In the grand scheme of things, sports aren't all that important.
I know, it was as weird for me to type as it was for you to read.
The individual wins and losses. The ups and downs of a regular season. The championships. The heartbreaks. For the majority of former high school athletes, all of these moments amount to little more than dull dinner conversation.
Close the yearbook, as they say.
Where sports are important, however, are in those moments between the highs and lows. It's the day-to-day grind that shapes young men and women into productive members of society, not championship banners and flowery praise.
There is where you'll find Gavin Kramer.
I went on my Instagram feed late last week and found a stunning photo and a heartbreaking caption from the Spirit Lake senior, who in the previous day found out that his wrestling career would be cut short due to a shoulder injury — a few weeks shy of a possible return trip to the state tournament and just three wins short of eclipsing the 100-win mark for his career. This is what Gavin had to say:
"I strapped up the wrestling shoes and stepped on the mat for the first time when I was 3 years old. 15 years later and I've wrestled my last match. Yesterday, I was told by a doctor that my high school wrestling career is over because of a shoulder injury that happened a month ago. 3 wins short of the 100 win milestone. One of the hardest things that I've ever had to hear and I still can't quite understand it. It truly broke my heart. Those words coming from the doctor's mouth burned more than any tough practice, overtime match, or loss to a tough opponent. I'm in such a great debt to the sport of wrestling and to all of my coaches, mentors, teammates, and even opponents that I've met along the way. Not only have I been taught the sport and how to be successful on the mat, but because of the sport, I've been taught to be successful in all walks of life. That's the beauty of wrestling. It's not just a sport, it's a lifestyle. It teaches respect, builds character, mental toughness, and so much more. To all athletes, especially the younger ones, please, and I say this with tears in my eyes. Please, don't take a single second of whatever sport you're in for granted. I know the practices and the bus rides suck, but you never know when the sport you love can be ripped right out from under you. Enjoy every second and take it all in. To the sport of wrestling and to everyone that I've had the pleasure of meeting because of the sport, thank you. Time to turn the page to the next chapter of life. Thank you everyone for the support."
The heartbreaking part of this story is, Kramer — like so many athletes — is the type of young man who never really got the type of shine that he so deserved.
Kramer's sophomore season ended with a concussion the night before the district tournament in a freak accident in practice. He fought his way back in his junior year, eventually qualifying for the state tournament for the first time, and even picked up a win in The Well. He was determined to improve on that finish this season before the injury bug bit yet again.
"You look at his four-year career and he's had a rough go with injuries and stuff like that," Spirit Lake Park coach Andrew Lundgren said. "For him to come back after (his sophomore year) and to be able to do what he did his junior year in going to state and (earning a win) it just shows his determination. No matter what he's given, he's never going to stop, he's never going to quit. He is a kid that, as a coach, I'm proud to say that he's a part of our wrestling team. The way that he acts on and off the mat is just what I want to see our kids striving to do each and every day."
The heartwarming part of the story is, while the injury is unfortunate, Kramer will be better for it.
"Knowing the kind of young man that Gavin is, he's going to take this, he's going to respond from it, and it's going to make him a better man when he gets out of high school, when he goes off to college, and when he someday becomes a husband, a father, and that's what my goal is as a coach," Lundgren said. "It's great to have the wins and losses and it hurts me to say that Gavin was three wins away from 100. That hurts. But in the end, it's about the journey that you go through within this sport and what it makes you as a man outside of the sport when you're head of a family, have kids, in a job, those are the things that I have as goals. I want these kids to be better after all of this is over. I think Gavin is a kid that I will continually talk about. The person that he is, what he stands for, how he carries himself on and off the mat, we're going to look back at all of this and enjoy the process that he went through in wrestling, even though it didn't end the way he wanted it to."
And Coach Lundgren is right.
While it's sad to know that I won't get to write about Gavin's 100th win, or silently root him on again in Des Moines, he's the type of kid that I'll always root for in life. And his future is brighter than any state tournament stage.
Keep your head up, Champ.