Battle at the Border Tournament, 12-13/14-19

Issaquah Wrestling takes 3rd place overall!

A Sure Identity

I had the privilege of attending the Battle at the Border this year.  It is definitely “fun” to watch our team compete and coach each other on.  But at this event, I got to witness something significantly more meaningful than just fun. I saw young men who knew who they were; I saw confidence and belonging.

The team arrived mid-morning in Blaine, home of the border-ites (they really call themselves that!).  Tired from getting up at 5:30 and a bit carsick from the long bus ride, the team piled into the bleachers with all their wrestling and overnight gear.  They weighed in and then snacked a bit (but not too much).  After all the brackets were arranged and the room proudly pledged allegiance to our country, the wrestling began. 

Match after match, the wrestlers’ strength, strategies, agility, quickness, alertness, recall of favorite moves and use of new moves were all challenged.  Each wrestler only has six minutes for the hours of practice, drills and conditioning to find a natural expression of movement that will keep them in control.  

When they falter, miss a step or opportunity, find themselves down two points or squirming helpless under the squeeeeeze of domination, Coach’s training at practices screams loudly in their brains.  Lost points, near-falls, being pinned, pain: the learning drives deep within their minds and muscles.

The minutes following each exertion on the mats, coaches and team companions point out the good and the bad.  Each wrestler listens and receives the teaching.  They trust the coaches and each other; they want to understand what they missed; they want to be better than they are.

In between the matches, they rest from the metal focus demanded while competing.  They sit in the coaching corners, present for their team companions.  They give congratulatory pats on the back for well-wrestled matches and kind, re-strengthening words to encourage the minds that don’t get to revel in a personal win. 

They ice injuries, hydrate muscles and watch as their weight class nears.  They follow their companion’s standings, knowing who is earning the most points for the team.  They wade through each other’s possessions littering the bleachers: pillows, blankets, snacks and bags.  Water bottles, headphones, and one shoe.

Wrestle. Wait. Wrestle. Wait. Snack. Wait. Wrestle. Wait. REPEAT.  

They wrestle again.  Now a different opponent.  Now another opportunity.  Now more learning to wrestle through. Somewhere along this repeating process they find a truth that yields desired results. 

Halfway into the second day while competing for 3rd/4th place, Varsity Raul Menon lands on his ankle the wrong way, hears a snap and limps off the mats in great pain.  The ankle bruises pretty quickly and swells even quicker.  Wrestler Nathan Asistin and Grant Strassell’s sister (who are both in a sport’s med class at IHS) help Raul to Blaine’s ATR where it is confirmed that Raul’s day wrestling is over: the ankle is sprained. 

It’s a blur of details from there… Raul is propped up below the bleachers while his mom and ladies speculate over the injury.  He’s shaking a bit; the pain is setting in, and the ice is really cold on his foot.  An Issaquah wrestler goes back into the bleachers and tells the waiting wrestlers that Raul is hurt.  Richard Martin rushes to his friend’s side, giving support through companionship as Raul sits in pain.  Eventually, a space is created for Raul in the team bleacher section, and Captains Nathan Asistin and Grant Strassell carry him up the stairs back to the team.

Raul resting after his injury.

And they sit together.  Together as a team.  Some have wins, some don’t.  Some have more matches to go, and some are out of the tournament.  And Raul is injured, his swollen ankle receiving the 20 minute on and 20 minute off icing regiment.  


At that moment, there is no confusion as to who anyone really is.  They are wrestlers.  In their successes and defeats, the pain and the disappointments, they are there together, as a wrestling family, totally understanding what each member feels, hopes, fears, and wants.  They respect and uphold each other with honor and brotherhood.  They know what it takes to get as far as they have come. They understand each other as only family with the same purpose, identity and commitment can.  They have all earned and proven their identity as wrestlers.

The day moves along, weeding out more and more wrestlers, until just a few remain in the tournament, the hope for the team.  Captains Carson Tanner and Nathan Asistin make it all the way to the 1st/2nd competition matches.  The team lines the sides of the competition mats to watch and support, hoping for their fellow wrestler’s win: for their brother’s win.

The team lining the mats before the finals. 

At the day’s end, the wrestlers all walk out onto the mats when the third place overall team, Issaquah High School, is called out for their trophy.  They cheer; they lift 6th place champ Dash Riley up on their shoulders. 

Cameras flash, capturing a moment in time everyone “snaps” as significant.  But the wrestlers know it’s more than that moment that defined the day or defined who they know themselves to be.  Wins or losses, trophies or none, they are wrestlers and that identity is captured in their commitment, their dedication, their determination, their character, their uniqueness and their companionship with wrestlers, not in a camera or a social post.

Captain Cory Kawaguchi calls to the wrestlers to pack up.  They collect their belongings… the solo shoe is even reunited with its mate.  The last bit of trash is picked up.  The wrestlers walk from the building.  The season is still at hand.  They have lots more wrestling to do… but they’ll do it, because after all, they are wrestlers

Go Issaquah! Go Eagles!


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