Headlock

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Chapter 9: Step 4: The Disclosure Plan

The downside of the Disclosure Plan is that you have to update everyone and answer all their innocent questions along the way.

“Hey, how did you do in your tournament,” asked everyone on my team at work.

“Well, I didn’t win,” I replied. “I didn’t wrestle in my age bracket, since they didn’t have the older age group at that tournament, so I wrestled in the Open division against 20 and 30-year-olds.”

That reply told the story succinctly and gave people a good picture of why, after all that effort, I had not seen more success. I positioned it as a part of the training process, like running with ankle weights so that once you remove the weights, you feel stronger and faster.

My kids immediately reinforced their earlier feedback that I needed to bulk up and increase my strength and my wife quite bluntly told me that I had gotten it out of my system and didn’t need to keep doing it. She suggested that I had experienced so much success with my running, that I should continue to elevate my health while focusing on road races and developing into the best, most successful runner that I could be.

Even my dad, who had always expressed pride in my effort, referred to my performance as “kind-of” wrestling. I knew I had to have looked my age. For my Dad, whose favorite adjective is “terrific”, to provide less than glowing feedback for the first time that I could remember, I must have looked old, slow, weak and bad.

When I asked him if I looked at all like the old Greg at any point, he replied, that I definitely looked like an old Greg.

In the days following the tournament, my weight spiked a few pounds to 158, but I was surprised not to have exceeded 160. I immediately went back to my Food Plan eating sparsely during the day, avoiding snacks and focusing on heathy choices. I also jumped right back into the Exercise Plan and completed my five-mile runs four nights per week. Within days, I stabilized my weight in the low 150s, floating back and forth between 155 and 153.

Prior to the tournament, I had attempted to build some upper body strength by doing push-ups after my runs. When I started, I could rip off ten push-ups without too much trouble, but felt the strain on my pectorals after 20. By my business trip in May, I had improved to 30 with the muscular stress kicking in at 40. Just after the tournament, I completed eight sets of ten without feeling any tightness or soreness. Soon after, I hit 100 and by the Fourth of July, elevated to 125 conducted in sets of 25.

In college, we used to do what we called the ladder. We would complete 10 jumping jacks, push-ups and sit-ups. Then we would do 20, then 30, 40 and 50. Once we reached 50, we would descend back down the ladder, finishing 40, 30 20 and finally 10. The total number of reps came to 250. I made this one of my new strength goals.

I belonged to a gym in town, but had worked out there only once with my son. In fact, I didn’t even work out. I just sat in the massage chair and supervised him. If I were going to gain strength, I would have to find a way to build another half hour into my schedule. And with the gym hours running 6am-8pm, I would have to make further changes to my daily routine. I would have to relegate the strength plan to the weekends, miss my kids’ weekday baseball games or find an alternative in the city near my office.

So, I had identified five steps in my journey. In addition to Step 1: The Food Plan, Step 2: The Measurement Plan, Step 3: The Exercise Plan, Step 4: The Disclosure Plan and to a limited degree, Step 5: The Strength Plan, I now needed to practice the sport of wrestling. As much as I could envision moves and counter moves in my head, I could not pretend to have all that muscle memory readily available at such short notice and at the hair trigger required to make them all work in the live environment. And any modicum of success in men’s hockey or coed volleyball did not adequately translate to quickness on the mat against the younger opponents I faced.

I should have known what to expect when, before the tournament, a 180-pound wrestler asked me to warm up with him by drilling moves. As I hit my single and double leg takedowns, my duck-unders, my arm drags and my fireman’s carry, I felt awkward. My balance wavered, and my form lacked the smoothness and grace I exhibited in my 20s. I never afforded myself the chance to test out my form in the live matches as I struggled to execute a viable setup and failed to complete a single move beyond fighting in vain to avoid exposing my back to the mat.

I conceded the need for Step 6: The Workout Plan. And by “Workout”, I specifically meant working out in a wrestling room, practicing moves with a partner. I would have to research wrestling clubs in the area and figure out where the 20 and 30-year-olds practiced. I’d also have to build that into my work and family schedule, balancing it against my need to conduct my strength plan and continue running 5-6 miles every other evening. My head spun with the depth of planning and time management this crazy Headlock pact with myself would require.

One of the biggest hurdles to the entire program slept next to me every night, washed my laundry every week and drove me to the train station each morning. I would have to persuade my wife to allow me to attend wrestling practice in the evenings between my 40-minute runs and my new strength training regimen.

I held off from mentioning it and quietly limited my eating to maintain a trim 153 average. I continued running 3-4 times a week and raised my push-up and sit-up tally deeper into the 100s.

I researched road races and resolved to build up to a half marathon by the end of the next summer. Maybe next fall, I would think about training for a full marathon.

