John Passaro, author of the book "6 Minutes of Wrestling With Life" takes a look at how four 2014 Section 11 champions (Eastport-South Manor's Travis Passaro and Jimmy Leach, Ward Melville's Nick Piccininni and Hauppauge's Chris Mauriello) forged a relationship years ago that led them to County titles -- and a path toward state glory.
To be Undefeated in February.
It is what every high school wrestler dreams of.
February, in wrestling, is the post season.
The only season.
The season where big wins get amplified and stay with you for life, or one loss sends a wrestlers head into a schizzy for years.
To run the table.
To win Leagues, Sections and the State Tournament.
All in February.
12 matches in succession.
It is the driving force behind a years worth of grueling practices, behind all the unreasonable sacrifices that have to be made, behind the loneliness and solitude, behind what makes up a champion.
To a State Championship.
It can not be accomplished without two vital ingredients, a great coach and a great workout partner.
A great coach is necessary to teach technique, to motivate, to inspire, to help you believe what they see, what they know, of what you are capable of becoming.
A great coach is there in the basement training with you, next to you, pushing you, squeezing more out of you even after you feel like you have reached your maximum.
A great coach is also there off the mats when you need a friend, when wrestling needs to become the distraction to life.
A great coach knows when to coddle and when to come down on you.
A great coach is only half of the equation.
Wrestling is not like basketball, where you can practice shooting on your own.
In wrestling you need a workout partner.
A partner who is your weight.
A partner who has the same goals as you.
A partner who is seeking the exact thing that you are seeking.
A partner who is unselfish, who sincerely wants to help you become better, a partner who knows when to take it to you, and who knows how to get you through a weight cut.
But the problem arises when one realizes, if I am making my partner better, and he is the same weight and going after the exact same goal as me - how is this helping myself, aren’t I just making my future opponent able to beat me?
That is where most people fork left when they should fork right.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost
To achieve what few are able to achieve, you must do what few are willing to do.
It started out with some sound advice and a change of philosophy.
“Why don’t you two workout together and make each other better?” Mike Patrovich asked Nicky [Piccininni] and Travis [Passaro] one day.
Iron sharpens Iron.
“There is such an advantage of training with the best wrestler at your weight. They know how to react, to train, to push.”
And so it started.
Cooperation instead of competition.
I remember the exact day when Mike Patrovich convinced Nicky Piccininni and Travis Passaro to train together, over four years ago.
They were the same weight.
And wanted the same prize.
Mike convinced them that they both could achieve it, if they just helped each other get it.
“Champions are made in pairs.”
Cooperation instead of competition.
Two years later Chris Mauriello and Jimmy Leach joined the partnership, and UIFx4 was started.
Together all four wrestlers pushed each other to newer highs.
Iron sharpens Iron, which sharpens iron, which sharpens iron.
In 2013 all four wrestlers set out to be “Undefeated in February”.
All four wrestlers made the Section XI Finals.
Two of the four would win the Section XI Championship, and two would place second.
In 2013, UIFx4 would not be meant to be.
In 2013, Nicky Piccininni would be the sole New York State Champion.
Travis would Place 3rd, as Chris would qualify for the State Tournament and Jimmy would be heartbrokenly told that he did not get a wildcard and would not be able to wrestle in the State Tournament.
Another whole year of training pursued.
In 2014, 32 matches into the process, UIFx4 is still alive.
Nicky, Travis, Chris and Jimmy became Section XI Champions.
32 matches down, 16 more to go.
To a New York State Championship, and completion of the mission.
“Why don’t you train with each other, you can make each other better?”
The best advice that I have ever received.
I guess that is what great coaches are all about.
Last year, John Passaro released the book "6 Minutes of Wrestling With Life", which talks about significant life challenges he and his family faced and the role wrestling played (and continues to play) in facing those difficulties.
The sequel to that book will be out on March 2, 2014. For more information, see this link.
Photos on front page by BV and Phototrens.