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Sweating it out
by Roger Brigham

Ever get that panicky feeling that you love something so much that you may have oversold it to others, hyping up their expectations for something unrealistic and unapproachable? That's how I felt late last month awaiting the arrival of two people I had never met and a contingent of Aussies I'd only met last year at the Gay Games in Germany.

The reasons for my trepidation were obvious. I had been lobbying to get wrestlers to come to the Don Jung Tournament for months, but the tournament numbers are always small the year after a Gay Games. This one was no exception, drawing just two-dozen wrestlers, or about half of what it gets in peak years. There were no women in the tournament for the first time I've ever been involved. Normally the event is on a Sunday and offers a full slate of ancillary activities in the days leading up and the day after; this year is was on a Saturday, just regular club practices leading up to it, and Sunday would be occupied with daylong volunteering at Folsom Street Fair to raise funds.

Worst of all, for me, it would be the first time I would be going through tournament week since I started dialysis almost a year ago. It's not enough to keep me off the mat entirely, but it forces me to choose my moments on the mat carefully, get off quickly, and not move too much when I'm out there. Plus my energy is too sapped to be the 24/7 host/chef/coach/entertainer/speaker I always try to be when out-of-town wrestlers come calling.

Silly, baseless worries. There's magic on the mat and that's all that is needed.

I met Carlin Yetts at Eureka Valley Recreation Center on the Tuesday before Folsom as we were getting set up for practice. Yetts has been involved in wrestling since he was a little kid and was a varsity stud in high school, and currently coaches a youth wrestling program for a rec center in Columbus, Ohio. This would be his first introduction to LGBT-friendly wrestling and his first time competing in several years.

Some of the Aussies were already getting ready for practice when I arrived. We'd all been bunking in the same quarters in Cologne last year, but they are all big fellows and so I hadn't coached them much at the games. But they were full of energy and enthusiasm and ready to roll.

I looked around the room and noticed no other coaches were there yet. Gulp. I hadn't thought I would get on the mat at all that day. Instead, I would have to run the clinic. In for a dime, in for a dollar: I decided as long as I was out there, I was going to use the opportunity to throw some bodies.

For the next hour or so, I demonstrated under-arm spins and fireman's carries â€" throws you can use to toss an opponent directly to his back for maximum points. I don't go easy when I do the throws â€" I throw my opponent while I am still standing rather than going to my knees â€" and there is a real exhilaration in that split second when you realize you've got the guy locked and loaded and his feet are about to go sailing over his head.

Soon the room was full of huffing and puffing bodies flying through the air and landing splat on the mat. Ahh, good times.

More coaches showed up, we went into open mat session, and I got to sit back and enjoy the battles of sweat, testosterone, adrenaline, and smiles. It's the smiles more than the skill level that separates elite wrestling from recreational wrestling.

The intervening days before the tournament were a blur: Muir Woods on Wednesday, dropping wrestlers off for an intense practice Thursday, making empanadas and sangria Friday for Saturday's post-tournament feast.

And then the tournament, which is run under Wrestlers WithOut Borders' modified rules. Wrestlers pooled by evaluation of conditioning, age, and skill level rather than by strict weight classes. No high-amplitude 5-point throws. Best of all, a noon start time so everyone gets to sleep in. Olympics eat your heart out.

Gene Dermody, president of Golden Gate Wrestling Club and the unchallenged godfather of all things in LGBT wrestling, had done his usual inspired job with the pairings and it showed in the match results. There were almost no quick pins (which are usually a sign of badly mismatched wrestlers) and several taut suspenseful decisions. Best of all, no serious injuries and plenty of serious smiling.

Four officials worked the matches. Greg Lines is captain of the San Diego Wrestling Club, coaches high school wrestling, and is a long time friend from WWB. Josh Watkins from Chicago started a club there to be the host of the 2006 Gay Games and now competes and officiates frequently. Alex Ostrovkiy, a Soviet champion in the 1950s who has worked with GGWC since 2002, is so highly regarded by the international federation that it waived its mandatory retirement requirement for him.

And then there was Akil Patterson, the other wrestler I had lobbied so long to get out here. Patterson is a heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler training for the next two Olympics who says he doesn't wrestle "leg grabbing" freestyle wrestlers. He had come out just to officiate and volunteer at the GGWC demonstration booth the next day. He is one mountain of a man and a very funny guy. This was his first taste of WWB wrestling and meeting the gang.

There was roughly a 70-30 ratio of gay to straight wrestlers in the tournament, which served as this year's WWC Cup Championship. As per usual with the event, no announcements were made of placements and everyone was awarded a medal. There were six competition pools. Unofficial tallies show the Hosts edged the Guests 19-16 in the gold-silver-bronze scoring totals, and that gays won a whopping five of the six brackets.

And then it was off to Dermody's house for the post-tournament feast and the presentation of the (mostly) tongue-in-cheek awards. Sober heartfelt speeches and gut-busting anecdotes. Sangria and empanadas disappeared along with a pile of filet mignon and a flood of beverages.

In the dark crowded living room where all were clustered for the presentation of awards, I occasionally scanned the room to take in the vibe. I looked at laughing smiles and bright eyes and saw family.

And I saw Patterson and Yetts, my newest best buds, taking it all in.

Silly, baseless worries. There's magic on the mat and that's all that is needed.

Four wrestlers named to Hall of Merit

Members of Wrestlers WithOut Borders clubs voted by acclamation at the WWB Cup to induct four wrestling pioneers to the Don Jung Hall of Merit in January at the Runyon Wrestling Classic in Las Vegas.

Named to the hall are: Oakland's Rochelle Robinson, a three-time nominee from GGWC who won gold in the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam as well as the 1998 U.S. Nationals; second-time nominee Mike Ognibene of New York City, who won three consecutive gold medals at the Gay Games in the lightweight divisions; Albert "Ace" Rocek of GGWC, who won three consecutive golds at the Gay Games in the light heavyweight classes; and Mike Rio, who was the first coach for Southern California Wrestling Club and died from AIDS-related causes.

Miles for Migraine Run

The Miles for Migraine Run, a fundraiser for migraine research and education, will be held Saturday, October 9, in Golden Gate Park.

Distances offered are 5- and 10-kilometer runs and a 2-kilometer walk, starting at 55 Music Concourse Drive between the DeYoung Museum and the California Academy of Science.

Entry fee is $35 online or at the race. On-site registration will open at 7:30 a.m. and the race will begin at 9. Refreshments will be served at the finish line of the looped course.

Information on registration and volunteering is available at

Little Black Dress Run

San Francisco Front Runners will hold its annual 5-kilometer Little Black Dress Run Saturday, October 22, at 9 a.m. at the Stow Lake Boathouse just off Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park. Prizes will be awarded for best female and best male little black dress as well as prizes in other categories such as best accessory, best shoes, best jewelry, Miss Congeniality and Ms. Slut. A brunch will follow. There is no cost to participate.


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