But I didn’t want to push too far ahead in my thinking or my long-term objective planning. My priorities consisted of running for endurance, firming my muscular fitness and finding a way to improve or at least refresh my actual wrestling skills.

In researching wrestling clubs, I came across another tournament scheduled for the end of July. I had played volleyball and wrestled in the Connecticut Nutmeg Games as a 23-year-old recent college graduate. Our volleyball team won the championship. And in the wrestling tournament, I took the Silver medal, losing a close match to a Division II All-American from Springfield College.

I could weigh in at 158 or I could drop to 149. Again, the only available division for me would be the Open age group, so I would face 20-year-old recent high school and college graduates. But the two appealing attributes of the Nutmeg Games for me consisted of the fact that only Connecticut residents could participate and the style of wrestling would be “Folkstyle”.

Limiting the pool geographically might strip out big names like Pingtafore, who hailed from Long Island and Ericco, who lived in New York and had accepted a scholarship to wrestle at UPenn. Folkstyle wrestling better matched the format I wrestled throughout high school and college. I would have a more realistic shot of performing respectably in the Nutmegs. I had a better grasp of reality and understood the odds against winning the tournament or even winning a match. But I saw it as another chance to execute a couple moves, maybe score some points and compete admirably.

I didn’t need to win. I just needed to go through the process of learning how to compete with the physical tools my mind and body had to offer at this stage. And I wanted to further benchmark myself against the trajectory I had to follow to prepare myself for the Senior Nationals next April.

According to my wife, this dream had died, and wrestling again had dropped off the table of possibilities. So, I needed to delicately introduce the idea, let it fester and then hope for another miraculous turnaround at the last minute.

Another problem that I faced existed deep within the muscles running along either side of my spine. They hurt. I had huge knots on both sides and at times could barely stand up straight. I hid this pain from my family to avoid having to own up to their skepticism of my choice to follow this path and their inevitable pronouncement of “told you so.”

But sitting at work all day felt like daggers digging deeply into my tissue. Waking up in the morning required just the right technique to roll off the side of the mattress and catch my balance before falling on my face. Pulling on socks or tying shoes required enormous effort and pain resistance. The worst experience came when I sneezed a few times. The activity nearly knocked me off my feet, with my entire body shuttering in pain.

Every chance I could find, I lay flat on the floor and stretched. I leaned back against the doorjamb to deliver my own self massage. I pulled my arms across my chest and over my head to loosen the knots. It took several weeks, but the pain started to dull. After each run and subsequent piping hot shower, I felt better. Another tournament would set me back again. But I didn’t care. Like a mother entering her second childbirth, I blocked the memory of the pain from the last experience in anticipation of the excitement of the next one.

But I still dreaded the conversation with my wife that loomed on the horizon like a dark foreboding storm. I resolved to tell her about the Nutmeg Games one night, but our schedule kept us running from place to place, dropping off kids at their activities, picking them up, feeding them and helping them with their homework. Another night, I waited until the kids went to bed, but by the time I approached her, my wife had nodded off on the couch as well. One night, she had a dinner with her friends until late at night and upon her return wanted to tell me all about it. And on a fourth evening, as I prepared to broach the subject, she got mad at me for finishing her box of cereal and not telling her. Or was that the evening that she yelled at me about the laundry? Or maybe that was the time I forgot to feed the kids before I left for my board meeting.

It seemed that every night I intended to reveal my new plan to wrestle, a roadblock popped up causing me to hold off for another night.

Finally, one evening as she folded laundry, I sat at the top of the stairs and told her that I wanted to give it another shot.

She looked at me, paused, made a slightly sour face and then took a breath.

“Alright,” she said. “If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”

And that was it. I had the green light to engage in round two of my quest to compete. I couldn’t believe how easily the conversation played out and I, again, appreciated her understanding.

Maintaining my weight had grown more natural to me and I broke 152, hovering down into the low 151s and even breaking that plateau to about 151.2. I had a few weeks to go. I regularly banged out 125 or more push-ups. I was running a hard five miles on a regular basis. I was even finding ways to eat small lunches and breakfasts and still maintain my weight. And, four weeks after the New Englands, a good 90% of my back pain had finally dissipated.

I had a few business dinners scheduled and a trip to San Francisco that I would have to work through. But I had no doubt that I could make it to 149 and compete at that weight class. I was down to two or even one meal a day with 3-4 small healthy snacks. I would have a handful of granola for breakfast and some fruit. For lunch, I would snack on baby carrots and low-fat Wheat Thins with a clementine flavored sparkling water. Around 3pm, I’d have more Wheat Thins if my stomach hurt from hunger. Beyond that, I avoided any other intake during the day. In the evenings, I ate whatever dinner the family had, but I cut the portion size in half. After dinner, I snacked on handfuls of Cinnamon Life cereal and drank limited amounts of Evian water to stay meagerly hydrated. I liked to reward myself with two double stuffed Golden Oreo cookies, pealing them apart and making a single quadruple stuffed treat for myself. It was my one indulgence per day that I allowed.

