On another summer afternoon, Nathan Kistler arrived at Forsyth Central wrestling practice inside the school’s vintage, dome gymnasium around 5:15 p.m. More Bulldog wrestlers trickled in. By 5:30 p.m., the new glossy mat was full of wrestlers. Rock music echoed.
Kistler started stretching. He jogged a few laps around the mats, then a few around the bleachers. He did pull-ups on a bar attached to a wall.
He walked over to two thick ropes attached a foot-and-a-half apart on a wall. Grabbing the end of each rope, Kistler crouched low and whipped them up and down, up and down, faster and faster for one minute.
He went to a four-foot used tire lying on the ground. Squatting behind it, Kistler gripped the tread and exploded up, pushing 150 pounds over and over until it reached the other end of the gym.
Then he started wrestling.
This has been the routine for the rising senior all summer. He’s been to every practice, Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 7 p.m., because the end of his high school wrestling career gets closer and closer.
Among the accomplishments still on Kistler’s career checklist is the big one: a state championship. He’s been to the state tournament twice, failing to place both times. Last season he was one of the county’s top wrestlers. He went 52-14, finished runner-up in Area 7-AAAAA at 113 pounds and was selected Second Team All-County.
"Got to go all out," Kistler said. "It’s the last year. I just want to do everything I can."
Kistler isn’t alone. The hyper-competitiveness that grips even high school sports in the pursuit of college scholarships or championship success manifests itself in the wrestling circle in summer wrestling clinics, postseason tournaments and an emphasis on year-round conditioning and skill development.
"A dedicated high school wrestler does not stop learning and training when the last practice of the season ends," wrote Dr. Bill Welker, a prominent high school wrestling official and author in West Virginia, in 2011 in an online article for the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Kistler has followed nearly all of Welker’s edicts for the successful high school wrestler.
"Summer wrestling clinics can be a great way to improve technique."
So Kistler went to a wrestling camp at Shorter University with the Bulldogs this summer.
"Weight training is a year-round endeavor if a wrestler wants to be a state champion."
Kistler lifts weights three days a week in his basement.
"Wrestlers need to consider competing in post-season tournaments."
Kistler participated in four tournaments last summer hosted by Team Georgia, the state’s governing body for USA Wrestling.
"…be actively involved in enhancing cardiovascular endurance … with off-season sports."
Kistler ran on the Central boys’ cross country team last season, though he’s opted not to compete this fall.
Instead, Kistler will take advantage of the growing industry of wrestling centers that offer specialized training. The past three years, Kistler has gone to The Compound Training Facility in Buford two to three times a week where private sessions with an instructor cost $100 an hour. This season, Kistler will start going to Morris Wrestling in Alpharetta with monthly memberships for $95 and practices for high school wrestlers Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30-8 p.m.
There Kistler receives the extra mat time and instruction on technique that elite wrestlers crave. This summer, it’s been about his technique on the bottom. That’s where Kistler started at Central practice.
The music stopped, and wrestlers got into starting position with a partner. Kistler got on his hands and knees while rising sophomore Miles Bankston grabbed his torso from behind.
When Bulldogs head coach Jeremiah Walker blew his whistle, Kistler burst up with his legs into a sitting position. He reached behind him for something to hold on to. He grabbed Bankston’s foot, grabbed his arms and suddenly, in a blur, rolled Bankston over onto his back.
"The little things are what get you the championship," Kistler says. "That’s what I’m trying to work on."