From the Mat: Weekend Word

I write these devotions weekly for the Old Dominion Wrestling team, as they go into competition each weekend.  I hope and pray it’s a source of encouragement for them and their faith – both on and off the mat.

It’s one of the greatest stories ever: Jesse Whitmer.

It’s probably a bit before your time, so let me fill you in: Jesse Whitmer was the starter at 118 lbs. for the University of Iowa during the 1996-97 season.  Whitmer was a 5th year redshirt senior.  But even more amazing than that, it was his first full year starting – ever.  He went on that year to become the NCAA Division I champion at the weight class that year.  Seeded, 6th, he upset the #3, #2, and #5 seeded wrestlers in the tournament, all three returning All-Americans.
What makes this story even more remarkable is that Jesse even made the team at all.  As a 103 pounder coming out of high school, he was deemed by many “too small” to be competitive at 118 pounds in college.  Also, he was stuck behind Mike Mena for 4 years, who ended up a 4-time All-American himself.  Prior to the start of that season, according to some, Coach Dan Gable, who believed the team was stronger with Whitmer in the lineup, had to convince Mena to move up a weight class, just so Jesse could make the team.
What I love about this story is that it’s a story of perseverance.  In an interview, Dan Gable reflected on what made Whitmer successful.  “Whether he was the first string guy or the second string guy – which he was always the second string guy until that last year – he stayed committed to the system.  He always kept training to get better….believing in himself, believing in the system….and adding to what he did well, and he just peaked when it was time, because he was committed to getting better, committed to the system.”
This is the hardest time of the year – the January “Dark Ages.”  Just coming off Christmas break, it’s still dark out, and there’s a whole 2 1/2 months ahead of wrestling.  And for some of you, there are challenges, doubts, fears, realities to face.  The message here is never stop believing – in yourself, in your team, in your coaches, in the process of getting better each day, and of course, in your God.  That is what faith is – living fully in the present, hopeful of an unknown future.  Never stop – whether you’re the first string or fourth string guy. It took Israel 40 years of wandering in the desert before they reached the Promised Land; Israel spent 50 years in exile in Babylon before returning back to Jerusalem; it took Jesus being resurrected before the disciples really understood the full measure of who Jesus was and what he did for them.
Faith is perseverance…..“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrew 12:1-2a)
Good luck this weekend. Keep getting better.  Stay committed to the process…..run the race with faith and perseverance, and know God is your strength in that, and all things!
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