This eating regimen continued my downward trend and propelled me into the very low 150s.

And then one morning a few weeks before the tournament, I awoke at 152.4 after a day where I had a business lunch and an after-work event that I had to attend. Knowing I had gained from my average, I skipped breakfast. I had a relaxed business schedule for the day and decided to work from my home office. I had a gap in my calendar from 10am-11am and decided to run in the heat of the late morning. It had to be 95 degrees and muggy. But I flew through the run. I sweat buckets in my nylon shorts and long sleeve cotton T-shirt. I managed to squeeze in a shower and weigh myself just before my 11am conference call. I had hit a ridiculous new low – 148.6 – the lowest I had weighed since the age of 25. I had already made weight for the Nutmegs and just had to stay there. I could focus on strength for the next few weeks and try to increase my chances of winning, or at least scoring a point.

The web site for the Nationals, which would take place in six months, listed the weight class below 152 as 138.5. I allowed myself to entertain the thought. That would be a mere ten pounds more to lose over the next 200 days. It would also represent a 65-pound loss from my starting point of 201. I stashed that thought and shielded it from the Disclosure Plan. I was not ready to go there. And if I allowed myself to lock up the thought in a new Headlock pact with myself, then I would have to go for it and I would start to tell people about it. I dispelled the thought and it left my mind – mostly.

As an interesting aside, I ran into a former co-worker at a restaurant a few days after hitting 148.6. He looked at me and recognized me immediately. But he took a double take and started to comment on my appearance. He seemed to want to ask if I had lost weight. But he stopped himself. I believe he thought I might be sick and didn’t want to bring up a sensitive topic. I quickly told him that I had worked out and changed my diet to lose weight and he responded that I looked great.

My transformation had been so quick and so stark, I realized that people who had not seen me in more than three months might start to think I looked seriously ill.

As I dropped below the momentous 150 mark, my boys decided they wanted to work out with me. My older son started weighing himself occasionally and trying to cut back on some of his snacking. He ran a half mile here and a mile there, around the neighborhood. He asked me about my workout plans and told me that he had lost a few pounds. He, and my younger son also resolved to join the high school Cross Country team in the Fall to further whip themselves into shape like their old man had done.

My older son asked me to go to the gym with him for a more formal workout. The younger one decided to join us. They wrote up a workout plan and texted it to me. They structured it quite intelligently. Their regimen included a half mile warm-up run on the treadmill at about an eight-minute pace followed by 10 minutes of stretching. Then, they opted to run a half mile at a seven-minute pace followed by 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 30 seconds of planking and 10 leg lifts. They planned to repeat the workout three times in a row, followed by a half mile cool down run. By the end of the session, they would have completed two miles on the tread mill, three sets of 10 on their exercises and a minute and a half of planking.

I cut each of their exercise times and amounts in half for their initial workout, but left their running plan intact. I ran alongside them, but they would not let me do the push-ups or sit-ups since I could do them so much more smoothly and easily and it made them feel bad to see me outpace them so dramatically.

They worked hard. They didn’t cheat or scrimp on their exercises. They ran their distance diligently and completely. They encouraged each other. I admired their efforts with pride. And I felt like a good dad for inspiring them, even if just a little bit, to push their bodies into a better level of fitness.

We looked in the mirror standing side by side. My older son had me by two inches and at least 50 pounds. The younger one was maybe a half inch shorter and about the same weight. But what stood out to me was our muscle tone. I had definition, but significantly less mass than they did. They had rounder muscles with definitely more baby fat. But in many ways, they looked healthier. You could see my collar bone and ribs much more clearly. Certain tendons in my neck stuck out more pronounced and gangly.

I had to shift my focus from weight to strength. I had six months before the nationals. If I could cut down to about 145 and then gain back seven pounds of muscle, I would look phenomenally fit and healthy. And I’d minimize the chance of being overpowered and outmuscled as I had been at the New England Freestyle tournament.

I resolved to add curls, bench press and a few other standard weightlifting exercises to my growing routine to round out my Strength Plan.

I had reached my weight class for the Nutmeg Games. I had my wife’s blessing. I could rip off 100 push-ups at will. I had made a lot of progress since the New Englands. The Nutmegs would give me another benchmark milestone. But, I already knew what I needed to do if I wanted to become a national champion. Simultaneously while I continued to cut down, I needed to bulk up and round out my muscle tone. And I needed my boys to continue to inspire me as they had at the gym that day.

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