Tough, smart, and scrappy. If you asked me to describe myself in three words, those are the words I’m picking. As for how I got this way, wrestling made me tough, and Stanford made me smart, but Stanford Wrestling made me Scrappy. The capitalization is intentional. It’s a proper noun.
It happened one afternoon my freshman year, in the locker room before practice. Geoff Baum, a junior who had taken me under his wing, noticed my ruffled hair, caused by my waking up from a nap just minutes prior and hopping on my bike for the mostly downhill ride from Florence Moore Hall to Encina Gym. Rubbing my head, he joked, “Scrappy-Doo.” Josh Lisle, a senior and the starter at my weight class, overheard this and laughed. “Scrappy-Doo!” he repeated. “That’s perfect.”
And it was. It fit both my personality and my wrestling style: not the quickest or most technical (though I was working on it), but definitely gutsy. So everyone called me Scrappy-Doo, or just Scrappy, for the rest of that day, and every day afterwards. Even now, some 32 years later, some of my friends don’t know my real name.
I had some toughness before wrestling, I suppose. I persisted a bit when something was hard. But it wasn’t a defining quality until I discovered the sport in 9th grade. Wrestling demands toughness. You either get tough or you quit. I chose to get tough.
You could say I was smart before Stanford as well, but it was local-level intelligence. I had the highest grades in my high school, and my ideas often went uncontested. At Stanford there were intelligent and critical thinkers everywhere, and iron sharpens iron. I got smarter because I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room.
That included the wrestling room. One day that first year, the captains did an informal survey during warmups. Fully two-thirds of the team had spoken at their high-school graduation. I had joined a select group of tough people who were also valedictorians and class presidents. “There’s nowhere else like this,” I thought.
After I’d been Scrappy for a year, another memorable event happened in that old wrestling room. On October 17, 1989, at 5:04PM, the mats started rumbling. It wasn’t from the upperweights drilling nearby, as I first thought, but the initial waves of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The native Californians were the first to the doorframe. Then the rest of us, 118 pounders to heavyweights (plus the coaches), all squeezed together as the barn-like room swayed. “If I’m gonna get crushed to death,” I thought, “There’s no better group to go out with.”
But we all survived, and I kept getting tougher, smarter, and scrappier in that room. This included Horpelism days, when Coach Chris Horpel (pronounced Hor-PELL) would share his philosophies and lessons-learned with the team. We heard about investment points, deprivation breeding appreciation, and levels of quitting. (And the Jeff Callard story, of course.) But the most impactful Horpelism of all was on being tough-smart. Chris explained that some people, especially wrestlers, get so committed to being tough that they often do stupid things, like going tandem on an ice slide at a fraternity party and busting open your chin, or eating a whole pizza then running six miles on a dare, or refusing to ask for help when there’s someone eager to lend you a hand. That’s being tough-stupid, and the goal is to be tough-smart, which is different than being tough and smart separately.
Being tough-smart means making a wise choice and working your butt off, intelligently, to see it to fruition. It’s using your brain and your brawn. To this day, the tough-smart mantra is one of my guiding principles. Horps, if you’re reading this, it’s true, and I know I’m not the only one. I now work as a performance-oriented psychologist, and rarely does a week go by when I don’t tell a client about the tough-smart approach and diagram it out for them, just as you did on the chalkboard in that hallowed room for so many years.
Stanford Wrestling produces people who are tough-smart – and scrappy, too. It’s been grinding us out since 1916, and we’ve been spreading that mentality around the world. Let’s keep the tough-smart train rolling. Let’s keep Stanford Wrestling.
- David Sacks