Wrestling with weight


Sports editor

Most people these days would tell you that losing any amount of weight is quite a good accomplishment. The media bombards us with statistics every day about how Americans are gaining weight at an alarming rate year in and year out.

But the sport of wrestling gained a reputation for doing the opposite — losing too much weight.

During the last few decades, many grapplers, sometimes at the urging of overbearing coaches and parents, have dropped extreme amounts of weight before a competition. It became common for athletes to shed pounds by dehydrating themselves to qualify for a lower weight class, thinking they would have the advantage.

Some of those pound-shedding practices included riding an exercise bike in a sauna while wearing a rubber suit to sweat off water weight, using laxatives or diuretics to wash water out of the body or sucking on hard candies and filling bottles with their saliva. In extreme cases, some wrestlers even used menstrual cycle medicines to help reduce the amount of water in their bodies.

Things have changed, according to those in the know. But it took three extreme cases in 1997 for several rule modifications to be implemented within the sport.

“Personally, I don’t have anybody on my team cutting weight,” said Decatur head coach Mike Bressler, who also wrestled at the University of Washington. “You wrestle to get better and when you are thinking about something else, you are not learning anymore.”

The modifications were put into motion in high school and college programs after three collegiate wrestlers died while engaging in a program of rapid weight loss by wearing rubber suits and exercising vigorously in hot environments, according to an NCAA report. All three wrestlers were in the presence of coaches and were attempting to lose an average of eight pounds over a three- to 12-hour period by dehydration after dropping significant weight over the previous two to three months.

The NCAA responded quickly to derail participants from losing extreme amounts of weight. In 1998, the NCAA instituted new rules that would “eliminate from wrestling any and all weight control practices which could potentially risk the health of the participants.”

Now, prior to the season, wrestlers must be certified to compete in certain weight classes. During this process, wrestlers are checked for dehydration and body fat. Once an athlete is certified to wrestle in a certain class, he cannot drop to a lower weight.

Officials require athletes to have, at minimum, 5 percent body fat and they are now required to weigh in just a few hours prior to the start of matches and not the day before the match — like they did in many cases pre-1997.

High school wrestling in Washington also instituted several rule changes to how they govern rapid weight loss following the deaths. The biggest was to implement a random weight draw before dual meets. So instead of the normal 103-pounders, the lightest classification, wrestling the first match and moving up through the heavyweights, the first match of the night could be any weight.

“There would always be the top-half (heavier weights) of the draw doing some weight reduction m Meyerhoff, an assistant executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and director of high school wrestling in the state.

Another change by the WIAA was requiring wrestlers to weigh in at least 50 percent of their matches at the weight they will be wrestling in the postseason. Meaning a kid can’t wrestle at 130 pounds all season long and drop down to 125 pounds for the postseason.

The new regulations seem to be working. There have been no fatalities from rapid weight loss since the three 1997 deaths in college and high school.

“Our kids don’t have a choice (what weight) they wrestle,” said Jefferson co-coach Shawn Gaspaire, who was a star wrestler at Lincoln High in Tacoma during the mid-90s and went on to compete on the Central Washington University team. “We tell them what weight they will be wrestling at. We know what’s going on. If there is a kid at 140 (pounds) and he wants to go 125, we look him in the face and tell him no.”

But, he said, wrestlers still need to take some personal responsibility for what they are putting their bodies through.

Gaspaire used the example of a senior on this year’s Raider team. Before the winter season began, the wrestler weighed in at approximately 130 pounds and wanted to wrestle in the 119-pound class.

“He told us that he was going to do it,” Gaspaire said. “And one day he came in and he was two pounds away. But, low and behold, he was getting beat by kids that should have never beaten him (because of his weight loss).”

The Jefferson wrestler ended up blowing out his knee before the Christmas break, ending his final season of high school wrestling.

“If the kids don’t listen, there is not much we can do for them,” Gaspaire said.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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