Salt River High School sophomore and varsity wrestler Blaine Hillis may just be an ordinary athlete, battling an ordinary injury, chasing an ordinary goal. But Hillis is taking on extraordinary life lessons each and every day he spends in the classroom, on the track and in the wrestling room.
Head wrestling coach Marc Hillis, who is Blaine’s dad and a former wrestler himself, said when Blaine was little he always hoped his son would become a wrestler. Undoubtedly, the relationships between coach and athlete, and father and son can be very different, but Marc said now that his son is wrestling on the team he is coaching, “This is something he and I can remember years down the road.”
Blaine admits that regardless of his relationship to the head coach, the challenge remains the same when it comes to dealing with the dynamics of the coaches. He said sometimes it becomes boring only being able to talk to one teammate, since he and Jesus Salazar are the only two wrestlers committed to the varsity wrestling program.
Marc says Blaine is a better wrestler now than he was at this age, and he just really wants him to do his best, no matter if he wins or loses.
While Blaine has struggled this entire season with the inconsistency in the team’s roster and a lack of athletes who are truly committed to the program, he is positive about the effort by his teammate Salazar. They share every class together, and even after the final bell on campus they are together in team study hall and then during conditioning and on the wrestling mat.
“He comes and works hard,” Blaine said of his teammate.
Fighting Against Adversity
Salazar is technically in his first year of wrestling after joining the team late last season. During the Cactus Invitational on December 9-10, it was Salazar and Blaine and who were set to compete, representing Salt River in the big tournament. However, after Blaine injured his elbow in his first match of the tournament, Salazar was the only wrestler who remained with Salt River on his singlet.
“I was on the bottom and [my opponent] caught my arm and I heard it pop, and all I could do was lay there,” Blaine said about his injury.
After taking a 27-day break to recover from his elbow sprain, Blaine’s first day back to work on the wrestling mat was January 5. Prior to his first practice, he continued to do his normal conditioning routine, minus lifting weights and wrestling.
“I am resting my elbow, trying to build my strength back up,” he explained. He even joked that washing dishes has helped him to get his elbow going.
Blaine said he stays in cardiovascular shape by running and keeping up his fitness level, but he admitted he will need work when he hits the mat for competitions again. He said after suffering the injury he did get down on himself, but that was only because he knew his competition and believed he had a great chance to be successful in the tournament. Blaine said coming back from an injury is a lot of work, but he knows that if he had quit he would look back one day wishing he had stuck with it. He was working to cut weight, from competing in the 160-pound weight class to the 152-pound weight class, but said it wasn’t until this time last year he was able to get there.
“The competition is always tough,” he said when talking about which weight class he prefers. “When you wrestle up, they are stronger, and when you wrestle down, they are faster. It is the same going up against either type of wrestler.”
Learning Life Lessons
Wrestling is not for the weak, and despite multiple attempts by the wrestling program to filter in new athletes, few ever commit. Wearing a singlet can be intimidating to some, but it takes determination, focus and commitment and, Blaine said, “a lot of heart” to be a wrestler. He said many of his classmates could benefit from wrestling, they just need to give it a try.
Blaine has battled an ordinary injury as an ordinary athlete and is chasing an ordinary goal of placing at a tournament this season, but he has proven through wrestling that there are extraordinary life lessons put before him every day. He has learned to fight against adversity, never give up, believe in himself and overcome. And Marc agrees, saying that Blaine’s grades and attitude are being molded by his work on the wrestling mat.
“This will give him direction in other venues of his life,” he said. “It is a privilege to work with him and what he has brought to Salt River. After all, it’s because of him that the junior high program came into being.”