All season long, he's been learning new moves, but had only had one win (meaning he scored more points than his opponent and didn't get pinned before the time ran out). But on Saturday, Eli's extra practices over the holiday break proved to be that extra push he needed. His first match was a bye, so it was mid-morning before he finally got on the mat. The opponent was a good wrestler, and held his points higher than Eli throughout, but Eli stayed mentally in the game and didn't get pinned until the final 10 seconds. (There are three rounds, totaling four minutes: 2 min, 1 min, 1 min. It is exhausting.)
This is when I knew something was different. Those rounds were tough; Eli was in a choke hold a lot and he had his shoulder in a less-than-great position a lot. A LOT. (Immediately afterward he told me he seriously worried it was out of socket.) This scenario is one that typically results in Eli anger (out of frustration and pain, no doubt) and some playing the victim. Eli didn't do that. During the match he visibly listened to his coaches instructions. Afterward, he pulled himself together pretty quickly and immediately went to cheer on his teammates. That's another thing that was new. Eli is definitely one to clap for or feel happy for his friends, but he was actively seeking their matches out and loudly cheering them individually in a way I've not seen him do before. Already, my day was made.
Then Eli had a match to determine if he would advance to the top four. My phone was dead, so I have NO video to show, but Eli pinned his man. He PINNED him! He was so excited. I was so excited....it was amazing! From there, he wrestled for 3rd place and won....it was a long match that went down to points (so the full four minutes), but Eli had the points, so he won! Here's where it got even more interesting - since he'd not yet wrestled the guy who was in 2nd place, Eli could challenge him to take his position. This was a kid Eli had wrestled once or twice through the season already, and the two of them chatted it up off the mat, so I already had the warm and fuzzies. (Eli is a little too adversarial for my taste sometimes.) They had a great match, and Eli came out on top, having pinned him. And when I asked him to offer the kid an additional handshake and word of encouragement after all was said and done, he didn't fight me at all.
Seriously. The humility. The joy of competing. The team-player attitude. The determination. There was such a shift in him, in such a positive way, yesterday, and it was so awesome to see. I can't even complain about being at the gym for twelve hours (630-630) because it gave me the best front-row seat ever. And for him to be rewarded with the wins and the pins...icing on the cake. Eli and another team mate both ended up with some hardware for finishing 2nd in their weight classes, and the team had a tremendous showing, especially for this being the school's first full season of wrestling.