“I can’t be late, I can’t be late,” Nathan pants as he scampers up the stairs. The palpable tension of the bell about to ring stifles him as he heaves in another raspy breath. It is sixth grade, and Nathan knows that his next tardy entrance will warrant detention. “I can’t be late, I can’t be late,” Nathan continues as he swerves around other latecomers making their way, narrowing his eyes on the science classroom door. Yet as Nathan approaches his target, a boy’s large, burly frame obstructs his vision, casting a shadow on his pile of books and scrawny body. With a swat of the boy’s equally large hands, he knocks Nathan’s science binder from his clammy grasp, causing it to land with an angry splat on the floor and spew Nathan’s papers in every direction. Nathan looks down begrudgingly at the mess of homework, tests, and quizzes. Why, he wants to implore, Why, he wants to scream, but the bell rings, the boy meanders away, smug with his triumph, and small, skinny Nathan fumes with fury as he gathers his belongings.

Bench presser, not bench warmer. Nathan prepares to bench press a hefty 205 pounds at Planet Fitness.

Now, five years later, you wouldn’t recognize Nathan as the boy who once wandered the halls of Great Neck North Middle in a state of constant dread. While his stature is still short, his figure is considerably more compact. Every muscle of his arms and legs bulges with definition, and not an ounce of flabby skin can be found on his body. He is a valuable member of the North High School wrestling team, a weight-lifting record-setter, and maintains his incredible figure with a fiery zeal. So what happened over the course of those five years?

Now, five years later, you wouldn’t recognize Nathan as the boy who once wandered the halls of Great Neck North Middle in a state of constant dread. While his stature is still short, his figure is considerably more compact. Every muscle of his arms and legs bulges with definition, and not an ounce of flabby skin can be found on his body. He is a valuable member of the North High School wrestling team, a weight-lifting record-setter, and maintains his incredible figure with a fiery zeal. So what happened over the course of those five years?

Get a grip! Nathan grips his competitor with animal-like ferocity at a JV tournament hosted by Manhasset High School.

Nathan was no stranger to bullying in elementary and middle school. For years, Nathan struggled to his defy labels such as “wimp” and “small guy.” In his frustration, he often lashed out physically and developed notoriety among students and teachers as the boy who used violence to express his anger. However, Nathan’s tantrums never panned out, and in eighth grade, Nathan decided that he wanted to change. He and his best friend made a pact that they would become athletic and powerful, vowing that one day, the same people who had bullied them would be intimidated by their very presence.

His dedication to this goal was by no means short-lived. Almost every day after his decision, he attended the Planet Fitness in Great Neck Plaza to work out for one to two hours. “I wasn’t familiar at all with equipment,” Nathan chuckled. “I probably appeared to everybody like the idiot who didn’t know what he was doing.” Nevertheless, Nathan’s will power outweighed his embarrassment. The adrenaline rush of his physical exertion overpowered his fatigue, and the booming electronic dance music playing over the gym loudspeakers drowned out his thoughts of self-doubt. With his newfound sense of confidence, Nathan began to walk with a bit of swagger in his step rather than with his head down and shoulders slumped.“It boosted my self-esteem and took the stress away. When I lifted weights, I felt powerful and in control.”

What goes down must stay down. Nathan tackles his opponent to the ground, adding another two points to his score.

His freshman year of high school, Nathan joined the wrestling team. He had only seen wrestling on television, but the excitement from the crowd and the somewhat ridiculous scenarios enacted by the wrestling professionals had always attracted him. Although Nathan had claimed more strength and confidence over the past year, he did not slide seamlessly into the team’s strenuous workouts and competitive atmosphere. “I initially had trouble becoming friends with my teammates,” Nathan admitted. “I was full of fear. Fear of losing, fear of humiliating myself on the mat, fear of disappointing my team.” Prior to freshman year, he had had hardly any experience with wrestling, and his doubt in his own abilities showed in his technique. While Nathan often faced opponents in his weight class that did not compare to him in physical strength, their wrestling moves were better executed and carried out with less hesitation.  “I’ve gone against twigs who have beat me easily,” Nathan said. “Because of their swift and smooth maneuvers, they were able to take me down. Sometimes skill is more important than strength.”

By his sophomore year, Nathan had had enough of his sulking. With 32 losses and only one victory, self-doubt weighed too heavily on his shoulders; it was a weight heavier than any he had lifted during his time spent at the gym. He began to practice in his spare time, honing his execution of key wrestling moves until achieving flawless form. Just as Nathan’s diligence allowed him to achieve his body image goals in eighth grade, his perseverance allowed him to hurdle the learning curve and prove himself to his coach and teammates. He began to have victories in his matches, and his confidence quickly grew.

A hands-up win. Nathan comes out victorious in a match against a competitor from Seaford High School.

This year, Nathan has been improving even more. He has further committed to his practice, going to a wrestling academy when the season is not in session and refining his technique with teammates outside of school meets. “I have realized the importance of piecing together strength, skill, and dedication,” Nathan said. He hopes to make it to Counties next wrestling season, which starts in November. “If I can make it to States after that, it would be a dream come true.” If he continues with his hard work, that dream just might be feasible.

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