The Training Grounds

Written By: Daniel Steiger

The Training Grounds

I was inside the den of the beast, the birth place of the ball of fury and horror lurking in my gut. There’s one light in the colossal room shining ominously down on the fighting pit. The gymnasium is not empty; in fact it’s on the verge of bursting with ear piercing silence. Underneath the smell of musty sweat and rubber is blood emerging like a bitter after taste from my recently broken nose. Hunger burns in my empty belly; hunger for revenge and for victory just as much as for sustenance. My skin clings to my muscles like a wet piece of worn cloth; an effect that can only be received by months of working like a warhorse and eating like a mouse. The mother of the beast is pacing back and forth veiled in angry beads of sweat. It’s watching me as I look back through a black mask with eye holes resembling the empty sockets of a skull.

The north shore of eastern Long Island is a majestic land with sunsets that weep on to the horizon, into the sound, and run off to the beach. The molten color glistens off assorted rocks and sea glass like beads of morning dew each individually placed by the wand of a forest elf. That’s what most accounts of the east end will look like anyway. To a wrestler, beaches of the north fork are a training arena. It’s a place of pain and work, for those are the two best words to describe a day in the life of a wrestler. It is a beautiful place but it’s beautiful in the same way Dr. Frankenstein has beauty. It is a place with the ability to create a living monstrosity because the wrestler is an abomination. A beautiful pier that overlooks the crimson sunset, and omits the aroma of treated wood is the needle used to sew on his tree trunk legs. It’s a set of stairs to run up and back down until electricity starts to creep up the calves. The second lap turns the electricity to fire crawling to the hamstrings. By the time the final lap comes around the burning has to be measured in Kelvin. The sand that twinkles like a cup of sugar in a china glass is the vice used to crack his chest plate and insert a ticking heart. It’s the heart of a machine, for only a machine will keep running through the sand as it sucks and pulls at each drop of the foot. A human heart would surely become overwhelmed, but not the machine heart of a wrestler. John Henry himself would be put to shame because even he had to stop when the tracks came to an end. For a wrestler there is no end. The work keeps coming. He must keep giving until there is nothing left to give. But he isn’t allowed to stop so the energy is stripped from his fat storage which is reserved in the case of starvation. The fat runs out in two weeks of the cracker diet and a training regime that the almighty Zeus would have difficulty completing. But why have you stopped young one? There is still energy left in your deep tissue and muscles, and by God when that is gone there will be your soul left to take from! After your soul is gone you will wrestle with the gladiators long forgotten for all eternity.

The wrestler tortures himself, sweats his soul out, and spills his blood only to have his name painted on the wall of a mildew ridden basement room located in his high school. If he is a wrestler he is one of the best. If his name is on the dingy wall he is the best of the best and will always be remembered as such. And so you will see the wrestler on Friday evenings working his soul off on the beaches of north fork Long Island. The sun will be going down and the temperature dropping below 32 degrees on this brisk January night. He will be alone; no one goes to the beach in winter. This is good for him to get used to, for when he steps into the fighting pit he alone will face the shadow. He will have no allies or no cries of support; everyone has gone to watch the basketball players. So he runs alone with only the sea birds screeching their support. The shadow of night turn the feathered creatures into demon bats flying overhead and gargoyles perched ominously on the various pillars.

And the mother of the beast steps into the circle. It was from him that my fury and need for vengeance was birthed. The battle field is still scarred with streaks of sweat from the previous contenders. The face mask protecting my battered face is my helm, and my determination for victory is my sword. I walk toward the creature with a back so large it is as if wings protrude from behind its arms. I look to my coach and send a salute to he who is my emperor. When I look back, the frothing brute is in fighting position. It’s licking its chops and doing what it can to hold back until the whistle blows. Time stops for a minute or two and when the whistle blows the creature that might as well be an army of urchins whiplashes itself upon my oaken shield that is my body. I stop the creature like the ground stops lighting. Arms and fist hammer upon my head and the world explodes in a flash of blade and fang.