Friday and Saturday I spent on the bleachers in a high school gym. Eli competed with his team at regional wrestling.
He went one and one on Friday, which put him in a long climb up the back side of the bracket. He picked up two great wins Saturday morning but fell just short in the “blood round,” left once again just one match from qualifying for the state tournament.
It was, as always, a tough loss. Five of his teammates had made the cut. He was the last member of his squad to wrestle in the qualifying round. We were so wanting to join the state bound team.
This season was tough. He’s wrestling up a weight class again, because he just happens to be on the same team as one of the very best guys in the state, who happens to be a senior and who happens to weigh the same as Eli again this year. But what a great thing to get to train with such a teammate.
Then we took our vacation and he missed a week. Then snow and ice cancelled our home tournament. Then a concussion from a match took him out for several more weeks, including one of the biggest tourneys of the year and the league meet. He’d really wanted to compete in both of those but we know that brain injuries aren’t to be messed with. He took the necessary time to heal and then worked his booty off to get back in shape for this weekend. And he was so very, very close.
Regionals was hosted by the same team that hosted cross country league, which means the easiest way to get there is once again driving down the road Vance wrecked on. So I drove past it four times in two days. There are still cones up. Apparently they have a plan to replace and upgrade the entire railing but haven’t yet gotten to the project. (Could you go ahead and get on that, Coffey County? Please and thank you.)
So that got me all up in the feels early. It’s just hard to pass that spot in the road, knowing that was the last thing his amazing blue eyes ever saw.
But I was mostly over it. Just able to concentrate on cheering on this amazing group of kids I’ve come to love so much. This is the hardest weekend, emotionally, for many of these kids. It’s do or die time. You qualify or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re done. The highs and lows are huge for the boys and their fans.
To keep track of who is up next, the event organizers project upcoming matches onto the wall of the gym. It’s actually very handy to be able to see who is coming up.
But I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw when I looked up to check which mat Eli was on.
A kid from another town, who wrestled the match right before my son, had the surname “Vance.” So looking up, I saw “Vance Crutchfield.” My heart. I think it stopped for a minute. I made my friends beside me look. One said, “Take a picture.”
I don’t think I cried then although I was close.
I sent the picture to a couple friends. One of them told me she’d been looking through pics and had found some from last year that she thought I would want to see. I told her to send them. She sent two pics of Vance and I in the stands, watching our youngest wrestle. I was sitting in front of him, leaning against his knee, while he had his hand on my shoulder. (If you’d like to see that photo, I’ve added it to my “Touch” post from a couple days ago.)
I cried then. Thankfully, God had let me sit next to some amazing people in those bleachers. I showed one of them the pics and was able to lean in for a really long hug. After a minute, a friend sitting behind us wrapped his arms around us both and asked to be in our group hug. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.
When one of Eli’s teammates won his qualifying match and came up into the stands to hug his dad, who was the one sitting directly behind me, the tears just fell from my eyes again. It was beautiful. Those two have an amazing relationship and I truly love watching them. The love they have for each other. The pride in the dad’s eyes. The respect and honor in the son’s. But as I watched the father-son embrace, my heart longed for that for my own son and the tears just fell. Eli hadn’t wrestled yet, but win or lose, I knew he wouldn’t get that moment with his dad.
When he wrestled his final match of the season, it seamed to last forever. The other kid even got a nose bleed, which stretched it out even longer. E didn’t get pinned and he never gave up. He just couldn’t quite get the best of the other guy and ended up with less points on the board. As usual, he walked off the mat with his head held high, knowing he’d fallen short, but also that he’d given his all.
I’ve learned over the years to give him space after a match. Win or lose, it’s best to let the adrenaline go down a little before we talk about it. I’ve let him lead most of the time. He’ll come to me when he’s ready. So I didn’t talk to him for quite a while. I did send him a text, letting him know that I was proud of him and that I love him and I was there when he was ready.
That time came after all the matches were over and awards were given out. Then, before getting on the bus, Eli came up and gave me the longest, most amazing hug. He talked to me about his day, his season, and how very much he’d wanted it. I cried again. Not because of the loss of a match but because of the heaviness of the day.
But God is good and he’s given us so many great people at just the right times. On the way out, Coach (who just happens to be the same guy who led the team back when I was a manager, so we’ve got history) wrapped me up in a great big hug and shared some encouraging words. He’s a big guy and when he hugs me, I just feel safe. Just what I needed.
On the way home, I called my sister and she helped me work though the emotions of the day. Once again, the right person at the right time.
Then today, literally as I am writing this, a text comes from out of the blue about how even after his death, Vance encouraged a friend to keep doing the “next right thing.” How his life made a difference and how that hasn’t ended just because he’s no longer breathing.
How we live matters. Our legacy lives on. May we all live lives that reach beyond the grave and make a difference long after we are gone. Just like Vance.
***I’ve tried really hard to tell my story here, not other people’s. Thus, I usually leave out names and try not to talk too much about other people. But life isn’t lived in a bubble, so sometimes my story is also a part of someone else’s, and it can’t be told without that. As this is one of those times, I had Eli read this before posting and got his permission to share it. I’ll try hard to do that with anyone named in any post before publishing.