Amateur wrestling gave me great memories
By BRET "THE HIT MAN" HART -- Calgary Sun
The titles I've won are displayed in my office.
Keeping them there has nothing to do with ego. Seeing them, I still marvel at what I've achieved in wrestling and they help motivate me for future challenges in my life.
As great as my memories are, they're not greater than my dreams.
Right there alongside my wrestling belts and awards is one small medal that means more to me than any of the pro wrestling titles. It changed my life.
My brother Dean won the city amateur wrestling championships and that was a really big deal and very much respected at the Hart house. As he was graduating from high school, I was just getting to Ernest Manning and it sort of became my responsibility to pick up where he left off.
Amateur wrestling is hard work, but when you wrestle, you're out there alone.
For some reason, I was better off alone because at that stage of the game (Grade 10), if anybody would show up to watch me at the matches, I'd get really nervous and screw up a little.
I asked my friends and family, if they wanted to see me wrestle, to sneak in.
I knew I was good, but it was living up to other people's expectations for "that Hart kid" that threw me off a little. That's especially true when it came to my dad.
Contrary to what many people think, Stu never pushed me to be a pro wrestler. He encouraged me towards amateur wrestling though, and to be the best at whatever I was good at.
I knew my involvement with amateur wrestling made my dad happy.
As it turned out, it made me happy, too. By Grade 11, I was a pretty good wrestler.
There was this one guy, fellow Griffin Brian Hatt, who was maybe a little better than me. The city championships were only a couple of weeks away and Brian got his front teeth knocked out playing hockey and couldn't wrestle that year.
Brian was a nice guy and he offered to help me get ready. My response was: "Yeah right, there's no way I'll win the city championships."
Brian reassured me I could win. He trained with me, we ran stairs, did laps and we wrestled.
On the night of the city championships, I was supposed to work for my dad, but instead he wished me luck at my meet.
He gave me an encouraging pat on the back, as if to say: "Just do the best you can."
I won all my matches that night and I went on to win the next day, beating Bob Eklund, who stuck with amateur wrestling and went on to become one of the best Alberta and Canada ever had.
They gave me the city championship medal and I just couldn't believe I'd won. My brother Keith met me and asked me how I did (he probably snuck in like I'd asked and had been there all along) and he smiled a big, proud smile and got wide-eyed when I told him I'd won.
While I was on my way home, my dad was on his way to the Stampede matches in Edmonton and I saw him filling up at the gas station.
I pulled in and he knew something was up. I got out of the car, opened my hand and placed my medal in my father's face.
He was blown away.
Maybe he was even happier than I was.
My dad and I connected and it was one of life's defining moments.
Even then, I knew something very special had happened, but I'm as hard-pressed it into words now as I was at 16.
I only know things changed between me and my dad after that in a way even bigger than the medal.
A year later, I'd earned a spot on the provincial team and was undefeated until Sue Cowle came along. She didn't sneak in.
There I was at James Fowler high school, arched back pinning this big, husky guy from Crescent Heights, John Bernard, when I saw this upside-down vision of my brother Bruce and his girlfriend Sue walking alongside the mat.
She waved at me, "Helloooo."
The whistle blew, he got out of bounds, we tied up and he pinned me.
At the end of the second day, I knew I had the silver and I could redeem myself the next week. I was already dressed when they give the medals out so I could go home when a couple of coaches decided I had to wrestle Larry Rinke, my teammate and friend.
This guy was always full of energy. He just loved to wrestle and was good at it.
The thing is, Larry Rinke is blind. He had a lot of supporters and even the newspapers were there.
In a lot of ways, it turned out to be my first pro wrestling match. There was a much bigger crowd than usual, teams from all over were there.
I'd earned my way to where people cheered for me when I came out that night, they cheered a whole heck of a lot louder for Larry Rinke.
I beat him in about 40 seconds. Larry was so excited for me, he slapped me on the back -- six times -- so hard I wondered if his hand hurt as my back did.
I redeemed myself the following week at the provincials by beating two really great husky wrestlers from Edmonton in what ended up being the best amateur wrestling matches I ever had.
I learned a lot about life from amateur wrestling -- discipline, confidence, self-defence and training methods. But mostly, I learned that whatever you do, don't be so concerned with what other people expect of you, do it the best you can and do it for yourself.
Good luck to all the wrestlers at the city championships on Feb. 15-16 at Bishop Grandin and the provincials Feb. 22-23 at Wetaskiwin.