Rulon Gardener sat in the middle of the matt and took off his shoes. I cried like a baby. Normally when tears come after someone takes off their shoes it has nothing to do with emotion and a lot to do with smell, but this was different.
Four years ago Rulon defeated the scariest human this side of Jason and Freddy. His name was Alexandre Kareline and he had won the Olympic Gold Medal in the previous 3 Olympics and every World Championship in between. Alexandre is thought to be the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler in history and had beaten Rulon easily the last time they met. These heavyweights were a study in opposites. Alexandre was a chiseled, square-jawed, muscular giant. Rulon was a baby-faced, easy-smiling, fat kid from Wyoming. Rulon did the impossible and handed the Russian giant his first loss in almost 15 years during the gold medal match.
That was four years ago. Now Rulon comes to the Olympics, again, an underdog. Many have fought and won matches against him, he was stranded out in the mountains of Wyoming and had severe frostbite, and he was still a baby-faced fat kid. Rulon lost his second to the last match in the Olympics and then won the Bronze medal match. In tears Rulon shook hands with his opponent, his coach, and then walked to the center of the matt with the crowd cheering and took off his shoes. In the world of athletes when one of their own takes off his shoes that means retirement. His shoes were beat up, marred, used up, scuffed, and smelly but were also beautiful as they sat by themselves in the middle of the matt. These shoes were a poor representation of the gentle farmer who wore them but they were a good representation of the battles he had fought, the wins and the losses.
I think that is a good representation of our lives too. When you leave your shoes in the middle of the matt what will they say about your life? We used to make fun of kids with brand new tennis shoes in school because they hadn’t DONE anything. Shoes that were beat up and molded to your foot represented people who were in the game and not on the sidelines. What will your shoes look like when you leave them on the matt?