By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Ryan Hall understood a long time ago that success doesn’t arrive at the door with the daily mail, or conveniently contained in a UPS box, ready to be opened and acquired with the ease of scissors cutting packaging tape. The 2010 Elsie Allen graduate didn’t become a highly ranked collegiate wrestler at 133 pounds by sleeping in, snacking on cookies and practicing when the mood suited him.
“Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe dedication,” reads a slogan often seen on T-shirts at wrestling matches.
Hall, 20, and a junior at the University of South Florida, likes that sentence for its directed vigor. Attack life. Don’t be a spectator. Watch, and you will watch others pass you by.
Wrestling? He is not obsessed. He is merely in love with the entire experience, the challenge of it all: thinking about it, practicing, preparing and competing. It’s as if the sport bathes him in an eternal adrenaline glow.
He only takes two weeks off every year from wrestling.
“This is the kind of competitor he is,” said Tony Albini, Hall’s wrestling coach at Elsie who now coaches the sport at Piner. “We’re at a match in Ukiah. His opponent had him in a headlock. He couldn’t get out of it. Most wrestlers would tap out because if you don’t, you pass out for lack of oxygen. Ryan didn’t tap out. He refuses to quit. He passed out, for only about five seconds, but that represented what kind of person he is.”
Truth to tell, and he likes this kind of truth, Hall is far more typical of Elsie Allen than perception would otherwise suggest.
“The perception (of Elsie Allen) from the outside is incorrect,” said Alan Petty, the school’s athletic director. “We have a low transfer rate. Many of our students return to teach here. And Ryan in so many ways represents the kids we have at the school.”
Hall had a 4.3 overall GPA for his four years at Elsie, including a 4.5 his senior year. He is carrying a 3.78 at USF, majoring in math education.
His older sister and brother went to Elsie as well. Kelly went to the University of Florida as a cheerleader on an athletic scholarship and is now pursuing a teaching credential. Kyle, a Cal graduate, has passed the state bar in Florida.
“I could have gone anywhere to high school (in Sonoma County) and I would have done well no matter where I went,” Hall said.
“I still remember the (less than flattering) newspaper articles about the school, but I made the decision to go to Elsie and I have never regretted it. It was never a question for me where I was going. I knew a lot of the teachers and the coaches. I wanted to be challenged and I was.”
When pressed Hall said “I like to think I’m an ambassador” for Elsie.
But watch out, Albini said, because this ambassador could quite well represent a population much larger than a high school in Sonoma County.
“If Ryan keeps with it,” said Albini, the director of maintenance and operations for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, “he could wind up on the U.S. Olympic team. He’s that good and that dedicated.”
The NBL champ his senior year at Elsie at 125 pounds, Hall doesn’t find it necessary to issue a press release about being ranked No. 1 in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. The buzz for him is not being on a stage for a standing ovation.
“The satisfaction for me is internal,” Hall said.
What others might see as adversity or sacrifice, Hall sees accomplishment. For example, on the morning of a match in which he’ll have a weigh-in at 7 a.m., if he finds himself a pound or two over his assigned weight, Hall will go for a run at 5 a.m., one mile equaling one pound of weight loss.
No soda, no junk food, not fast food, Hall can see the parallels between his food intake and that of a supermodel or a long-distance runner.
And yet no man can live on bean sprouts alone.
“The day after a competition, and providing it’s at least two weeks to my next competition,” Hall said, “I’ll eat a quart of ice cream. There are times I have done a whole gallon.”
His flavor of choice is Reese’s peanut butter cups. Hall may gain as much as two pounds in a single sitting.
No worries. While his weight might balloon to 150 pounds during that two-week vacation he takes from the sport every year, the 5-foot-9 Hall shows no reluctance in making the commitment to resume training and eating properly.
“There were times Ryan practiced so hard,” Albini said, “I had to prop him upright against a wall in the gym so he could drink water. I mean, if wrestling were easy, it would be basketball. In wrestling we have a saying: ‘You train near death, rest, then repeat.’ Ryan has never had a problem pushing himself.”
In fact, Hall never considered it a problem. Rather, he saw it as a responsibility. A life unexamined is a life wasted and Hall will never be accused of that.
“Wrestling, it’s the culture and the mental preparation and the conditioning and what you eat and … ” Hall stopped for a moment to catch his breath. He couldn’t have complimented his sport any better, for as well-conditioned as he is, it just took his own breath away.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.