OUR CORNER: Life, like sports, is full of challenges

Sports are a reflection on life and the lessons learned on the playing field, gymnasium hardwood, swimming pool or wrestling mat are meant to help get you through life.

They build character and teach responsibility, respect, physical and mental toughness, courage, patience, faith, hope, love, humility and diligence.

Sometimes those lessons hit you when you’re least expecting them.

“It’s definitely the hardest thing I had to do,” said Enumclaw High senior wrestler D.J. Qualls about stepping on the Tacoma Dome mat Friday when his heart and head were miles away with his dad at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “He never missed one of my matches.”

While the family was still celebrating D.J.’s trip to state with the Hornets, Darrin Qualls was crushed by a beam on a construction project. His injuries could have killed him. He’s getting better, but a trip to watch his son wrestle was not in the cards.

Darrin is one of D.J’s biggest fans. He’s the summer camp chauffer and he’s been in the stands since his son started in the sport.

“He’s a part of this wrestling family,” EHS coach Lee Reichert said.

D.J. didn’t miss the tournament and, in a way, Darrin didn’t miss the state tournament either.

He may not have been there physically, but his spirit had a presence. D.J. penned his initials on his headgear and kissed it before each match. Friends and family were sending updates, photos and video to his bedside through a variety of digital means.

I had a taste of what Darrin was experiencing. I wasn’t at the Dome Friday, but the Hornet wrestling family kept me in the loop with text messages that kept coming in regularly while I was at state swimming at the King County Aquatics Center.

“I was wrestling for my dad,” D.J. said after the conclusion of the tournament on his way to the podium with the Hornets to accept their second-place team trophy.

D.J.’s story is special, but told more often than many would like to hear.

It was 10 years ago when the Enumclaw High lost fastpitch players Meghann Hall and Rachel Janosik and athlete Ryan Sparks in a plane crash. It’s been more than two decades since the White River wrestling team lost the Bowens in car accidents, and just a brief time since the losses of Enumclaw athlete Tony Lucarelli and White River’s Kelsi McKune to cancer. I’m sure there are similar tales at Bonney Lake and Sumner.

Their stories remind us, like a game, life is filled with triumph and setback and it’s how we handle it that make us champions.

Those who learn well cherish the successes and share them with family and friends and learn to lean on those same people for support when things don’t go the way they hoped or planned and find a special place in their hearts for those times, too.

When we talk about champions, that’s what’s important. No one said it would be easy or comfortable, all the training to be successful isn’t easy or comfortable either, but often it pays off.

At the state tournament, D.J. won a big match for the Hornets, providing important team points in their run at the title. I’m positive Darrin was cheering him on. Now it will be D.J.’s turn to root for his dad as Darrin works toward recovery.

I’m sure Darrin passed on the same traits his son showed Friday, and he’ll be back on his feet soon. They’re both winners in my book.

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