Thank You Wrestling
The life lessons that I learned through the sport of wrestling shaped me into who I am today. I can confidently say that wrestling was one of the best experiences of my life. The audio version of this can be found here: Thank You Wrestling.
I grew up in a small town in southern Wisconsin called Monroe. This is where I found my passion for wrestling. My wrestling story is not unique. I did not win a state title. Heck, I never even qualified for state. I was an average wrestler at best but man was I passionate about the sport.
Growing up, my dad, brother and I would follow our local high school wrestling team closely. The Monroe Cheesemakers! We would go to most dual meets and nearly every weekend tournament the high school attended. Then, I would wrestle on the weekends too. It It was always my dream to wear that Monroe singlet and represent the town I grew up in.
My first five years in the sport were tough. I would go to tournaments every weekend and get last or second to last. I wasn’t winning, but I sure was having fun. Some of my best memories in wrestling were with one of my best friends, Josh. Josh and I would go to different tournaments than most of the other teammates. It was there that Josh and I formed our friendship. A friendship that’s lasted our entire lives. We were in each other’s weddings and are still great friends today. Without those wrestling tournaments, that friendship might not be what it is today.
As I went into middle school, I started to win more. In fact, I only had one lost on the year as a sixth grader. Reflecting back on my transition from losing all of the time to winning, there were multiple factors:
1. I matured faster than other kids my size
2. I understood the sport better
3. I became confident
Confidence plays a key role in success on the mat and in life. It’s one of the many characteristics that I developed through the sport of wrestling. A harder lesson I learned through wrestling was adversity. I battled a lot of injuries in my time on the mat. I dislocated kneecaps, torn ligaments and missed time on the mat because of these injuries. In sixth grade, I had one loss. I had avenged that loss multiple times. But, I wasn’t able to compete in the state series because of my injury. I was mature (in body only), understood how to compete and was confident. I truly felt that I could have been high up on the podium that year. But, I wasn’t able to compete. I could only watch. As a 12-year-old and lifelong wrestling fanatic, that stung. It taught me something at that young age. It taught me how to deal with adversity and disappointment and move forward. You see, disappointment happens throughout life. Competing in sports at a young age help you learn how to deal with disappointment and hopefully learn how to move forward from that. It certainly helped me.
I had some potential going into high school. I don’t think people looked at me and said “Now that Kundert kid, he’s going to be a state champion someday.” Again, I was just an average wrestler. But, I knew I would have a chance to start on Varsity as a freshman and I did at 189 and 215. I was thrown to the wolves. I struggled mightily as a freshman and sophomore. I was the opposite as I was in sixth grade. I felt that I hadn’t developed enough to complete with the juniors and seniors, I was questioning my understanding of the sport and severely lacked confidence. That culminated in me winning 22 matches total in my first two seasons on varsity. It was rough. As someone who had moderate success in middle school, that transition to high school was tough. I had to lean into my passion for the sport. I had to figure out why I laced up my wrestling shoes day in and day out. It was purely for love of the sport. Wrestling isn’t a sport that draws a huge crowd. It’s not a sport where the entire town shuts down to come to watch. It’s a sport where a handful of family, friends and wrestling fanatics show up and cheer you on. It’s a sport where you control your destiny. One thing that attracted me to wrestling was the individualization of it. It’s you vs. your opponent. You control your ties, when you decide to attack, how you are going to attack. You control it all. Only you know the effort that you put in. If you want to be successful, it’s up to you to push yourself to those heights. The same goes for life. You control your destiny. If you want to be a leader, entrepreneur, coach, whatever, take control of your destiny. Put in the work. Learn the skill, make connections and work your ass off to get to where you want to go. Where you’re destined to be. I wish I knew this back when I was competing in wrestling. I knew it at the surface level, but I didn’t really think about how my actions can affect my individual performance and the performance of the team.
My junior year I was much more successful. I still wasn’t slated to win a state title or anything, but I was now a leader on the team. A flip switched in me my junior year. I matured, I started to understand the sport better and my confidence came back, to an extent. I was putting up big points in matches and having a ton of fun. Then, my senior year rolled around. I had worked my ass of that summer. It was my one last shot. I knew I wasn’t going to compete at the next level. I had dreams of making it to state. Hearing my name at the Kohl Center. I had dreams of standing on the podium. I was very confident, felt like my technique was the best it had ever been, my head was in the right space. It all came crashing down my second match of my senior year. Ten seconds into that match, my wrestling career ended. Now, I did come back later in the season, but the wrestler that I just described was gone. I ended up tearing multiple ligaments in my ankle. The night before this, Josh and I (who I talked about above) were reflecting back on our wrestling careers. Talking about our one last shot. Talking about our wrestling careers and life in general. We were coming home from our first dual meet of the year and were confident we were going to have fun and finish our careers off at the Kohl Center. I talked about avoiding injury for most of my high school career. Then, 12 hours later, my wrestling career essentially ended. I came back about six week later. I just wasn’t the same wrestler. I had no confidence in the stability of my ankle. My whole wrestling style was based on continuous attacking. I couldn’t finish a shot to save my life. I think most of that was mental. When I stepped on the mat, I was trying to protect my ankle instead of trying to push through the pain and wrestle with confidence. I lost more matches than I ever expected to lose. Needless to say, I did not make it onto the podium. I did not make it to state. My career ended at sectionals against Cody Endres, a guest on episode 3 of this very podcast.
My competitive wrestling career was average at best. I faced some adversity with injuries. I won a lot of match and lost even more in my life. But, I learned many lessons that I use in my day to day life as a father, husband, brother, son, uncle, friend and working professional. There’s a lesson in every situation in life. In wrestling, those situations happen frequently. I learned how to push myself beyond what I thought was possible. I learned how to come from behind and defeat the odds to win a match, I learned how to process information quickly, I learned how to grow and develop as a human being. Wrestling taught me more about life than anything else could have. It prepared me to become a Change Management Leader. It prepared me to be a father and husband. Thank god wrestling came into my life. It truly shaped me into who I am today. I’m forever grateful for my mom, dad and brother getting me into the sport and supporting me for years. Taking me to tournaments every single weekend growing up. For constantly listening to me talk about wrestling, even now! Wrestling has been and always will be a huge part of my life. I’m not a coach, I’m not an athlete, I’m just a huge fan of the sport. On this podcast, I’ve been privileged to talk to some incredible folks in the wrestling community. From Chris Bono to Cody Endres, Jon Reader, Desie Breadon and Shane Sparks. They’ve all shared their unique experience in this sport on this podcast.
If you’re from Wisconsin and wrestling has impacted your life, like it impacted mine, please reach out to see if I can help share your story. Thank you, wrestling, for changing my life.