Klessinger: Inspiration makes you believe when others do not

Updated: July 7, 2023

Photo: Among the more surprising moments that took place at Final X last month in Newark, N.J., was seeing Zane Richards (right) upset former World champ Thomas Gilman at 57 kilograms in men’s freestyle. (Sam Janicki photo)

By John Klessinger

Watching the Final X on June 10 on my iPhone tilted sideways, I couldn’t help but feel a familiar energy course through my body. I know this energy all too well and have invested the greater part of the last 25 years of my life chasing it. 

This energy is called inspiration, which propels us into a deeper level of passion and commitment. If used correctly, it can be the catalyst for great events in wrestling and life.

This column appeared in the late June issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

Final X in Newark, N.J., featured arguably the best team in the world. By team, I mean the United States’ team with wrestlers like David Taylor, Kyle Dake, Adeline Gray, Kayla Miracle and Gable Steveson, to name a few. 

Then there were the “upsets.” Chance Marsteller beating the “GOAT” Jordan Burroughs. I am sure Chance didn’t think of it as an upset. He was on point with his strategy and determination. As if he already knew how the outcome would turn out. Zane Richards taking out Thomas Gilman in two matches. Gilman has been the 57-kilogram “guy” since 2017 and has won a World title and an Olympic medal. So, it was an upset on paper, at least. 

Vito Arujau continued his impressive run since winning an NCAA title by rolling through the Trials and making his first Senior World team. And we can’t forget Nick Lee taking out Yianni Diakomihalis. Of all the matches I watched, those two were the most entertaining. Back and forth, putting us on the edge of our seats.

Wrestling inspires me. After 40 years in the sport, one would think you would lose that passion. If anything, it has increased in many ways. My body is older and beat up after 25 years of coaching and 15 years of competing. I still participate in grueling workouts with kids in practice and in the off-season. Joining in on the struggle motivates me to be better. I want to take advantage of what I can learn from the puddles of sweat and exhaustion. 

Words cannot accurately describe the “energy” that runs through me at that moment, whether running bleachers or live wrestling. 

The key to any great endeavor is a single thought. That’s it; one idea can change one’s trajectory of life. One inspired thought took a five-year-old David Taylor to where he is now. He wanted to be a four-time high school state champion, four-time NCAA champion and Olympic champion. Pretty close, minus a couple of NCAA titles. One thought of greatness made him one of the best wrestlers in United States history.     

Every day I am inspired. I am looking for it. I want to see the kid in my class do something she never thought possible. Instantly, it makes me want to be better. Recently, I had a girl in class dead lift 250 pounds. Two days prior, I told her I wanted her to try “250” after she surprised herself by doing 235. She was adamant that that was the most she could do. I said, “ok” and nudged, “How do you know if you don’t try?” I left it at that and didn’t bother her anymore. 

Two days later, I allowed the students to make up or redo any lifts. Halfway into class, I looked over and saw the same girl struggling; her face was red, and her body was shaking. She stood all the way up and completed the lift. She dropped the bar and celebrated. Nothing crazy but more of a quiet yell to herself. I asked her, “How much?” She said “250” with a smile. She didn’t need to say anything more. The look on her face was enough. That was an inspiration. 

Or there was the student who entered my class in January but never had been in a weight room. He struggled with every activity we did for the first couple of months. He wasn’t an athlete. Outside of P.E. classes, it was apparent he lived a sedentary lifestyle. 

Fast forward to May and the same kid is coming on his own time to open the weight room. He could have chosen to sit in the cafeteria and talk to friends. In class, he began to challenge himself more. He got stronger and more fit. He was inspired, leading him to improve his self-image and confidence. 

Look around and inspiration is everywhere. It is fuel like gasoline for a car. Instead of closing yourself off to it, welcome it. Use it to accomplish things you never thought possible. It is absolutely crazy what people can achieve when they are inspired.

Watching my kids recover from ACL reconstruction surgery has been the primary motivating force in my rehabilitation from a ruptured quad tendon that happened at the end of this past wrestling season. Two days before the Maryland state championships, I stepped back defending an underhook, and the tendon that connects my quadriceps muscle and knee completely snapped.

I had surgery on March 8 and since then, I have looked for inspiration from my children. They inspired me to return my knee to where it was before the injury. I have seen their struggles and pain from missing a year playing lacrosse and field hockey. First hand, I witnessed the physical and emotional pain of their injuries. The toughness and resiliency they’ve displayed push me to do the same.

You don’t have to look far to find inspiration. Your teammate may be losing matches but still works hard each day, trying to improve. A parent is working two jobs and never complains. Or, it happened at Final X, where two people per weight invested most of their life in a dream of making a World Team. 

Look past the technique, the outcome, the name … gaze a little deeper. Underneath lay the seeds of something great. That is an inspiration. If you live an inspired life, the right people and situations tend to show up. It is actually how our brains work. Whatever we focus on most, we see the most. We focus on the good. We see more good. But it is also the same for a negative mindset. 

The more we dwell on what is not right, the more we see that in our life. And really, logically, why would we not live an inspired life. 

(John Klessinger is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.)