Tuesday, May 30, 2006
My brother said that to me, as we walked away from my parents and to my car to meet up with a motley crew of Colorado and Wisconsin players. The men’s finals had just wrapped up, everyone was giving thanks to whoever deserved it, and we walked together across the parking lot with a few moments alone.
Even then, my thoughts on the entire trip, the season in general, the tourney, and the company I shared for 3000 miles in my car began to gel. There was a lot for me to sift through, and I knew that it would take a while to put it all down on paper. Heartlatch Potbreak came out six months after the fact, and while I don’t expect this delay to be anything close, I will take my time gathering my thoughts to make sure I get them right. This one is the short story of how a little brother became a man for my parents, who read here on occasion.
“Sometimes champions lose.” I thought about it, what it meant to an individual and what it meant to my brother. I realized he understood why we played, why this sport meant more than the athletics and car trips. We play to improve ourselves as people. I had talked to Rodrigo early in the fall semester about his goals for the year and how he was planning on achieving them. He had said then (obviously) that he wanted to win the national championship. When I asked him how, he said he was going to work harder than anyone else.
It was so vague. How do you work harder than everyone else, I wondered. There’s always someone working harder. I wished him the best of luck but felt overpowered by his goal. Couldn’t he see that his path to success was impossible?
What my brother did was what I was unable to do: he ignored the impossible. He enrolled in a weightlifting class in the fall three times a week with Muffin and then set about obliterating his squat, press, and leg extension personal records. When I saw him during Christmas he was huge, 175 pounds and incredibly strong. In the spring he enrolled in a yoga class to improve his flexibility, and on top of the Hodags’ already grueling workouts signed up for Accelerate Madison, an 11 week training program that consisted of 3 weekly 4 hour workouts alone with a trainer, tuning his running form and jumping. He dropped ten pounds and made it so you could read the finest muscle fibers in the parchment of his skin. He did it himself, one workout at a time, one class at a time. When finals was over and they’d lost to Florida, he was disappointed for his team. But, despite a few tears, his pride in himself and his accomplishments shone through his eyes and he was happy. Winning the championship was a benchmark, one way to prove to himself he’d met his goals. By season’s end, though, he understood that he didn’t need a benchmark. It was within him and around him. Just as when Luke Skywalker puts away the targeting computer in his Death Star run, my brother realized the only goal he’d really set was to believe in himself, and he’d succeeded.
It was extremely emotional when we parted. We cried then. He said to me, “Eto, this shit gave me a lot of confidence. It showed me I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it.” There, in plain words, he said it. He’s never been big on fanfare. What the University of Wisconsin struggled 5 years to teach him he taught himself in one season.
“Dude we can do anything we want together. Nothing can stop us.” He struggled to say this and I couldn’t look at him in the eyes as I fought back tears. I wipe them off fresh again as I write this and tell you, Mami and Papi, that everything you might have wanted him to learn in college, everything important, he learned it. He did it on his own. He is a champion.