ATHOL — After qualifying as all stars of the Suburban North League, Athol wrestlers Chris Waslaske, a junior, and Jon Mahony, a sophomore, took the accomplishment as just another stepping stone in the process of becoming the best wrestlers they can be.
“I take it as motivation to work harder,” said Mahony. “I don’t really take it as ‘good job Jon,’ I take it as okay, you passed that goal, time to hit the next. I take it more of as, you did something, now time to do more, show people you can do more. I personally think that, Chris and I, if we’re to succeed the way we have been for the next years, that’s going to be the lowest level of accomplishment that we (can) accomplish in the next couple of years.”
Their confidence and dedication to the sport sets the duo apart from the rest of the crowd. Their dedication to not only their body, but mindset and work ethic, in becoming the best wrestlers they can be, has allowed Waslaske and Mahony to progress themselves into All-State competitors and Division III champions.
“(Wrestling has) taught me how to work and to stay dedicated,” said Waslaske. “When you’re on the mat, and you do bad in a match, you know, you’re out there by yourself. If you get humiliated, that’s embarrassing. So every day at practice, you want to just keep working and driving to get better.”
Wrestling is an individual sport within a team format. Waslaske and Mahony compete with many other wrestlers as part of the Athol High School wrestling team, but when it comes to getting on the mat, like Waslaske said, it becomes about what the individual can do to score points.
That feature brought both Waslaske and Mahony to the sport.
“Best sport of all time. By far, my favorite,” said Mahony. “It shows you what you need to do individually to get better and in real life. If you work on something, like parents tell you, anything is possible. But if you depend on other people, that’s not how it is. You can’t depend on everyone else, and just the physicality and the mental game that comes with it – I think the mental game is why I stick with it.”
“Football or whatever it may be, you know, you can be the best player ever,” said Waslaske. “You can be absolutely phenomenal, but if you, as one player – and nobody else – are not giving 110 percent, you’re never going to win a game, no matter how good you are. With wrestling, it’s individually doing it, so when you’re doing awesome, it’s just you, and you don’t have to count on anybody. You’re counting on how much work you put in.”
The duo, in essence, make wrestling a lifestyle. Physically, both wrestlers train every day, hitting the weight room and working on endurance. Waslaske tends to lift weights more, while Mahony works on his stamina. On a typical off-season day during summer vacation, Mahony will start the day with a five-mile run, followed by jumping rope. He then eats a little, hits the weights and finishes up with punching at a punching bag, and then more cardio to finish up the day. In season, Waslaske begins with a run, works on his technique – a moderate workout – and then wrestles. He calls it “a constant grind of wrestling.”
“Basically, that’s what it takes,” said Waslaske. “You’ve got to just wrestle, wrestle, wrestle – and it’s not the big things. When you start getting the understanding of wrestling, it’s the little, little things that you’ve got to pick up on. That’s the difference of you being really good and just mediocre.”
Nutritionally, the two pay extreme attention to their diet, something one would usually never see from high school students. Waslaske avoids heavy foods, like bread and certain meats, and controls how much he eats. He has a high fiber, high protein diet. Waslaske brings a brioche salad for lunch to get a proper mix of carbohydrates, protein and vitamins.
“My body is always rehealing, and I’m not feeling drained,” said Waslaske. “It also was great to have that and to not have to worry about weight (during the season). I could eat and not have to worry about weight and just go out there and wrestle.”
Mahony is a little different. Wrestling at 106 pounds, he explained how he comes into the season about 10 pounds under weight every year. Instead of watching what he eats through diet restriction, he watches what he eats by enlarging his diet during wrestling season.
“For most, it’s usually watching what you eat, but me? Naturally I walk around at 100 pounds,” said Mahony. “You want to be 108 pounds because you get a two-pound allowance, so for me, it’s eating heavy, eating bulky.”
Mentally, for the two wrestlers, the sport is about maintaining a confidence and belief in one’s skill. To succeed, according to Waslaske and Mahony, a wrestler has to constantly turn practice into muscle memory. Then, when (you’re) wrestling, it’s about believing in that practice and not feeling intimidated on the mat.
“You’ve got to have the mentality of, ‘I don’t care what that guy has,’ you’ve just to go out there and execute,” said Waslaske. “I’m not worrying what he’s got on offense, I’m worrying about myself, and you’ve got to be smart about it. Don’t worry about running something and losing the match because of it – you go out there and not worry. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”
Outside of the team, the two attend camps and individual wrestling tournaments. Mahony attends Doughboy Wrestling Club in Lowell and Franklin Five wrestling club during the offseason. He also has a desire to attend overnight clubs as far away as Pennsylvania. Waslaske also cited an overnight camp at Roger Williams University that lasts for two weeks.
“You’ve got to put in the work outside of the team,” said Waslaske. “You’ve got to go to tournaments, and you can’t be just like, ‘I’m a big tough kid, I should be able to do well.’ No, an average human being can’t just go in and be alright.”
Attending different camps and working with different coaches helps make wrestlers more well-rounded, according to Waslaske.
“(A wrestler) should definitely go out and experience different coaches and different styles,” said Waslaske. “Everyone has different styles and a way of doing things, so overall, you’ve got to just absorb and soak up as much knowledge as you can.”
In the future, Waslaske wants to attend college and seek an opportunity to wrestle. He also wants a college that challenges him academically, and not to attend just because he can wrestle.
“I want to make sure (my education) is good and not just because (the college) has the fame of wrestling,” said Waslaske. “I want to make sure I’m going to be OK for a career after wrestling. That’s what I’m looking toward.”
Mahony said he wants to be able to give back to younger children what he has learned on the mats, maybe by becoming a high school coach. His dream school is WPI, and he wants to become a computer technician.
“I want to pass what I know down to other children,” said Mahony. “I was hoping on opening a wrestling gym or becoming a high school coach. I don’t know what I really want to do yet, but I want to go to college academically for computers.”
But being only a junior and sophomore, the duo has a long way to go before thinking about college. For now, they said they’ll enjoy the rest of their high school experience, progressing to become the best wrestlers they can be.