A Broken-ribbed Wrestler

Describe an identity you have

I heard the crack before I hit the mat. It happened in a flash. One second I was sizing up the other wrestler—115 pounds tops, breathing heavy through his mouthguard, someone I could outlast on points if I didn’t pin him fast—the next I was crashing to the ground as he pile-drove me off my feet.

I felt a pop in my chest like my lungs had burst. The ref stood over me but I couldn’t hear what he was shouting. I stared up at the gym ceiling, my head spinning as I wondered why it was so hard to breath—and why it felt like a knife was wedged in my ribs.

When you lace up a cleat or strap on a helmet, part of you knows that the dirty secret of sports—the flip side of winning trophies and cheering teammates—is the risk of an injury. Every wrestler, runner and gymnast knows that he or she is an Achilles tear away from an ER visit and the end of their season.

But when you’ve wrapped your identity around a skill you can no longer perform—like a broken-ribbed wrestler or a tongue-tied debater or a singer who can’t hit a high note—you start wondering who you really are. My grandfather was a wrestler. My dad was all-world in every sport from football to Frisbee. My family had just moved from Delaware to Florida and I wasn’t fitting in to...

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