By Sean Loo
My Welsh opponent yanked down on my neck and grabbed my right leg, as I struggled to maintain my balance, desperately hopping around on my free leg.
Inevitably, my opponent pivoted with his right leg, lifted my hapless body and drove me, together with my dreams of qualifying for the quarter finals, into the mat.
The referee signalled two points for the opponent and blew his whistle, bringing the match to an end. I gritted my teeth and trudged off the mat in disappointment.
For the fourth time that morning, in a span of three hours, I was on the wrong end of a proper trouncing on home soil and was eliminated from the 2016 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships on 7 Nov. I finished at the bottom of my pool — losing to opponents from Pakistan, India, Australia and Wales (United Kingdom).
As a national wrestler, I carry around a little embarrassing secret: I have yet to taste victory while representing my country.
It was my first-ever international competition, and I did not even manage to score a single point in my four matches, conceding an astounding 41 points in the process.
In wrestling, a takedown earns the wrestler two or four points, while pushing the opponent out of the competition area earns a wrestler one point.
My second attempt did not go any better. In January, I forked out S$800, skipped two days of school, and travelled down to Melbourne to participate in the Maribyrnong Open.
A strong showing in the competition would greatly boost the chances of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to send a representative for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in that particular weight category.
This meant that I had to win.
However, less than three minutes into my opening match, I faced a disappointing loss to an Australian state (non-national team) wrestler.
As the tournament followed a knockout system, my quick defeat meant an early elimination and another failure on the global stage.
To make matters worst, I also aggravated my existing neck injury, forcing me to sit out of training for four months.
I was crushed.
It was at this moment where leaving wrestling seemed like a very real and attractive option.
I had to make many sacrifices as an athlete, from planning my class schedules, constantly watching my diet and painfully limiting the intake of my favourite drink “teh peng” (iced milk tea), to having to reject meeting friends for supper.
After all, people only remember the winners.
As these thoughts swirled around my head, I recalled the first time I joined the sport.
When I first started wrestling some six years ago, I was weak, fat, unfit and inflexible — lacking in any form of athleticism.
I only took up wrestling to fulfil one of the graduation requirements of the International Baccalaureate Diploma (an A-Level equivalent examination), which requires candidates to participate in physical activities such as sports.
My first training went terribly.
Besides being a throwing dummy for my teammates, I was also behind my teammates when it came to strength and conditioning.
I remember gasping for air while running circuits around the field only to see teammates effortlessly sprint pass, lapping me.
At the end of the session, my arms and legs were aching and I could barely hear my coach’s debrief over my loud panting.
I was just glad to make it through without quitting.
But I made progress over the next practices by putting in extra hours of cardiovascular and strength exercises after each session.
I felt fitter and stronger. I was no longer lapped by my teammates in the weekly runs around the training room.
I was no longer an easy target for teammates who wanted a relaxing practice match.
I felt my life being transformed by the discipline that wrestling inculcated in me. It was at this point when I started to feel passion for the sport.
From monitoring my daily diet (wrestlers compete in different weight categories; I compete in the 65kg category) to managing my time, I learnt to avoid cutting corners as a “do only the minimum required” attitude can create many more problems in the long run.
And the feeling of throwing and gaining control of my opponent was fulfilling — knowing that my efforts in practice were paying off.
I found myself being able to score takedowns on teammates whose legs I could not even touch when I first started wrestling.
I may not be the best wrestler in the training room, but I take pride in trying my best and giving anyone a good match.
In the span of six years, I have improved by leaps and bounds.
As I reflected on my sporting journey, and reflected on my progress, I felt that I had simply put in too much effort to give up.
Thus, I came to a decision:
I would not quit wrestling.
This year, I have set for myself the goal of breaking my winless streak at the international level, starting with another regional tournament in Australia this June.
In the long run, I aim to qualify and win a medal in the 2019 South East Asian Games.
My international failures reminded me of one thing: no matter how hard I think I am training, my opponents are probably training even harder.
I will need to pull up my socks, put on my wrestling shoes, get onto the mat and train harder.
Regardless of whether I meet these goals, one thing is certain— I will not throw in the towel.
Even if I were to remain winless in the international level, I plan to continue wrestling as long as my body can hold out.