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Wrestling's version of Jordan's Flu Game

I love sports. In general, I found myself being amazed by what people are able to do throughout the sports universe. Sure, I wrestled, but that doesn’t mean that I’m one of those people who disregard the feats of other sports. For example, Michael Jordan, if you are unaware, is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. Mr. Jordan, on June 11th 1997, played in one of his more spectacular games of all time. By this time, it was tough for Jordan to manufacture adversity, being in his 6th NBA finals, and trying to win his 6th NBA title. It was game 5 of the finals, against the Utah Jazz, the series tied at 2 a piece, when Jordan came down with the Flu. He was sweating profusely, struggling to stay upright, and exhausting his body to the very limit to help his team get the win, and the 3-2 lead in the series, which they would close out in game 6. Jordan with the flu, and being carried by Scottie Pippen off the court at the end of the game, finished with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. There is a rumor that Jordan was simply hungover, but regardless, of his ailment, he was noticeably drained of energy, and the stage and resulting performance remain one of the greatest of his all time great career.

Isn’t this a wrestling website? Why are you talking about Jordan? What is happening right now? Don’t worry, I wanted to set the scene to get back to wrestling. Being a wrestler who is also a fan of other sports, I tend to try to find cross sport comparisons. In this circumstance, I thought of a couple from the wrestling world. Kellen Russell breaking his ankle early in the second period of the NCAA finals. Jason Nolf recovering from his knee injury to win the title last year. Cory Clark’s shoulder being bad forever. Jon Reader’s face.

Jon Reader.jpg

Then it happened. A recent, and relevant example popped up on my Twitter feed. Chey (Cheyenne, but nickname is pronounced shy) Sisenstein, the 123 pound competitor for King University, had some adversity of her own that she needed to overcome. Thankfully, through the fun that is the wrestling community, I was able to reach out to King University Assistant Coach, Julia Salata, to get her commentary on the struggle that amounted in the All American finish for Chey in the WCWA National Championships this past weekend. The following is my best account of our conversation based on the notes taken;


The Friday before the WCWA’s, February 1st, King Universities Women’s Wrestling Team was playing handball, which was a standard warm up before practice. Julia wasn’t watching the game, but heard the commotion when Chey went down. “She’s a tough kid, not the kind who would be dramatic when hurt, so you knew it was an issue right away” Julia said about the incident. Chey army crawled off the mat towards their trainer. At the time, Chey was ranked 4th at 123, and hadn’t lost a match at that weight all season. The thought that her chance at Nationals was over that quickly and innocently, was rough one for Chey and her coaches. Through deliberating with their trainer, coaches, and with Chey, they decided she was going to try to wrestle. Now in basketball, you basically just need to arrive, and get dressed, but with wrestling you actually need to win the battle before the war - making weight. Julia reported that it was a bit of a cut for Chey to get down to 123, and once you register at a particular weight for WCWA’s, you can’t just switch weights. You make it or you are done. The next 4 days before they left for Nationals include 5-6 hours of rehab each day (twice a day for 2-3 hours), in addition to riding a bike at practice to get her down to weight.

Another issue, this injury was so severe that she could only ride the bike for 8-10 minutes at a time the first day, eventually getting up to 25 minutes on the bike before the strain got to be too much. In between riding, Chey and Coach Salata would do hand fighting from their knees, or other forms of wrestling that wouldn’t put too much stress and pressure on her ankle. In Chey’s case, Julia informed me that she had already been out for 10 days before this injury to manager her cauliflower ear, which was pretty severe to this point as well. With all that time off, it was imperative that Chey have some mat time, even if it wasn’t full on wrestling. Anyone who has wrestled knows that there is a big difference between cadio, and being ready to wrestle an entire match, let alone the National tournament. Through this rotation of biking, hours of rehab, front headlock work, and hand fighting, they were able to get Chey down to weight and ready for the trip.

Once weighed in, we finally got to the competition. Julia mentioned how the coaching staff knew that Chey was a pinner, and how ending matches early would certainly help avoid any further injury. Another interesting point, is that because this happened in practice, the competition at 123 didn’t even know that Chey had an injury. The last thing anyone wanted was for her competition to catch wind of the injury, and like sharks smelling blood in the water, begin to attack the ankle. Julia mentioned how Chey had even forced herself to walk normally, avoid limping, and to drill and warm up without incident. By entering these matches with the illusion of health, she can maintain the mental edge that wrestlers often need to have the levels of success they are accustomed to. Chey was able to maintain that illusion through her first two matches, as she pinned and ankle laced her way through the first two opponents. However, she was caught in the quarter finals, where she tweaked the ankle, and lost. Not to take anything away from her opponent, Tiana Jackson, but whether it was the pan of the loss, or further injury to her ankle, Chey outwardly began to show that she was in pain.

Just before her Bloodround match, there was an awful injury on the mat she was preparing to compete on. There was a long delay, as they needed to proceed cautiously to help the injured wrestler off the mat. It’s never a positive thing when anyone is hurt, especially with how bad this injury looked, but it does have a way of providing perspective and clarity into what opportunity you have. Chey was able to recognize that she’s fortunate to be able to compete and still able to come home as an All American. She wrestled Alexia Ward of McKendree, who she had wrestled earlier in the year, and won a close match against. After a wild scramble, Chey was able to land a takedown, with a wing, and after a couple turns, it was over. She had overcome this injury, and guaranteed her place on the podium as an All American. On her way to the podium, she had to get through returning All American’s Alexia Ward, and OCU’s Daniela Flores, whom she pinned in 1:51 in the first round of the tournament.

This is when I believe most would have just injury defaulted their way out of the tournament. To Chey’s credit, she chose to keep fighting. At this point, the injury was there, and people were aware of it, but it didn’t seem to be getting any worse, so let’s keep rolling. In the 7th place medal match, Chey pinned her opponent, and ended up as an AA, while competing on one leg. As soon as her last match of the tournament was complete, King’s athletic trainer, Rachel, was prepared to bring ice out, which in addition to relieving the swelling and pain, was probably as much of a mental relief knowing that the competition was complete and she could focus on recovery. Chey is planning to get her ankle checked out in the next day or so to find out more about the full extent of the recovery, and she fully intends to prepare for the USA Wrestling season in the spring.

Jordan was very sick, sure, and was in the NBA finals, which I imagine is tough at that level. However, he didn’t have to go through more than a week of recovery, and the self doubt that comes along with such a freak injury like Chey did. It’s amazing what stubbornness (the best kind of course), and the right mentality can do to help you reach your goals. There is also a special sort of mental agility that I imagine allows you to bounce back from the initial disappointment of not becoming a national champion, and follow through to become an All American. That must be tough with two healthy ankles, let alone one. I can’t imagine doing 2-3 hours of rehab, twice a day, plus practice, plus making weight, and knocking off some of the countries top competitors. Chey clearly could imagine it, because she did it. In the end, wrestling and basketball aren’t that comparable, but what is amazing to me, is the maniacal competitiveness that it takes for both Chey and Michael to do what they did, and I believe that deserves recognition.