A Ph.D worth of thanks: a dirt shirt brother

(This picks up where the last post left off. This is part two of two.)

My brother Dex and I met Mike Nadock as freshmen on Mentor High School's wrestling team. We were 14-year old, 135-pound, nearly six-foot tall twins. We looked like gaunt albinos to the untrained eye (shout out to my fellow outlier melanin-deficient people). We weren't going to be on the cover of GQ, but we would have preferred Thrasher or Transworld Snowboarding anyway. Our parents didn't have money, and we were fully aware of the associated social stigmas that come with being blue-collar kids in a place with clear disparities between the poor, the working class, and the local suburban, new money elite. In short, we were outsiders.

We were skateboarders turned wrestlers, who trained, went to school, and interacted with the world around us with more than slight chips on our young shoulders. We were hell bent on pursuing our interests. Skateboarding. Music. Fishing. Wrestling. We had worked at things before, like kickflips. But, we'd never really tried at anything beyond the scope of our comfort zone. But, for an athlete, a coach is there to help her or him meet and exceed their potential.

Not Ohio.
When I met Mike he was roughly the age that I was when I hit full stride during my Ph.D. We'll call it 30. He had taken a leave of absence from trying out college, joined the Marines, served some international tours of duty, and then took an honorable discharge back into the only rust belt world many of my homegrown Ohio friends still know: breaking your back, hustling, and using your hands to make a living. Work ethic and reliability earned both money, and the only non-monetary currency that mattered: respect.

Mike was (and still is [and will always be]), what is non-scientifically known as a "hard-ass."

When I strode up the stairs to the Mentor High School wrestling room as a freshman, I was, like a new Ph.D student, excited to learn, work hard, and prove myself at the next level. I had the aforementioned chip on my shoulder and was out for a starting spot. Like many Ph.D students, I thought I knew way more than I really did. I only compensated for this by being willing to put in absurd amounts of time to learn the things I didn't know. Like many academics, I was willing to commit myself to my craft, going to absurd lengths to improve. I wanted big things. Mike was there to show us how much we had to learn about wrestling, being type A, and getting things done.

My brother and I had some talent, we worked really hard, and for some odd reason, Mike liked our style. We weren't clean, our workout clothes were ratty, and we got to practice early, and stayed late working on the finer points of defending outside singles and hand control. Mike had lived a similar, but harder life at our age, wrestling at a school in the same county, growing up with more than his fair share of adversity and a well-earned chip on his own shoulder.

My brother and I had very stable home lives, and our parents weren't afraid to take out credit card debt on things that they thought were good learning experiences. So over the years, we spent a lot of time on the mat, in the weight room, on the track, and competing across the state and country. In hindsight, not every kid (or their parents) committed to and did those things. We steadily improved.

In the end, we won a lot more than we lost, but we never achieved our full potential. I worked out a lot, eventually burned out from overtraining, and choked at a couple important tournaments. When I was 17, I had a career-ending spinal cord injury that had lasting physical impacts on me.

Outcomes aside, those four years of wrestling under Mike's guidance were a huge learning process. Technique, fitness, and humility were built at a pace that isn't very gratifying to those needing instant gratification. It was really hard to cut weight, forego social events, train non-stop, and then compete. The process alone was daunting, and the outcomes disappointing compared to what we had dreamed up. But, a brother is a brother.

Still not Ohio
Mike was in our corner for all of the good and the bad. From hospital visits to 5am workouts, to being the first guy you'd call after a summer freestyle tournament, Mike was an older brother who cared about our success and progress. Mostly he cared about helping us learn to self-evaluate, teach ourselves skills, and morph into reliable, dependable young people.

I have never invested in another human being's development as much as Mike did for Dex and I. And I have no idea why Mike was as invested in our success as he was, but it shaped a way of thinking that still persists.

Wrestling for Mike presented this: if you dream it, embrace the process of improving, learn, and fall on some luck (health, finance, etc.), you can do a lot of things. I've applied this to almost everything over the years, and it started with running and sparring in a quiet wrestling room, because a friend thought that I could shoot the moon if I tried hard enough.

Success is on an arbitrary scale, but thanks to Mike, I learned that I shouldn't fear going all in toward that ever evolving definition. When I defended my Ph.D, Mike was the only other family member there. It's as much his doing as it is mine.

Thanks, Mike. You're "...the best older brother that a pair of dirt shirt twins could ever ask for." And thanks to you, I'll always focus on the process, embrace the grind, and not worry about the outcomes.

*If this sounds like a jock sports, cliche, it's because I grew up in Ohio, where these are abundant.

**I didn't put up any pictures of Mike in this post, because he might kick my ass if I did.

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