I had a friend who was a big baseball player back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you, make you look like a fool.
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar, I was walking in and he was walking out
"But, amateur wrestling can teach positive qualities to kids. It teaches character and courage. It takes courage to go out there one-on-one with somebody. And, it takes a lot of discipline. ... It's really a humbling sport; you don't win them all in anything you do." Andy Rein, 1984 Olympic silver medalist
We went back inside sat down, had a few drinks but all he kept talking about was glory days Bruce Springsteen
You know the type. You've seen them at sports bars telling the world how it used to be. How they once faced, outdid or brushed up against somebody who went on to make it big.
They hang around Little League sports, living through their kids. Or at autograph shows, dusting off their fame and hawking the shards of their lives not so much for money as to keep the glory days alive.
Maybe it's human nature to want to hang on to the glory years, whether they're real, enhanced or made up, to exchange today's fire for yesterday's ashes.
Andy Rein is having none of that. Even though he could use his impressive credentials as an excuse to hang on to the past, Rein won't. He has been an NCAA champion wrestler, an All-American at the University of Wisconsin. He went on to be the Badgers' head coach from 1986-93. In between, he won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
Rein has plenty of bragging rights, if he wanted to claim them. He doesn't. Rein isn't one to linger. He's a guy on the move, feet planted squarely in today, eyes focused on the future.
"The Olympics of 1984 seems like a long time ago, like another lifetime," Rein said. "It's important at the time, but life moves on. That competition is over. We're competing in a whole new world right now. Today, I'm doing something else and I don't think much about the past. The memories are good, but let it go."
Rein was in Brainerd last week to do a favor for his friend, Dale Bjerkness. Rein was to work, for an afternoon, with the Brainerd Warriors wrestling team. He would be with the team not to talk about his glory days, but to share some insights -- to help some young athletes bring out more of what they have inside them.
"When somebody like a silver medalist would come into our high school," said Rein, "I was like, 'Wow.' You listen to what somebody like that has to say. If you can take something home to make you a better person or a better wrestler, then you've improved yourself that day.
"All I want to do with these kids is not mess them up. If I can support them or answer any questions or help with a trouble spot, I'll try to do that. If I can offer some words of encouragement or motivation that would mean more than showing them technique."
After leaving Brainerd, Rein flew to Iran to coach a U.S wrestling team in the desert. He was more excited about that than dwelling on his past accomplishments.
"Taking teams overseas is something I've done in the past for USA Wrestling," said Rein. "It's a unique opportunity to work with elite athletes; guys who have committed their lives to becoming champions. It's fun to be around people like that. I talk about goals and preparation, but it's also important to associate with quality people; to be around people who want to achieve success.
"Wrestling is a unique sport, a family sport. Wrestlers don't do it for fame or money. They do it for the love of the sport and themselves and that's a neat thing. The quality of wrestling continues to get better at all levels. You have better coaching, better training environments and it's going to continue.
"The XFL and all those extreme sports get a lot of coverage. That's apparently what people want to see. I know guys that are doing all-star wrestling make a good living. It's a form of entertainment and people want to be entertained. I have nothing against it.
"But, amateur wrestling can teach positive qualities to kids. It teaches character and courage. It takes courage to go out there one-on-one with somebody. And, it takes a lot of discipline. It takes a lot of bounce-back ability after you experience defeat. It's really a humbling sport; you don't win them all in anything you do."
The idea that sports builds character is almost a clich. But, while some compete for the love of sport, others look for a big payday. Rein was asked whether sports actually builds character or merely reveals it. He paused, for more than a moment, before responding.
"That's a good question," he said. "I don't know. I'll have to give that some thought."
The way Rein says it makes you believe that he will indeed give it some thought. But for now, he is off to work with high school kids. Hours later, he'll be in Iran, teaching other wrestlers about unwrapping the glorious gifts to be found by focusing on the present.
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