How do you classify a hero?
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I’m writing this from a fan’s point of view. I never was one for heroes. Growing up, while other kids were mesmerized by Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, and other professional athletes, it just wasn’t my thing. For some reason, my mind never put people like that on a pedestal. Now that I’m older, I still can’t say that I’m a “fan” of too many athletes. I do have an elevated level of respect for a certain type of person, and I do call myself a fan of the folks at elitefts™.
However, last week I became a true fan. To me, being a fan is about inspiration. It’s someone else’s fire helping to light your fire. I also think that for me, being a fan is about a great story that involves a lot of hard work. I love the underdog, the person who exceeds everyone’s expectations and in some cases exceeds his own. Through the wrestling season and during the state finals, I followed a kid in the newspaper who became that person, the kind of person that I’m proud to say I’m a fan of. I’m a fan of 17-year-old Tanner.
Tanner’s coaches will be the first to say that he isn’t much for natural born talent in athletics. What they will tell you is that he kept showing up and kept coming back for more, no matter how hard it was. He never missed an open gym opportunity in the summer, he worked after practice with his other coaches, and he did extra conditioning at home. When I first met Tanner, I had been asked to help him with his nutrition so that he could make weight for the 220-pound class in his senior year of wrestling. Truthfully, he didn’t need my help. He was working hard enough as a high school athlete. He could eat a little smarter, but his hard work alone took the rest of the weight off. He didn’t have any trouble making weight.
Tanner had just come off his senior football season and was in game shape, but he needed to drop pounds to compete in the 220-pound class. At the beginning of wrestling season, Sam, one of the high school coaches and former college wrestler, made an offer. He would work with anyone who wanted to at 5:00 a.m. two or three days a week. On a side note, Sam doesn’t even get paid to coach wrestling. He was giving his time five nights a week for practice and at wrestling meets. In addition, Sam coaches practices with the little kids two nights a week, so Sam put this offer out to give more. (It isn’t just Sam, though. It’s all the coaches. They all give selflessly.) With all the natural talent, perspective state qualifiers, and even kids close enough to walk to the school, only one young man showed up most days: Tanner. A 17-year-old, 220-pound high school kid woke up at 4:30 a.m. to an alarm, packed his food, and drove nine miles to workout…and not just once, but for weeks. Like I said, Tanner is the kid who keeps showing up.
The season went on, and the newspaper covered their favorites—the ones they had covered their entire careers. But I kept noticing one thing. Points or pin, Tanner was winning. There was never much said about him, just that he had won another match in the 220-pound class. The papers may not have seen it, but his coaches saw his hard work. They know Tanner, and they had seen that this 17-year-old kid had something—extraordinary resolve. For most people, there isn’t much fanfare in hard work, nor is there much fanfare for the strong(er) mentality. For people like Tanner’s coaches and elitefts™ readers, Tanner is the only kind of person you really want to root for. As coaches, you want to win and see your kids win, but with people like Tanner, it goes way deeper than that. You root for someone like Tanner to win because he deserves it. He has put in the hard work. He has shown the true character of what a winner should be. It wasn’t handed to him. He wasn’t born with it. Tanner worked for it and earned it. For his coaches, he isn’t the kind of kid they hope wins. He’s the kind of athlete that makes you want him to win more than if it was you out there on the mat.
As the season went on, Tanner continued to win. He also continued to train hard. He didn’t let up. His hard work paid off. Tanner qualified for the state championships for the first time as a senior. Talking to Coach Sam about it, Sam told me that every time he thought it was over for Tanner, the kid just wouldn’t quit. Most of his wins at the state meet came in the third period—the time when those 5:00 a.m. workouts, extra reps, and just having more heart paid off. From what Sam said, Tanner beat many kids who were “genetically superior.” Tanner is a perfect example of how most of the time, hard work will beat talent in the end. At the end of the season, Tanner ended up fifth in the state with 41 wins, and he now has his name in the school record books for the most wins in a season.
What does this mean to me, the spectator-turned-fan? A piece of me wishes that at 17 I had what this kid has. The other part of me hopes that at 36, I do have it. Seeing Tanner and what he accomplished through pure hard work is another reminder for me that hard work pays off. His coaches told me that along with his work ethic, he is an amazing young man. His work ethic on the field and mat have carried over to the rest of his life, or his ethics in life carried over to the athletic field. Tanner is the example of what an athlete should be, and at 17, he is also an example of what a man should be. He is proof that strong(er) has no minimum age requirements. Its only requirement is the will to work toward your goals no matter how difficult they seem.
Finally, to all the coaches out there—guys like Sam, Moose, Levi, and Joe, you’re the true examples of live, learn, and pass on.