the ring. I lost of course, but looking back, I’m glad I had the guts to try.
Sure, I never competed that year, and even my last year when I decided to just practice; that didn’t stop me from considering myself a part of the team. To this day, I still call those guys my former teammates, because no matter what the labels, I felt like I belonged with them. Rolling around with them and getting stronger together was an experience I can only describe as teamwork. I still wanted to put my energy into the team and became risk manager for the team. I suddenly had responsibilities on the team and I loved it. I was in charge of making sure everybody was safe and I’m glad it wound up being me, because I really enjoyed spending time with them.
We went to Philly a few times, Maryland a couple times, and one stint in Delaware. When I was playing lacrosse and all, my favorite part was always the traveling. Just getting to enjoy a car or bus ride with good people and watching the scenery. Wrestling was no different. For me, it didn’t matter if I was on the mat or not, because I knew my job was different at that point. Being there for them when they wrestled was something bigger. I just knew that the best thing I could do was support my team. It didn’t matter what people thought or what the semantics were. I was a wrestler now and I didn’t need to prove myself to anybody.
Even if it was only with my teammates, I knew that I wasn’t the same person who would run from the demands of the trial. No, when I watched my teammates wrestle, I canned the thought that I was right back where I started. The irony is that I actually began filming their matches. Part of me was iffy about that, but at the same time….I knew what I had to do. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and stop feeling ashamed of the things I couldn’t do. You taught me how to have pride when my mind wants to focus on everything I should feel ashamed of. No matter what lies were in my head, I was part of a team that saw me for what I really was, and that was their teammate! That meant a lot to me.
You taught me how to carry myself humbly. You taught me what it meant to be tough. You taught me how to forgive myself and you taught me what comradery feels like on a whole new level. The interesting thing about you is that you require 100 percent concentration. It didn’t matter if my leg was hurting or if I had a headache, you forced me to keep my mind on my opponent and my own movements. Although there isn’t much talking, picking up on your opponent’s emotions can become relatively easy. I especially felt this with Oscar among other teammates. When I wrestled them, I could almost tell what was going on in their heads by the way they wrestled. It’s crazy, how a sport like you can allow us to speak without saying a single word. All credit given, you are probably the closest thing a person can get to telepathy.
There are certainly some psychic aspects to you.
It’s weird to think of it now, but when you’re body feels almost completely worn out, but you seem to just be moving by just your mind, it’s kind of like telekinesis. Although I had the feeling of quitting and stopping right when things were getting too difficult, my nerve wanted to stay. I loved the bruises on my arms, I loved the aching in my thighs and the incredible tiredness I would feel afterward. I always wanted to come back. It didn’t matter if I had a concussion, a cold, a pair of dry, cracking, hands, or if I was just in a depressed mood…I always wanted to come back to you. I was darn stubborn in that way.
While there is that aspect to you, what you neglected to provide for me was an extrasensory ability to predict the future. There was no way I would imagine beforehand, that so much would come about because you were in my life. Not even just the friendships I forged with my teammates, but the friendships I forged because of the people I met through those teammates. I met some of my closest friends because of the guys I met on the team. Looking back, I can’t imagine the past two years without them. They are some of the truest friends I’ve ever had.
Not only that, because I met Oscar, I wound up being introduced to a group that eventually helped me find my place with God. Honestly, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met Oscar. If I never met Oscar, I wouldn’t have joined Chi Alpha when I did. If I didn’t join Chi Alpha when I did, I wouldn’t have had made friends with so many amazing people, eventually become a staff member and ultimately develop an awesome relationship with Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that God knew that all along. From the beginning when I felt the call to find you, He was there, preparing me. He knew that one day, all that obsession over something I felt I couldn’t do, became my driving force to get involved and eventually, find that path that lead to Him. It was Him who designed it and it was Him who was pushing me.
I have graduated and so, now, I kind of have to leave you. It kind of hurt my heart when it all sank in at that Philly match. It’s bittersweet because I know what a huge part you played in my life. Yet, I know that I’ve gotten everything I needed out of you. Every lesson and every signpost I was given have helped me grow into what I am now. My chapter is closing now, but I hope you don’t forget me…
Also, I just hope that you open up for somebody else now.
Thank you, for everything.
Richard Robert Partheymuller II