After spending most of his life playing soccer, the physical, one-on-one nature of wrestling was a bit of an adjustment for Josh Wittchen.
The 16-year-old Prince Rupert athlete has acknowledged that his two favourite sports are quite different, but that doesn’t make him enjoy competing in them any less.
“Soccer is very much a team sport where you have to work together,” Wittchen said. “Whereas wrestling is more individual, it’s just what you know and no one else can really help you like they can in a team sport.
“It’s also fun just because you get to throw people around a bit.”
Despite the differences between his two favourite sports, Wittchen has found a way to excel at both. He is both the goal keeper for this year’s Charles Hays Secondary School soccer team that won zones, and wrestling champion for Zone 7 despite only beginning to compete in the sport in September.
Wittchen said he has played soccer since he was five years old. Everybody in his family played the game so it was only natural that he played also. Wittchen’s father also played goalkeeper, and taught him the basics of how to keep the opponent from getting the ball passed him.
“The key is to not be scared of the ball,” Wittchen said.
He continued to play, eventually joining the Rainmakers senior boys soccer team. This year, the team came from behind to beat a scrappy Kitimat team that was leading 2-1 with only a few minutes left in the game. The Rainmakers were able to score two goals in the last four minutes to win zones and qualify for provincials.
Wittchen said he will never forget the feeling of coming back in that game.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “Just that feeling of when you’ve done so much and then you’re about to lose and when you come back to win, it’s great.”
It was during that championship run that Wittchen was first introduced to wrestling. Dane Waldal, one of the assistants on the team was in the early stages of putting together a wrestling program, and was recruiting students to participate.
Wittchen was curious and decided to give it a try. He was one of 40 students that attended the first training session, where they learned how to stand, move and turn on the mat. Wittchen said he wasn’t sure about the sport at first.
“To be honest I was thinking, ‘Am I really going to keep doing this?’” he said. “I wasn’t that sure about it because it was different to what I had done before, but I stuck with it.”
Wittchen kept going to practices, where he worked on his weaknesses under Waldal’s guidance. One of the areas where he needed to improve was in his defence, particularly the sprawl, a move used to prevent your opponent from taking you down to the ground.
“I found it hard to do, I was having trouble getting down in time,” he said.
Wittchen worked hard at it over the course of the season, gradually improving until the zones competition in Smithers on Feb. 17.
He was matched up with Hunter Aiken in the finals of the 78-kilogram division. It was his first official match in live competition, and he said he felt the nervous in the moments leading up to it.
“It was something new,” he said. “It wasn’t like soccer where I’d been doing it for a while.”
The two competitors shook hands and began to grapple. Wittchen said he doesn’t remember most of the match, only how tired he was and how difficult it was to execute the moves he had been practicing.
“All I know is that it felt longer than it was,” Wittchen said.
As the match progressed, Aiken, who was approximately three kilograms heavier than Wittchen, attempted to take Wittchen down to the mat several times, but Wittchen was able to hold him off, utilizing the sprawl technique had he been practicing throughout the year.
“It felt great to be able to do that,” he said. “From where we’d started with the training to where we got was pretty cool.”
At the end of the match, Wittchen’s hand was raised as the winner, and he left the competition as the Zone 7 champion.
Whether he is playing on a team or fighting for a win on his own, Wittchen said he will never get tired of pushing his limits in the sports he loves. For him, there is nothing more satisfying.
“I just like the feeling of it,” he said.
“When you win when you’re competing at something, it just feels like all the hard work you put into getting there really paid off.”