Jake could feel the vomit rising in the back of his throat. The harsh acidic sting made his eyes water and he fought as hard as he could to not bring up the meagre breakfast he had eaten that morning. As he sat on the side of the dirty old wrestling mats Jake wondered to himself why he had never felt this way when he worked out at the gym and he prayed that it was time for a break.
For the past hour Jake had done stretches that he had never even heard of before; stretching muscles he didn?t even know he had! Jake thought he?d worked up a pretty strong neck in all of his years at the gym but after five or six different types of neck exercises he realised he hadn?t. He had also never done so many sit-ups, push ups and squats in a single session. The squats alone were their own workout. Jake was aching all over and he hadn?t even made it into the ring yet. He looked around and surveyed the scene. Most of the trainees were laughing and joking around having barely broken a sweat. There were a couple of what you might conservatively call ?fat?, but liberally would call ?obese?, wrestlers gasping for air on the floor. Their in ring work probably only amounted to sitting on people but Jake was impressed that they had attempted the workout. And then there was Jake. A self professed gym nut and fitness freak, kneeling over on the floor choking back his own puke. Twenty bucks well spent.
Just as Jake was starting to regain the feeling in most of his body, the gruff older wrestler called them all into the ring. Any hope Jake had of a break wafted out the window along with the sweet smell of sweat. For most of his life Jake had wondered what it would be like to step inside the squared circle and now that he had done it, the mystery was gone. It wasn?t as bouncy as he had imagined; it actually felt quite rigid and wooden. This worried Jake and his already throbbing neck. Jake leaned back against the ropes, running into them a little to feel them move. But faced with his modest frame they barely budged. This was all turning out to be a lot more worrying then Jake had hoped.
The gruff older wrestler (who Jake had overheard being called Crippler) led the group through what he called ?the most important part of wrestling?, bumps. This literally meant learning how to fall properly. An especially chiseled guy who didn?t look that much older than Jake led them through all the different types of bumps. Back bump f rom standing, back bump losing your feet, front bump and side bumps. In turns the regulars came to the centre, demonstrated all the bumps and retreated to a round of back slaps and praise. When one of the larger wrestlers messed up his front bump and landed crotch first onto the unforgiving mat, the group burst into fits of laughter and chanting. This didn?t help to ease Jake’s nerves any. Now it was his turn. He walked to the middle of the ring, heart pounding, and took his place. He tried to remember everything the Crippler had said while the bumps were being demonstrated. He ran it through his brain ?Knees bent, palms out, tuck your chin.? Not wanting to seem hesitant he thrust himself back onto the mat. The stars and little white dots came instantly and the reaction from the crowd soon followed.
?Don?t forget to tuck your chin kid or you?ll knock yourself out before anyone else gets the chance to!? shouted the Crippler from his perch on the corner turnbuckle.
Jake shook it off and completed the rest of his bumps. When he finished the crowd gave him a little round of applause. It may have been for his valiant attempt at the bumps or it may have been for not knocking himself unconscious but either way it made Jake smile to himself a little.
They ran though the bumps a few more times (Jake managed to tuck his chin in extra tight this time) and they then moved on to learning the ropes; literally. Jake watched as two of the trainees demonstrated the speed with which they could hit the ropes and also the timing that was required to not crash into each other in the middle. As they criss-crossed each other from one side of the ring to the next Jake remembered how little the ropes moved when he hit them and knew he would have to give it all he had. The Crippler motioned for Jake to step up. His counterpart in the exercise was around the same height but probably had thirty pounds on Jake. They hit the ropes and Jake ran as fast as he could to the other side. His back stung each time it hit the thinly protected steel wires.
?Faster!? the Crippler growled at Jake and his partner; a sly grin on his face.
But Jake misjudged his speed and ran straight into the shoulder of his rather large partner. It felt as if he?d hit a brick wall and he bounced off like a rag doll, hitting the mat in a heap. The beefy wrestler stretched out his hand to Jake.
?You alright man??
?Yeah, I?ll be fine.?
Jake grabbed the wrestler’s hand and hopped to his feet. The impact had taken his breath away and, as he tried to gain it back, he was relieved to hear that it was time for a break. As most of the trainees disappeared to get a bite to eat, Jake sat down to his packed lunch and quietly munched on a sandwich alone. The pain in his neck had subsided but in its place was the pain in his chest from running into his partner at top speed. But Jake was enjoying himself. He hadn?t learned anyone’s name yet and he was a long way from making friends but he was excited about all the possibilities ahead of him.
After lunch the Crippler ran them through some basic moves. The older more experienced trainees groaned but he insisted that remembering the basics was the key to any good wrestler. They ran through a collar and elbow tie up and some basic chain moves. The Crippler seemed pleased with how quickly Jake picked these up. Finally they worked on clotheslines which aggravated Jakes already throbbing shoulder and ribs. He fought through the pain and made it to the end of the session. Jake felt as if he?d finished a marathon. Like he?d climbed a mountain or finished a big game. In reality he?d made it through a simple day of training that he would repeat all over again the next week.
As Jake changed his shoes and put on his coat his partner from the rope running exercise approached him and stuck out his hand.
?You always shake hands at the end of training or matches. It’s a tradition.?
Jake grabbed his hand and tried to muster the manliest handshake he could. Truth be told, his partner’s grip was like a vice and left Jake’s hand throbbing almost as much as the rest of his body.
?I?m Steve by the way. Good work out there.?
?Thanks. I?m Jake.?
?You?ll be back next week right Jake??
?Cool. See you around.?
With that Steve lumbered his way off to his waiting buddies. They laughed and shook hands the whole way out of the building. Jake got to his feet as he noticed the Crippler approaching him. His hand was outstretched too.
?Twenty bucks kid.?
Jake riffled through his wallet and placed a crisp new twenty dollar bill into the Crippler’s waiting palm.
?Thanks.? the Crippler said as he shook Jake’s hand in return. If Jake had thought Steve’s grip had been strong it was nothing compared to the arm wrenching shake he got from the Crippler.
?You can pay up front for the whole month next week and it?ll only be fifteen bucks a week.?
?The name’s Chris. I haven?t been the Crippler for years. Good work out there. Keep that chin tucked in.?
The Crippler/Chris waved back at Jake as he walked away. Jake noticed how he limped to the left as he walked and how he winced as he climbed the couple of stairs into his office. Years of ring action had obviously taken their toll on the Crippler’s joints and left him battered. Jake began to walk out of the building and realized that he too was limping. One day of training and he had the same affected walk of a ring veteran; not something Jake wanted anyone else to notice.
Jake turned down the street and headed for his bus stop. His head was spinning and it wasn?t from the incredible knock it had taken on the ring. Jake felt so proud inside that he could barely contain himself. He had been unsure about his ability when he’s started out the day but he had made it through it and couldn?t wait for next weekend. Tomorrow he would get up and go to his mundane job in a department store. Selling electronics to the nameless masses that passed through every day. But come next Saturday he would once again jump into the ring and learn the skills he needed to be a professional wrestler. And hopefully along the way he would find the sense of belonging and purpose he had been searching for.