June 11, 2005

How I became a wrestling coach

One day, last fall, I was sitting in church. I do some of my best thinking in church, though it's not always about the sermon, but a lot of the time it is. Anyhow, my mind wandered to how I didn't really enjoy my job that much, but I didn't know what to do about it. I had spent five years in school training to be an engineer, and I had succeeded in finding myself a job as just such an engineer. The job paid well, wasn't terribly stressful, and had good benefits. It just wasn't doing it for me. I had left grad school because I didn't want to be there anymore. Never go to grad school unless it's what you really want. You're unlikely to want it once you're in the midst of some difficult project. That was how I ended up at Infineon. I sent in my resume, miraculously got an interview, and hassled the people in charge until they hired me, but DRAM Burn-In didn't get my blood flowing.

Then it hit me, right there in the activity room of the Central Raleigh YMCA: I want to be a college wrestling coach. My immediate thought was the mental equivalent of slapping yourself on the forehead (I didn't actually do it while in the throes of Come Thou Fount or whatever we were currently signing). I was taken back to a day my junior year of college when an excited Coach Turner accosted me in the hall and tried to feel me out on whether I'd like to be his assistant after graduation as well as working in the school in some other capacity. The end result would be that I took the reins of the team once he decided to hang up his shoes. Deep into my engineering studies and constantly surrounded by the sport, I told him that I was more interested in becoming an engineer once I finished school. I had (foolishly) not dreamed of how much I would ultimately miss the sport once my competitive days were behind me, and I was thinking that I didn't want to spend four years training to be an engineer and then not become one. I think that Coach Turner was just feeling me out, and nothing had been decided about finding his eventual replacement, because he never mentioned it to me again in the next year and a half of college.

The week before the national tournament my senior year, Coach T. sat down with me in the wrestling room and told me he was retiring as wrestling coach at Messiah in order to move to Lock Haven to both live closer to his son Thane and become the director of the Mat Town USA Wrestling Club. Shortly after the season ended, there was talk of Coach Turner's replacement being a classmate of mine who graduated in 3 1/2 years and had assisted with the program that season. This made me wish (briefly) that I'd taken Coach up on his offer the previous year, as, not to put anyone down, I felt like I'd forgotten more about wrestling technique than this person knew. I said nothing, because he had Coach's support, and Coach has forgotten more about wrestling than I know. Eventually, it was decided that the school wanted a coach with a graduate degree, so the job wouldn't have been mine at that time even if I wanted it. This led to the hiring of Bryan Brunk, last of the University of Southern Maine and a former Wheaton wrestler (this is important later). Bryan was an excellent choice, and he has already won two coaching awards since he took the reigns for the 2003-2004 season. He also recently determined that I am both the single season and career takedowns leader in Messiah wrestling history, which is neither here nor there, but is at least a boost to my ego.

That settled, I married Janet and moved to North Carolina. My graduate school experience has been described elsewhere, but I finished one year and then decided to work. That's how I ended up at Infineon, learning about DRAM Burn In. This brings us back to where we started the story, with me in church deciding to become a wrestling coach. I told Coach Turner about my goal, and asked him for advice. He was helpful, both with his advice and in a way he never could have expected. He told Bryan about my desires, and Bryan put me in contact with David John, who had been an assistant at Wheaton for at least one of Bryan's years there. David told me about the job that I am now set to begin at the end of this month. This was great news to me, though nothing was set in stone or even well planned when I first contaced David back in the fall. Time passed, and I stayed in touch every few weeks or so as he consolidated his support and the plan took shape. The job was hardly mine at this point, as they could choose to hire whoever they wanted. I began to hurry up and wait.

Thankfully, I made a good impression on Bryan in the short time I had known him, and Coach Turner has never been anything but totally supportive of my wrestling (and other) development. Thanks to those two things, I came highly recommended, and by people David trusted. As weeks turned into months and fall rolled over to winter, Janet and I planned a trip to Wheaton to meet the important people and interview for the job. I fixed up my resume to convert it from engineering mode to wrestling mode and contacted a few references to write letters of recommendation, which they happily did. Janet and I knew little of what to expect once we got there, as I had no idea that I was still the only person who really knew about the position being created.

Arriving in Chicago late one night in February, I finally met David face to face. He and I talked late that night in a booth of an all-night restaurant while Janet struggled to stay awake in the seat next to mine. That first night went well, I thought, and a groggy Janet agreed with me. The next few days were a whirlwind of meeting as many people as David thought I should. I'm sure I'll be seeing a lot of them all once we're finally there. The strangest part of the trip was the fact that it only seemed the slightest bit like an interview for about 10 minutes in a nearly empty Middle Eastern restaurant in downtown Chicago. Of course, I'd been in constant contact with him for a few months, so it seems like the in-person meeting was to make sure I was serious about this and to make sure Janet was on board (we'll discuss that in another post). Chicago was cold like I hadn't felt in a while down here in cozy North Carolina, but it was nothing either one of us hadn't seen before. We spent some time looking around the villag of Oak Park, where we planned to make our home, should we end up moving. We returned to Raleigh hopeful, but uncertain.

Discussions in the next few weeks with the principle people involved assured me that yes, the job was mine. Salary and benefits details were discussed and sufficient, and we planned to come back in May to find ourselves a place to live. We went back and found a place that is smaller than our current apartment, but not bad considering the area. Hopefully, the cat won't have any problems with it, as we didn't consult her for approval (she's not very good on the phone, see).

Since then, we've planned and packed and prepared to make a move that is untraditional at best, uncertain at worst. This kind of thing is fairly unique, and is only possible because of the people involved and their passion for Wheaton wrestling and the sport in general. It can be said that wrestling has a small, but devoted, following, and the truth of that couldn't be more evident in this case.

Yesterday was my last official day as an engineer, and next Tuesday we leave North Carolina for the last time and head toward Illinois where I will transition from engineer to wrestling coach. People don't change careers all the time in this country, but it happends often enough. I'd argue the change is rarely this dramatic, however. The most interesting thing that happened in the past week was the reactions of my coworkers when I told them what I was going to be doing. More of them expressed a hint of envy than I'd have guessed, as I suppose not too many people get the opportunity to make a career out of a hobby.

So that's my story up until now. That's how I changed careers to what I think I'm supposed to be doing. I'm now the poster child for "It's not what you know, it's who you know," but I'm OK with that, this time. I am very excited to see how this all turns out. For sure, once the Strider Wrestling web page is up and running, the link will be prominently featured on this site.

1 comment:

Jimmy said...

And then there were two...