By Anton Kliot
I struggle against a murder of crows flying around in my belly. They grow with the calm confidence of my opponent, Alex. I can't stop staring at him. He jumps around cooly, warming up. His smooth movements resemble the slow, calculated grace of an apex predator stalking his prey.
Well, I can jump too. I nervously hop and throw on a tough face, subconsciously (or maybe not) imitating him. However, I lack that little secret he seems to hold which bolsters his confidence. Welcome to my first high school wrestling match.
Butterflies are not new to me. I've played guitar in a band for years, but any stage fright I feel dissipates with a joke from my bandmates who are also close friends. When I glanced at my wrestling teammates on the bench, no one smiled. I could not rely on them to outline the match and let me fill in the gaps, as my bandmates could do with a song; the other wrestlers had their own opponents to face.
On the mat, Alex took charge; I reacted and was not aggressive enough. Alex wrote that song, and I lost that match. But that loss ignited a spark, pushing me to take command of my own life.
For years, community had been ingrained in my intellect; from the progressive schools I attended to the band I was a member of, collaboration had been key. I played in a five-member band with three guitarists. I wasn't Alden, our lead guitarist who played like a young Chuck Berry, with psychedelic melodies and wicked solos. Nor was I Jack, overlaying chords with his golden voice. With a song's outline in place, I added my sound. Years of playing this way taught me to value silences; to add harmonies which augmented our sound, creating a whole greater than its parts, rather than just a din. I did not have to take charge or create an entirely new song; I just had to fill the space left for me.
When thrown onto a wrestling mat, I realized my collaborative skills would not save me; I had to face challenges individually. Yet I found this individualistic focus did not have to clash with my collaborative habits. Instead, I transformed my life by integrating these collaborative skills with the confidence and individuality wrestling demanded.
I pursued other interests, from film and military history to running and vaulting without being defined by any one. I worked hard, becoming a straight A student, but no one would call me a nerd. A three-sport athlete, I could not be labeled a jock. I refused to let anyone else define me as Alex had that day.
I became more proactive with my teachers. Not only did my grades improve but my interests deepened. In my junior year history class, I delved into the subject as my professor, also an advisor and a friend, helped me target my studies towards my areas of interest. Assigned China for a year-long nation project, my meetings with my teacher helped focus my study on censorship of film in China. The sophistication of these censors shattered my preconceptions of this oppressive system, with my research taking me beyond the Western media's simplistic portrayal.
By junior year, I had lost and won many matches, and gradually the crippling nerves had disappeared. Instead of sitting alone before matches, I was free to laugh and joke with teammates, mimicking my mood before a show. In last year's tournament, I cooly began warming up, moving and stretching in ways that have become second nature for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone staring at me. I realized it was my next opponent. I recognized his fearful gaze as the one I had once directed at Alex. With this realization I smiled, and appreciated the changes that loss two years ago had produced.
Anton Kliot, a 2014 graduate of the Dalton School, will be a freshman at Amherst in the Fall.