By: Mara Winters
“If I could give any advice to wrestlers now, I would say, please be safe, don’t take it too seriously, it’s just high school.” – Jenks Wrestler
Wrestling is a physically demanding sport, but most of this demand happens off the mat. The biggest component of this is cutting weight, which is a process that wrestlers take part in before a match. Their goal is to lose as much weight as possible to wrestle at lower weight class so they can have an advantage during the match. Losing so much weight in a limited amount of time can cause serious health issues and even result in eating disorders. There are countless horrific stories heard in the wrestling community each year about wrestlers who participate in cutting weight, and how it can result in eating disorders. As someone who has personally struggled with an eating disorder, I know the effects, the physical and mental tolls it takes on you, and the trauma it leaves you to deal with. It is something that stays with you for life.
Are Jenks wrestlers participating in cutting weight? If so, how is this affecting them?
The answer is yes. One Jenks alumni – who would prefer to stay anonymous – talked about how he and his teammates would cut weight during the week leading up to a wrestling match in 2016.
“We would starve ourselves and not drink any water,” he said about his time on the team. “I was working out constantly and sometimes in a trash bag, and would even not shower because when you shower the water is absorbed by your skin and that would be extra weight. This behavior wasn’t just encouraged, but glorified.”
This student went on to describe the wrestling environment at Jenks as “toxic and filled with outdated culture” during his five years on the team. Cutting weight, he said, was highly encouraged, and everyone on the team was expected to participate in it.
“I had one friend that went from 158 pounds to 132 in a little over a week and a half. I was worried about him, but if you didn’t drop the weight, you were seen as weak,” he said.
This Jenks wrestler is still working through the trauma he endured during high school wrestling, and he’s not the only one.
Jonathon Kelvington, a Jenks alumni, was the captain of last year’s wrestling team. Kelvington has been wrestling all his life, but high school wrestling was extremely demanding since freshman year.
“I learned how to cut weight the hard way,” he said.
Kelvington, like many other wrestlers, would starve himself before matches. He would not drink any water and would push his body past its limits to get to the lower weight class.
“I was exhausted and depressed when I did this. You are so miserable – all you can do is sleep so you don’t have to remind yourself how hungry you are,” he said.
His grades began to drop, he was unable to focus in school and became non-social. So in Junior year, he decided to make a change.
“I decided I needed to do my own research about how I can achieve my goals, but in a healthier way,” he said.
He started by looking at his diet and learned what he needed and didn’t need. He made smaller portions and cut out the unhealthy food he would usually eat.
Kelvington’s research was successful and he continued to see progress in his weight drop journey as well as his physical and mental health.
When he became captain his senior year, he started to see other wrestlers struggling with the same problem he experienced.
“I was concerned for my teammates and made sure they learned how to properly cut weight,” he said.
But sadly, not all his teammates would take his advice. It can be hard to break a habit, especially when you are seeing results.
The National Eating Disorders Association found that 33% of male wrestlers struggle with an eating disorder. Intensive weight control and dieting like Jenks Wrestlers do is highly connected to developing an eating disorder like binge eating, anorexia, and bulimia.
“I one-hundred-percent believe that you can develop eating disorders from this sport,” said Kelvington, “I still think about my calories, what I’m eating, and what I shouldn’t be eating. It’s still very restrictive.”
Many believe that cutting-weight is a thing of the past and wrestlers no longer have to deal with it. But is this true?
Dustin Hughes, has been the head Jenks Wrestling coach for two years now. He believes that dropping weight is not a big problem in the wrestling community anymore.
“I don’t think it’s a huge problem anymore, we tell them to get as big and as strong as you can,” he said.
Despite his beliefs, ACSM still sees dropping weight as a concerning problem in the wrestling community today.
Cayden Capages, senior, is this year’s wrestling captain. He believes that it’s mostly up to the wrestler to drop the weight now.
“Wrestling is a big part of my life, and if you’re not making weight it shows you’re not putting enough effort into the sport,” said Capages.
Capages agrees that taking risks, like cutting weight, is just a part of the sport that wrestlers need to be willing to do.
Should teenagers be taking the kind of risk that could potentially have life-long effects?
One Jenks wrestler, who prefers to stay anonymous, does not think it should be up to the wrestler.
His freshman year he decided, with the help of his coaches, to drop 20 pounds in 4 days before state. He ran for hours before and after school in a sweatsuit, two hoodies, and sweatpants, while also only drinking half a bottle of water every day and eating two bites of salmon. He learned this technique from his coaches.
“We were going to state, I wanted to wrestle in a weight class I thought I would do good in but, I just ended up hurting myself in the end,” he said.
During those four days, he described himself as miserable.
“I kept reminding myself, ‘Don’t eat, don’t eat, you’re almost there’,” he said.
He was weak, tired, and could barely get out of bed. When he was in school, he slept through his classes.
The captain and head coach of Jenks Wrestling agrees that it’s up to the wrestler to cut weight if they chose to do so, and wrestlers are choosing to do so with the help of their coaches.
“I will never cut-weight again,” said the anonymous Jenks Wrestler. “It was the worst decision of my life.”
At the beginning of the interview, Coach Hughes believed that cutting weight was not a big problem, until he heard some of the complaints from past/current wrestlers.
“Obviously we can do better in a whole lot of things and we can talk more about cutting weight,” said Hughes.
Not only did he decide to work on talking more with the wrestlers about cutting weight, he was also interested in learning more about eating disorders and warning signs when developing them.
When you think about wrestling, you think about getting stronger. But what you don’t see is the choices athletes make in order to win, and the potential long-term effects those choices can have. Getting to a lower-weight class is a temporary victory; fighting an eating disorder can be a lifelong issue.
After reporting this story, I hope that the Jenks wrestling team works to see their wrestlers as not just “athletes,” but as who they are: high school students who have their whole lives ahead of them and only one body.