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Saints on the Hill: Mental Toughness vs. Mental Health in Wrestling

Saints on the Hill: Mental Toughness vs. Mental Health in Wrestling

Few students were happier to have the wrestling program back on the hilltop than Dominic ’24. He is grateful that wrestling teaches discipline and how to overcome adversity but acknowledges it can also take a toll on an athlete. Dom shared both sides of the sport he loves with the Canterbury community in his recent Saints on the Hill presentation.

“Wrestling is like no other sport; it is by far the hardest to compete in both physically and mentally,” he said. “As someone who has played multiple sports, I can guarantee you one period of wrestling feels like one full game of whatever sport you play.”

He explained that, while mental health and mental toughness are intertwined in wrestling, they are very different within the sport. “The greatest thing wrestling can provide is mental toughness,” he explained. “Mental toughness is not only the ability to persevere in the face of adversity but the ability to think rationally, have self-compassion, and accept and process your emotions. So yes, you have to be in insane physical shape to go the full six minutes, but your mind has to be in even greater shape.”

Dom also emphasized that the mental health aspect of the sport can be exceedingly challenging, especially when it comes to making weight—and that some participants can even develop eating disorders. “Wrestlers are cutting 10 to 15 pounds a week in the lower weight classes and 5 to 10 pounds a week in the upper weights to gain an advantage over smaller opponents as they will have a lower body fat percentage,” he said. He went on to share his own personal experience of sudden weight loss that occurred prior to coming to Canterbury. 

“In my first year, I was wrestling in the 220 class at 205 to 207 pounds,” Dom recalled. “When a new wrestler joined weighing 215 halfway through the season, it forced me to cut to the 195 class. Since I never had to cut before, I had no clue what I was doing. I was given about five and a half days to get it done in preparation for a tournament coming up that Saturday. The first two days, I exercised more than normal but didn’t do much to my diet. On Thursday, two days before the tournament, I was 206 pounds—the same weight I had been three and a half days prior!”

What followed were “the worst two days of my life” as Dom ate nothing but celery, half a potato, and six ounces of chicken to go along with just one 16-ounce bottle of water a day. He spent three- to four-hour workouts in three layers of sweatpants, windbreakers, winter coats, and trash bags. The end result? He weighed in at 194.2 pounds on Saturday and ended up wrestling five matches, placing fourth. “I was exhausted both mentally and physically,” he said. “Though it has gotten better, I still have a negative connection with the scale to this day.” On top of all that, wrestling affected his social life as well, with the fear of gaining weight and 5:00 AM wake-up calls making him hesitant to go out. 

But Dom said the sport has also provided some of the best times of his life and made him a better person. “Wrestling has given me self-discipline, a place to heal, and the ability to grow,” he shared. “It not only improved my work ethic on the mat but also in the classroom. Wrestling flipped a switch in my head that was once content with mediocrity but now strives for perfection. Above all, it gave me great friendships and a deeper connection with my faith. Every night before a match or tournament, I would lay in bed hungry and contemplate quitting. I would ask God to give me guidance and strength and, in turn, would wake up every morning ready to conquer the day!”