|Picture from ncaa.org|
In the link above, Foley recalls how the three college wrestling deaths during the 1997-1998 season caused the weight control rules to be swiftly overhauled, yet we still have changed our mindset very little - "The sweeping system changes were a mere paper tiger." The harrowing story published by the NCAA which Foley references, Wrestling away From a Troubled Past, cuts deeply and hits home hard. Not only does it hurt hearing about the three young lives that were lost, but it hurts to know that this is the impression that our sport gives some outsiders. We on the inner circle of the wrestling community don't need any convincing to know the benefits of our sport, but for many others their first thought about amateur wrestling is the worst part of it - weight cutting. In an era where we are trying to increase participation and grow the sport, the last thing we need to do is perpetuate a poor public image revolving around an unhealthy practice.
This is the sorry state that some outsiders saw as a first glimpse to our sport [at an NCAA tournament the night before weigh-ins], and unfortunately this paints their image in their minds, rather then allowing them to see the good in our sport:
Uryasz, on site for drug testing, met Wilson at the Target Center and led him into the exercise area where wrestlers were attempting to lose weight in advance of the weigh-in. There he saw what Uryasz first reported nearly a decade earlier: wrestlers wearing plastic sauna suits, exercising to a point of exhaustion, leaving pools of water in their wake.I know I've harped on the negative ramifications of weight cutting before, but if this doesn't sound bad, I don't know what does:
“It just didn’t pass the test of looking smart,” Wilson said. “A lot of what went on was fine. But some of what went on, you would not want your mother, or girlfriend or anybody to see.
The loss of fluid from the bloodstream weakens cardiovascular functions and reduces endurance. If the water isn’t restored, blood flow to the skin and muscles will start to shut down to preserve the remaining fluid. Without the ability to sweat, the body begins to overheat. With no oxygen, the muscles start to die. It can trigger the potentially life-threatening condition rhabdomyolysis, in which the starved muscle fibers break down and flood the bloodstream with proteins, clogging the kidneys and stressing the electrical processes that support the heart.Wrestlers undergo the most rigorous training in all of sport, but the weight cutting mentality can give one such a warped self image that many wrestlers don't even realize how chiseled their physique is. As National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) Executive Director Mike Moyer said: “Now we are in a unique position to promote wrestling as the gold standard in promoting fitness and nutrition. What we are trying to do is to position wrestlers to be role models in schools across America to combat the No. 1 threat to our nation’s children, which is childhood obesity.”
But the bottom line is, the community needs to decide to make the change, or else it will never take effect. As long as "coaches firmly believed their athletes would gain an advantage if they were willing to suffer more than their opponents by cutting to a lower weight class," as one coach told the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport in a letter in 1996, we will have athletes cutting weight because they are obeying orders. That same coach also said: "An athlete that has more muscle has an advantage over those that are not willing to cut the extra water weight." To put it bluntly, this is downright foolish, as cutting water weight means losing muscle. And as long as we have high school and middle school boys jogging in plastic suits, which makes me cringe every time I see it, we'll have youth wrestlers that don't have good role models.
In order to change our sport for the better, everyone, including coaches, parents, referees, wrestlers, and fans, will need to buy into the healthy mentality. If we all do that, then maybe one day we'll get to the point where "it’s in those moments that wrestling coaches see the future, when the next generation looks to the current, sees a healthier athlete setting a different example than their fathers and grandfathers learned from, and aspires to be just like them."
Keep the Sport Healthy,