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Chapter 16: Dinner with Dad

My Dad came down from Rhode Island and we stayed together in a hotel in town the night before our flight to Iowa. I weighed a manageable 129 lbs. I had completed my last five-mile run on Wednesday and felt amazingly strong, energetic and healthy.

Knowing that I would make 127 without having to rely on extreme measures, I was giddy to invite my dad to join me for the weekend. He ate with the family - although I had 4 ounces of pasta and nothing more - and we had a delightful evening shooting the breeze and connecting. My kids shared their stories about school and sports. My wife brightened our dining room with her charm and I just sat back enjoying the relaxed evening – a sort of calm before the storm.

In fact, weather reports of a storm started popping up a few days earlier with predictions of 8-10 inches of snow and I worried that my flight would be cancelled, and I’d miss the tournament altogether. But fortunately, the storm stayed far north of us and we only received a healthy dose of rain.

I awoke on Saturday morning, April 1st. I slept like a baby in the hotel. I had weighed out at 127.2, a half-pound under the weight class of 127.75 on the bathroom scale the previous night. So, I knew I had little concerns about making weight. But on principle, I decided that I would neither eat nor drink a morsel of food the entire day until we arrived in Iowa and I officially completed my weigh-in procedure.

My dad suggested I take a drink of water or a bite of an apple. But I refused. I didn’t know how accurately my bathroom scale might match the official scale at the tournament and I didn’t want to create any margin for error.

We arrived at the airport. Our flight listed on the board as “On Time”, leaving at 11:40am and arriving in Iowa at 1:30pm, giving us three hours to make the one-hour drive to the 4:30pm registration. And then the delay notice appeared. A one-and-a-half-hour delay. Butterflies floated across my stomach at that point. I had worked so hard to avoid any stress associated with the logistics of getting to the weigh-in without issue. And now, I had to wonder if I’d be speeding across the Iowa highways just to make it in time.

Fortunately, we landed with two-and-a-half hours’ leeway and we made it with 45 minutes to spare.

I stood waiting for them to open the weigh-in room. I gazed out across the University of Northern Iowa athletic dome, which stretched across the entire length of an indoor football stadium. Lined up one abutted against the other, were 22 separate wrestling mats. The glare from the overhead spotlights glinted off the shiny flat surfaces and made me squint.

My stomach tightened from my fast and I could feel little pills of skin curl and separate from my dried-out lips. I watched the clock, literally staring at it turn from 4:15 to 4:16, to 4:17 and on. Finally, at 4:20, they let me down into the room. I registered, stepped on the scale and took a deep breath as the official called out my weight to the tournament director.

“McLaughlin – 125.4” he said as he wrote my number on my shoulder with a permanent marker.

It’s funny how miserable you can feel until you receive an emotional boost and then, without any change in your physical condition, experience a surge of energy. I packed my bag and sprinted up the staircase looking for the water fountain.

The culmination of 16 months spent so focused on my objective to compete in the nationals had finally come to fruition. I had embarked on a life-changing journey to employ a “Big Vision, a Bold Strategy and a Brave Approach”. I had implemented six distinct plans including “01: The Food Plan”, “02: The Exercise Plan”, “03: The Strength Plan”, “04: The Measurement Plan”, “05: The Disclosure Plan” and “06: The Workout Plan”. Resulting from these game-changing plans, I had run 650 miles, I trained myself to endure a half marathon, I conducted 10,000 push-ups and sit-ups and I had lost a grand total of 76 pounds from 201 to less than 126, my college weight class from 1991.

The thought even occurred to me that at 125.4, I was only 7 pounds heavier than my wife.

I looked forward to dinner with my Dad that night. Traveling with him, spending one on one time together and discussing our family experiences, our family history, politics, religion, sports and even topics as mundane as the weather gave me great joy. Too often, when I see my Dad, it’s at a family function with dozens of other people. And even more often, the busy schedules and commitments I have with my own family make it difficult to set aside time to spend with him. He does a great job in understanding these constraints. But it still makes me sad that I don’t see him more often.

