I headed back to the East Coast again to enjoy the end of the summer and the beginning of fall, my favorite time of year in Pennsylvania.
Part One of my East Coast Adventure featured a wedding, training, bike rides, friends and family. This time around was very different.
I kicked off my second east coast adventure by spending a week training at Lehigh with the upper weights just before their official season began. It’s always good to get back into the wrestling room especially since Lehigh had just finished building a brand new facility, The Caruso Wrestling Complex. For those who are unfamiliar with Lehigh University, it’s a small, very academically centered school in Bethlehem, PA that just happens to have an amazing Division I wrestling program coached by who I consider to be the best college coach in the nation, Pat Santoro. The wrestling team also has a great staff of assistants and a very passionate booster club.
In 2010 I was fortunate enough to compete for the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club, make the Freestyle National Team, and compete and represent the LVAC and the United States overseas. Since that time, they have welcomed me back to train anytime I’m in the area even though I am now competing in a slightly different arena. I owe a lot to this program and someday I hope to be in the position to be able to give back to them. I may not have a facility named after me but maybe a bathroom or a broom closet somewhere.
I spent my second week on the East Coast in Coconut Creek, Florida training with the guys at American Top Team. I was invited down to train with Carmelo Marrero and Steve Mocco, two guys I competed against in college. I never thought I would be friendly with either of these two since we had so many battles back in the day, but that’s water under the bridge and I’m happy to call them my friends now. They just so happen to be great training partners too.
I wasn’t able to wrestle any alligators while I was in Florida but I managed to have a strange animal encounter and tangle with a bunch of good guys that train down there. Training stories can get a little boring so I’ll stick to the good stuff!
I flew in to Miami and hopped on a train to meet up with the guys. We immediately grabbed something to eat and hit the beach before the sun went down. It was pretty hot so we all jumped into the ocean at Deerfield Beach right next to the pier. The Florida beaches are different than the ones I’m used to. The water in California is usually pretty cold and you can’t see much, but the water in Florida is warm and you can see everything. As we were relaxing in the water we noticed a school of small fish changing direction and flickering in the sunlight. Some of the guys were making unsuccessful attempts at grabbing the fish and I kept going under the water and swimming with them, possibly pretending that I was one of them for a minute or two. A little later, as we were talking and hanging out in the chest-deep water I noticed that the fish looked a little bigger (about the length of my hand) and had a streak of yellow on them. I didn’t think much of it and we continued to talk and watch the sun move closer to the horizon.
I was in the middle of telling a story when suddenly one of the little fish swam right up to the surface and attached itself to my right nipple. This fish latched on with its tiny teeth and just started ripping and tearing like a maniac for what seemed like a minute. In reality, it was probably only 3 seconds. Of course, I stopped mid-story and started yelling and swatting at the fish. I basically freaked out.
Meanwhile no one else saw the viscous attack, so they all just figured I was faking a shark attack and told me to knock it off. Yep, these are my friends! I didn’t want to let this little fish totally defeat me so instead of getting out of the water completely, I decided to move from chest-deep water to waist deep water. As soon as I made the move I was plagued with one thought, “What if another, even more sensitive part of my body is attacked?”
As I stood there protecting myself and trying to think of something else one of the guys looked at me and said, “Hey bro, is that blood on you?” I looked down and sure enough blood was running down my chest and stomach. The other guys started to take notice just as another thought popped into my head, “I think I’ve heard somewhere that sharks can smell blood in the ocean from miles away!” I spent another 10 nervous minutes in the water before we finally decided to take off. That was definitely an interesting start to the week.
When my week of training was finished it was time to move up the coast a few miles towards Jacksonville for my good friend Tim’s wedding. I thought for sure I’d have stitches or a black eye for this occasion, but I managed to make it there with only a minor nipple injury! The wedding turned out to be a blast. I was able to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a long time. I didn’t realize “catching up,” meant wrestling matches on the beach and skinny-dipping in the ocean, but who am I to reject new traditions! I found that this was the best way to get over my newly developed fear of fish, so it all worked out in the end. It was great to see my old and very good friends and make some new ones in the process.
My last week on the East Coast was spent back at home in Lancaster, PA. I worked out with my Lehigh guys during the day and spent time with my family at night. The last weekend of my trip was devoted to mountain biking with my buddies at Lake Raystown. This is the second year in a row we’ve managed to make this trip happen so I think that makes it a tradition. Raystown is one of my favorite spots in Pennsylvania to ride: over 30 miles of singletrack trails, great conditions, beautiful fall scenery and spending time with some great friends had me smiling the entire time. We had some awesome rides and some great laughs by the fire.
Friends from all times and places in my life, family, and great experiences are key ingredients to an epic adventure. This was exactly what I needed to finish up my East Coast adventure and get me motivated to get back to training in Orange County. I’m constantly training and doing everything possible to get better but sometimes I have to step back and take a break to re-energize and refocus in order to take the next step forward. The trick is figuring out how to do it, and I’ve found that a trip back east is definitely one great way.