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WRESTLING WITH WEIGHT

SOME ATHLETES GO TO EXTREMES TO MAKE THE CUT.

If you heard of someone losing 10 pounds in a week, would you be jealous, wanting to know the secret? Would you be shocked? Concerned?

Losing as much as 10 pounds a week, and gaining it back, has become the norm for some high school wrestlers.

"Everybody cuts weight," said Jeremy Gardner, a junior on the Hillsborough High wrestling team. Weighing in at 140-something (during off-season), Gardner wrestles in the 126-weight class.

Managing weight can be done properly, with discipline and the right attitude, said Mike Patrick, Hillsborough High wrestling coach.

A healthy, appropriate weight is a lifestyle decision, Patrick said. "It's not, 'I'm doing it for wrestling.'"

Extreme weight cutting stems from competition created when coaches are allowed to select only three varsity wrestlers per tournament. The three most popular weight classes are 138, 145 and 152; others have the option of going to a weight class above or below them if they want to wrestle as varsity.

At Hillsborough, Patrick determines the varsity wrestler for each weight class by having them wrestle before a tournament; whoever wins that match is selected for varsity for that tournament. Because of the desire to be varsity, guys will look for someone they can beat in another weight class, which can lead to having to cut weight in order to go down a weight class.

"I wanted to be on varsity really bad, so I cut from above 160 ... down to 135 ... and by districts I was 120," said Armando Bejarano, a junior on the Hillsborough wrestling team, about his freshman year.

"My ribs used to stick out and everything, because I cut so much weight," he said.

The wrestlers who cut weight begin their regimen Monday before weigh-in, which usually happens on a Friday or Saturday depending on the tournament, eating five or six small meals a day.

"I eat one granola bar for a meal," said Hillsborough junior Jacob West.

Some skip meals, or on weigh-in days eat only a pack of Skittles.

"I would skip meals and stuff, like my mom would cook and I'd come home and she'd have a plate ready, I'd take it to my room and I wouldn't eat it," said Bejarano, referring to his freshman year.

After weigh in, if it's a one-day tournament, the wrestlers will eat with few restrictions. If it's a two-day tournament they will use Sunday as a day to eat, hence gaining back some of the weight they lost.

They also cut down on their water intake, limiting themselves to one water bottle a day as the weigh date approaches.

Extreme exercising is another way of cutting weight, though not as effective. Gardner would run miles in four or five layers of clothing in the Florida heat.

"I'd come back and only have lost 2 or 3 pounds; it wasn't working," Gardner said.

Eventually, however, some wrestlers meet their limits.

"You still have to be putting enough calories in to support your workout, and they don't quite understand that," said Patrick.

Bejarano had been attempting to cut 30 pounds to make it to 130 as a junior. When he was getting ready to shower after a morning workout, he found himself on the floor.

"I went to my mom and I was like, 'Mom, I think I passed out,'" said Bejarano. He was in the hospital for three days, had to see a dietitian and was in and out of the hospital due to tests that had to be run because he hit his head.

"I had to go to a dietitian. He had to make sure I was actually eating," said Bejarano, "I don't know how it actually helped me, because I had to lose all the weight I gained."

Since then Bejarano has moved up to the 145-weight class, and has plans to move up to 152 in the next season. He now weighs 170.

"Unfortunately with wrestling, weight cutting comes into play," said Patrick. But it's not as hard to meet the weight class requirements as it once was. Starting in the 2011-2012 the National Federation of State High School Associations Wrestling Rules Committee changed the weight classes, putting them closer together, thus adding more classes and giving wrestlers more wiggle room. On top of that, after winter break, the weight classes go up 2 pounds in order compensate for holiday weight gain.

Despite the state's attempts to take some pressure off, some coaches aren't on the same page.

"I've never (said) to a kid, 'You're not wrestling unless you go this weight class,' but I admit to you that happens, I know that happens," said Patrick.

As a coach, Patrick said he attempts to watch his athletes closely, making sure that they're eating. "If I know they're not eating properly, I won't let them go to the next weight class, and that's why they try and keep it from me. It takes the athlete being honest with the coach," said Patrick.

Dr. Mario Rodriguez is a health psychologist and one of two attending psychologists at the USF Health - Healthy Weight Clinic, which treats people with weight and eating problems including obesity and eating disorders. Rodriguez also participated in high school wrestling as a teenager.

"(Eating disorders occur in) a lot of sports at all levels, but especially at the high school level," said Rodriguez, and it's certainly not just an issue at Hillsborough High. In some cases, athletes are being taught that it's acceptable to have unusual, and in some cases dangerous, eating habits. The athletes fail to realize that if they take cutting weight to extremes, then their performance suffers.

Rodriguez stresses the need for a healthful diet rather than the need to be lightweight.

Up next:A POP QUIZ!

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