But the ability to focus exclusively on him in Iowa; listen to him, share stories of my job and my family experiences; win or lose, sharing this event with him turned out to be one of the most wonderful outcomes of the entire journey.

In terms of eating my dinner, I knew I had to exercise restraint. I had to eat slowly and choose foods that would provide energy, hydration, a little protein and nutrients. I started with granola, just to fill my stomach with enough sustenance to quell my hunger and still provide a little energy. In the past, I had made the mistake of drinking too much water on an entirely empty stomach and suffering the flood of water spewing out the back end with no solid food anywhere in the digestive system to slow its mad rush. The granola provided a filter-like base to retain the water and enable my body to absorb more of it.

My second move was to find a grocery store and buy grapes. The natural sugar and high volume of juice in each little round ball of goodness would give me even more energy and continue to help me rehydrate.

I thought through what I wanted to eat for my meal and decided meatloaf would be a good choice. The beef would be a good source of protein, but in hamburger form and mingled with bread and egg, it would be a little easier on my stomach. I couldn’t find a place that served meatloaf, so I had shepherd’s pie. The combination of mashed potatoes for some carbohydrates, meat and vegetables turned out to be a great choice.

However, I made a fatal flaw. I enjoyed the oversized plate of food so much that I didn’t stop when I should have. I ate about a third of the plate and told myself to put down the fork. But I didn’t listen. I ate another third and begged myself to stop. And I did; at first. Then I decided to pick some of the vegetables out of the gravy. And then they brought me my side of asparagus. And the asparagus had been sautéed in butter, salt and ginger. It tasted so good, so I ate most of that. And I continued to drink big ice-cold glasses of water.

When I stood up from the table, my stomach ached. I thought I would throw up. I couldn’t stand straight. Walking to the car hurt my stomach even more as my gait caused my insides to wobble back and forth.

When we arrived back at the hotel, I tried to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t. It felt like the food had congregated high at the top of my stomach and bunched up in a sort of traffic jam. I knew this phenomenon well. Because I had cut back on my food intake for so long, my stomach had shrunk. The muscles along the lining of my stomach had contracted and stiffened to address the reduced throughput.

Then, when I consumed an abnormally high volume of food, there was not enough room in my stomach to store it all while my digestive acids broke it down and sent it through my intestines. So, I could only process a small amount of the food I had eaten at a time while the excess sat at the very top of my stomach waiting to migrate downward into the digestive cycle. But in the meantime, I was doubled over in discomfort. And worse, I was at serious risk of vomiting. The problem with vomiting is that once it started, the chain reaction would not stop until my stomach completely purged itself. Then I would have to wait for the strain to subside and, with an empty stomach again, go back through my re-nourishing process all over again. I had been through this before and it could take up to 24 hours to feel right if the vomiting happened.

I berated myself for coming so far just to ruin all my progress over a single plate of Shepherd’s pie. I had 14 hours before the wrestling would start.

So, I took a long walk. I didn’t want to run on the treadmill. But the walk accelerated my metabolism just enough for me to go to the bathroom. This cleared the jam and enabled more of the food from the top of my stomach to descend into the pit of my stomach and the discomfort started to wane.

By the time I shut off the light and hit the pillow, I felt halfway recovered from my fatal mistake. It still hurt to lay on my stomach in a certain position. But I could feel the digestion kick in and by the morning, I felt much better.

My stomach righted itself. My muscles had absorbed a good amount of the water I drank. My face filled out. And best of all, I was hungry for breakfast. I took a much more restrained approach to eating breakfast and made my way to the arena feeling more well-fed, better nourished, super hydrated and energetic than I had in several months.

I had dotted the “i” and crossed the “t” of my Headlock journey and had no other objective left than to go out to the mat and compete to the best of my ability.

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