Why Do You Wrestle? The Inspirational Story of Nishan Patel (by John Passaro)

For more information on the subject of this story, Nishan Patel or the author, John Passaro, see the end of the article.


While I was on the side of the mat next to some wrestlers who were warming up for their next match, I found myself standing side by side next to an extraordinary wrestler.

He was warming up and he had that look of desperation on his face that wrestlers get when their match is about to start and their coach is across the gym coaching on another mat in a match that is already in progress.

“Hey do you have a coach?” I asked him.

“He’s not here right now.” He quietly answered me ready to take on the task of wrestling his opponent alone.

“Would you mind if I coached you?”

His face tilted up at me with a slight smile and said, “That would be great.”

Through the sounds of whistles and yelling fans I heard him ask me what my name was.

“My name is John,” I replied.

“Hi John, I am Nishan,” he said while extending his hand for a handshake.

He paused for a second and then he said to me, “John, I am going to lose this match.”

He said that as if he was preparing me so I wouldn’t get hurt when my coaching skills didn’t work magic with him today.

I just said, “Nishan – no score of a match will ever make you a winner.  You are already a winner by stepping onto that mat.”

With that he just smiled and slowly ran on to the mat, ready for battle, but half knowing what the probable outcome would be.

When you first see Nishan you will notice that his legs are frail – very frail.  So frail that they have to be supported by custom made, form fitted braces to help support and straighten his limbs.

Braces that I recognize all too well.

Some would say Nishan has a handicap.  I say that he has a gift.

To me the word handicap is a word that describes what one “can’t do.”  That doesn’t describe Nishan. Nishan is doing.

The word “gift” is a word that describes something of value that you give to others.

And without knowing it, Nishan is giving us all a gift. I believe Nishan’s gift is inspiration. The ability to look the odds in the eye and say “You don’t pertain to me.”  The ability to keep moving forward. Perseverance. A “whatever it takes” attitude.

As he predicted, the outcome of his match wasn’t great.  That is, if the only thing you judge a wrestling match by is the actual score. Nishan tried as hard as he could, but he couldn’t overcome the twenty-six pound weight difference that he was giving up to his opponent on this day in order to compete.  You see, Nishan weighs only 80 pounds and the lowest weight class in this tournament was 106.  Nishan knew he was spotting his opponent 26 pounds going into every match on this day.  He wrestled anyway.

I never did get the chance to ask him why he wrestles, but if I had to guess I would say, after watching him all day long, that Nishan wrestles for the same reasons that we all wrestle for. We wrestle to feel alive, to push ourselves to our mental, physical and emotional limits – levels we never knew we could reach. We wrestle to learn to use 100% of what we have today in hopes that our maximum today will be our minimum tomorrow.  We wrestle to measure where we started from, to know where we are now, and to plan on getting where we want to be in the future.  We wrestle to look the seemingly insurmountable opponent right in the eye and say, “Bring it on – I can take whatever you can dish out.”

Sometimes life is your opponent and just showing up is a victory.

You don’t need to score more points than your opponent in order to accomplish that.

No, Nishan didn’t score more points than any of his opponents on this day, that would have been nice, but I don’t believe that was the most important thing to Nishan.  Without knowing for sure – the most important thing to him on this day was to walk with pride like a wrestler up to a thirty two foot circle, have all eyes from the crowd on him, to watch him compete one on one against his opponent – giving it all that he had.  That is what competition is all about.  Most of the times in wrestling you are competing against yourself. Nishan is no different.

They say 80% of life is just showing up.  Nishan showed up today.  He showed up when most others would have stayed in the stands.  Today all of Nishan’s opponents may have scored more points than him, but he competed. He competed against his opponents, he competed against himself and he competed against life. And no matter what the score may have said in any one of his matches – he won in every case.

You later learn in life how important the disciplines of wrestling are to you in handling real life problems, especially when facing a seemingly insurmountable opponent in a disease or illness.

If you live long enough, life will throw you to your back.

And when it does – you are much better off if you have wrestled. You will know how to fight like hell to get off of your back, to get back on your feet and to move forward.

Chances are that I probably will never see Nishan again. That is just how life works.

“Wrestling brother” – keep moving forward.

And thank you for the gift.

You are an inspiration.

—— Nishan Patel is looking to represent the USA later this year at the Paralympic Games.  For more on him and how to help make his dreams a reality, see here.

For more on John Passaro, author of the book “6 Minutes Wrestling With Life”, see here.


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