Sweaty Fingers

Coach looks at me from the corner and says, “You’re up after Anton.”

My legs shake as I slip out of my sweatpants. I fumble with my headgear, the straps slipping out of my sweaty fingers. Suddenly, two hands reach over my head and click the straps into place.

“Here you go, buddy,” Anton says.

“Thanks,” I say.

“Is this your first match?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Nervous?”

“A little bit. I’m a little scared, too.”

“Being a little nervous is good. But there’s no reason to be afraid. Go in and work hard—what will happen will happen.”

The whistle blows. Anton pats me on the back. “I’ve got to go,” he says. “You can do this, Reece!”

The crowd roars as Anton faces his opponent. He places his foot on the line and shakes his opponent’s hand. The referee blows the whistle.

I bounce up and down on the sideline, trying to loosen my muscles. As I warm myself up, I watch as Anton fakes and shoots for his opponent’s leg. His opponent smoothly steps out of the way, then spins around and puts Anton in a headlock. Anton wiggles his shoulders around, and it looks like he is going to escape when the other wrestler picks Anton up. He hangs upside down in the air before falling, his head striking the mat.

I freeze. Anton lies there, not moving, his arms splayed out on the mat. Every noise disappears. The referee stops the match. In slow motion, Coach and the trainer rush onto the mat. Coach kneels beside Anton while the trainer digs into his medical kit.

Slowly, they help Anton stand and leave the room. I applaud along with the rest of my team, but my mind is still frozen. The referee speaks with Coach. My match is still next.

Coach looks at me. “You ready?”

Am I?