John’s Wrestling Challenge I have to admit to being trepidatious before this the 32nd of my 34 challenges. We found a club in Peterborough – sadly the nearest one to Cambridge, reflecting the unfair low regard in which the sport is held. This is an ancient sport, one of the few that have come from the original Olympics in Greece into the modern games. It should not be confused with WWE or the Big Daddy Saturday afternoon fare so popular with my gran. This is real and that was why I was nervous. Trevor, our enthusiastic coach for the evening, had travelled all the way from Mansfield. He was not fazed by my impairments, giving me a very thorough workout, and testing me in some proper game play moves. Trevor and coaches like him are the lifeblood of sport, giving hours and hours of their time, often in dingy, dark and cold venues for the reward of seeing their sport continue. I salute you all. Thank you! This venue was far from dingy. Part of a Community Centre, with an Asian wedding – it was actually described as a “mini wedding”, an engagement perhaps – loudly proceeding in the other half of the large hall, split with a temporary divider, it was light, modern, clean and spacious. Trevor was supervising a group of half a dozen younger boys, c. 8-12, when we arrived. It was useful to see what they were doing.

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Soon it was the turn of the adults, about 10 of us ranging from about 16 to me at 55 (though Trevor is older!). We ran round the edge of the mats to warm up, flexing and stretching as we went. I walked, but did touch the mat at each corner, and kick my legs high, to stretch out. I warmed up quickly. We then played a game with a couple of squidgy large blue balls. When the ball was rolled to you, you had to flop on top of it using the chest to support your weight. This is to practice the sprawl, the position you aim to get your opponent in, after a take down: you use your body weight to hold him down, while manoeuvring into a position to throw him onto his back. Once completed you rolled the ball to another player in the circle. The game became quicker and quicker. Trevor then added in more complicated moves: bringing your hand through under your body while maintaining control of the ball, rolling sideways using the shoulders to maintain contact, the same with the head and neck. All useful for game situations. We then paired up to try it. Trevor offered himself as my Guinea pig! I lent over putting my chest on his shoulders, he in an on-all-fours position. I then traversed around and back learning where to put my legs to maintain the pressure. Then we shown the turn over. From the side you reach under the body to grab the arm or leg and then push – the opponent has to flip and you end up on top in a hold. Even though my arms are short I was able to hold Trevor’s opposite arm enough to push him over with my shoulder. We agreed I needed to use my shoulder as a battering ram to lift to upset the balance. I found this all fascinating and satisfyingly hard work. I was building up quite a sweat. The boys – they were all so much younger than me – then practiced the whole sequence: take down, pin, traverse, hand grab and roll. Since most were novices this was excellent but taxing training. Trevor and I discussed the status of the sport in this country. Very popular up and until the 1970s it has suffered as the imitation versions – the actors can’t cope when opponents actually defend! – took hold on TV. Numbers of clubs and participants dropped but in the last 5 years they are climbing again. We must encourage its continued growth. I can see that it will appeal to those not keen on ball sports but don’t like the hitting of boxing or the regime of judo, and for those with an Eastern European heritage. We must start investing in those sports that can make youngsters who wouldn’t otherwise take exercise, do so, because health is more important than medals.

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A wonderful outcome from the evening was meeting Zahid and Asad Arif, the latter from the Futuwwa Community. A strong Muslim community, they concentrate upon the ancient sports of archery, swimming, riding and wrestling. They were impressed I had taken part in all four, and particularly at the age of 55! We will explore the opportunities to do a Power House Games in their community, and whether I can demonstrate my archery with them. Encouraging the whole community is what Power2inspire is all about, so I needn’t have been nervous. Still it was fabulous to have such fun and with wedding, its music, and the aroma of great curries pervading the atmosphere. Thank you Futuwwa.