Stanford Wrestling made me who I am today. Wrestling saved my family, and Stanford Wrestling gave me a second one. Stanford Wrestling gave me the chance to pursue the best education in the world and the chance to continue wrestling at the highest collegiate level. It was a dream come true.
Before Stanford Wrestling, I grew up on the poor side of town. Now, this is not unlike the majority of wrestlers I know -- I am neither unique, nor special in that regard. I put my pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. But I was different. I grew up with zero interest in sports (and wrestling was not prevalent in Texas, my home state) -- I was only interested in school, playing my violin, and above all else, getting to a better life. But one Summer day when I was twelve-years-old, I found wrestling. And I found it just in time.
My family started out with six, and after my father died when I was ten, there were five. We didn’t have much before -- we had a lot of air sandwiches for Summer lunches and not many food stamps to supplement them -- but after my father’s death, we had much less, including very little happiness. My brothers and I fought each other mercilessly. And then one day I discovered the magic of wrestling. I happened across a magazine that featured three smiling brothers, wearing wrestling singlets, and an article that did not betray the cover. I decided that if wrestling could make them happy, it could do the same for my family. Once I found the local rec team and convinced my two brothers to join it with me, the magic of wrestling revealed itself. We never fought like that again; and I found my happiness.
Stanford Wrestling gave me a second family. Class was tough, so was practice -- and that was no surprise. But, when I didn’t perform as well as I hoped I would in the first quarter, Hatta lent me his signed copy of The Edge, showed me how well I did in comparison to other freshmen, and showed me where to go on campus to get extra help if I wanted it.
At a tournament freshman year, I somehow found a way to beat an older kid from Clackamas, when WAM ran up afterwards grasping me ferociously and excitedly telling me how that kid was his nemesis in high school. Then there was the time later that tournament when I was scoring well on top, and I looked over at Horpel in the third period, and he just said, “pin him.” That was the kind of confidence-building and welcoming to the team that I’ll never forget. I knew that my teammates and my coaches “had my back.”
I was also shy and awkward, but Vaniman, Hatta, Zimmerer, Beau, and the other upperclassmen would call me up and invite me to play cards and hang out with the rest of the team. I did weekend runs with Levi, picked Rudy’s and Jason’s brain after practice, and Beau was always good for extra work after practice. And that was my family.
I had my disappointments -- I just knew that I was going to achieve more than I did. But I found my second family through getting cranked by a Zimmerer or Frank power half and then getting helped up afterward; the sheer overwhelming strength of Isaiah and Hackerman the year I decided to try being a 149-pounder, and the knowing smiles that perhaps I was a bit small for the big guys; or, going to Saturday football games with the team after Saturday morning practice.
But there are two memories that epitomize the kind of family I had found. The first one happened my redshirt sophomore season at a tournament, after I had just lost my second match when I thought I shouldn’t have. I flipped. Cross will tell the story better than me, but suffice to say there was a locker that also got the best of me that day. But just like family, in the middle of it all, Cross came in the locker room, pulled me away from the fracas, put his arm around me, and reminded me that losing matches is inevitable, but -- and here’s the cliché, it’s how you get back up that counts. (I think there may also have been some exhortations about toughening up.) Second, fifteen years later I went to my first NCAA tournament team social when they came to New York. I had a blast with my teammates, including those teammates who came before and after me. My second family had grown quite a bit, but it was just as awesome as it was when I was on the mats in Arrillaga.
One other thing Stanford Wrestling gave me is a roadmap for how to approach obstacles. I was a backup at Stanford when I thought I’d never be one. So I went into each practice with the goals of first, winning a starting spot, and second, pushing the starters harder than I had the day before. I generally achieved the latter, but never the former. But remember, wrestling gave me everything I had asked for -- it saved my family, and Stanford Wrestling gave me a second one. So I won.
Today I work as a public defender, and the odds of my clients achieving the results they want, are slim. To use a wrestling analogy, they are the unattached, unseeded, in the toughest tournaments, matched up against the number one seed. Everyday. Every match. But finding that extra gear is easy because Stanford Wrestling taught me that even if you are fighting off your back more than you are turning someone to their back, it is the fight, the effort, the hours of preparation, that position you to make small gains on the way to big wins. I am entrusted with others’ liberty interests, and trusted to defend those liberty interests vigorously, no matter how impossible that defense appears to be. Winning more often as a Stanford Wrestler would have been great, but I don’t know if I’d know how to keep at it, how to push when others would not, if I had had it easier. I am a better lawyer because I am a Stanford Wrestler. And my clients reap the benefit of me having had to fight off my back 20 years ago - and the occasional wins I earned only after I had had those fights.
Wrestling saved my family, and Stanford Wrestling gave me my second one.
That’s my Stanford Wrestling story. There are other 12-year-olds who need to find the magic of wrestling, and high schoolers who need the uniqueness of Stanford Wrestling. It is my hope that they, and others, have the opportunity to do both.
- Stu White