Carver Hawkeye Arena in the midst of 16,000 screaming wrestling fans is no place for bawlers. Brawlers, sure. That’s what the Iowa Hawkeyes are, and that’s who was grappling on the mat Saturday night with cross-state rival Iowa State. The defending national champions (Iowa) taking on the No. 2-ranked Cyclones — for a wrestling fan, it doesn’t get any better than that.
So what’s with the boo-hoo hoo-ha? Well, I wasn’t really crying (“there’s no crying in wrestling!”) but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little misty-eyed thinking about where I was last night, and how far I have come in the past year. It was almost a year ago to the day that I attended the first home meet of the 2007-08 season, a double dual against Cornell and Coe. It was a great time, so much so that I shrugged off the fact that just walking from the bus stop to my seat left me huffing and puffing. After all, I knew I wasn’t in great shape, plus I seemed to have caught a chest cold or something. Not surprising, given the ridiculous winter weather that I was already tired of.
By Jan. 5, the day of the big Iowa-Oklahoma State dual meet, I knew it wasn’t just a cold. I had been looking forward to that matchup for weeks, but on that Saturday evening I couldn’t muster up the energy it would take to drive in to Iowa City and try to make my way to my seat. By that point, I was barely able to walk across the street without having to stop to catch my breath.
Missing a meet I had so looked forward to was my wake-up call. On Monday, I finally called the doctor for an appointment. By Wednesday, I was admitted to the hospital and by the following week I was recovering from open-chest surgery and coming to grips with a diagnosis of Hodgkins’ lymphoma.
I’ll spare you the gory details of the next 11 months. Those of you who were there already know. What matters is that I am now 5 months into remission, and last night I attended my second Iowa meet of the season. Just a year after my first inklings that I might be sick, I walked (with the aid of a cane) from the parking lot to my seat in Section LL without stopping once for a breather.
As I cheered on the Hawkeyes’ win yesterday over Iowa State, I thought about the past year. Countless times during those early months of chemo and fevers and sundry complications, focusing on the Hawkeye wrestling team was a welcome distraction from possibilities I didn’t want to contemplate. Last night, sitting in the midst of an all-time record crowd for a college wrestling dual meet, I thought about the little stack of wrestling season tickets that went unused last year — I found them recently when I pulled my winter coat out of the closet.
I thought about how I’d watched last January’s National Duals on Iowa Public Television from my hospital bed, trying not to think about the painful bone-marrow biopsy I’d just had, or the upcoming surgery that would involve sawing my sternum in half and then wiring it back together.
I thought about waking up in the ICU a few days after my surgery and stumbling onto the Iowa-Ohio State meet on the Big Ten Network, even though I couldn’t see much because I didn’t know where my glasses were and the breathing tube in my throat meant I couldn’t ask for them.
I thought about getting up at 2 a.m. during a second hospital stay in February and stealthily using the nurse’s laptop computer in my room to check Hawkeye Report for match-by-match results of the home dual against Michigan.
I thought about missing the first 2 days of the NCAA tournament in March because I was in the hospital again and the damn place doesn’t carry ESPNU. I thought about nagging the docs to get discharged that Saturday afternoon in time to get home to watch two Hawkeyes — Brent Metcalf and Mark Perry — win individual national championships Saturday night.
I thought about all those things yesterday. And yeah, I got a little sniffly, damn it.
And then Brent Metcalf scored a takedown in the first nine seconds of his match against Mitch Mueller (on his way to a 26-10 technical fall) and I went right back to screaming my head off. Thank you, Iowa wrestlers. For all of you, and for me, the best is yet to come. It’s great to be a Hawkeye!