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Watershed Moment

Moorpark College and Other Schools Take Closer Look at Wrestlers' Weight Loss


MOORPARK — Chuck Sandlin, a defending junior college state-champion wrestler for Moorpark College, lay in agony on the floor of the Moorpark gym, where he collapsed immediately after an intense match.

"My kidneys felt huge," Sandlin said. "My diaphragm cramped up so bad I couldn't breathe. I laid there thinking about the wrestlers who have died. I thought I was going to die."

Sandlin would not have been the first wrestler to succumb to self-induced dehydration. Fortunately, he recovered quickly after being fed intravenous fluids at a hospital.

Yet, Sandlin knew he had pushed his body to a dangerous extreme.

He woke up the morning of Oct. 1 weighing 194 pounds. He stepped on the mat to wrestle a Fresno City College opponent that evening weighing 184, barely below the limit for his weight class.

"Ten pounds is too much weight to try and cut," Sandlin said. "It's a lesson to be learned by all coaches and wrestlers."

A lesson that has been learned the hard way. The NCAA last season instituted several rule changes to protect the safety of wrestlers in the wake of the dehydration-related deaths of three Division I competitors.

The rules, adopted this season by the California Community Colleges Wrestling Assn., prohibit wrestlers from using saunas, rubber suits or a diuretic to rapidly reduce weight.

In addition, a seven-pound allowance was added to each of 10 weight divisions, and wrestlers are required to weigh in for a dual meet one hour before competition, instead of five hours before.

Dual meets begin with a random draw, meaning a wrestler in any weight class might be required to compete first, rather than following the traditional order of beginning with the lowest weight and progressing to heavyweight.

That doesn't leave a dehydrated wrestler much time to replenish his system before going into battle. But dehydrated wrestlers are what the sport's organizers want to eliminate.

"All three deaths involved [wrestlers] working out hard, restricting water to make weight over a short period of time," said Jake Fitzpatrick, wrestling coach at Santa Rosa College and president of the state Community College Wrestling Coaches Assn.

"Now, everyone must be physically and mentally prepared to wrestle within one hour. It causes the guys to think a little before cutting that extra weight."

Sandlin, a former state qualifier for Camarillo High, has steered clear of drastic weight-loss tactics in his career. He spent the day of the Fresno City meet exercising--running and jumping rope, mostly--until he stepped on the scale.

Sandlin, who lost a 9-7 decision, said his body simply shut down after the first period.

"After you've cut weight and exercised your body, it's hard to get out there and wrestle," Sandlin said.

Moorpark, defending state champion that has the region's only junior college program, on Saturday will host the Southern dual-meet championships. Previously, weigh-ins for tournaments were conducted the night before. Under new rules, the Raiders will weigh in two hours before the tournament.

Reactions to the rule changes are mixed among Moorpark wrestlers, most of whom say they have little difficulty making weight.

"Everybody is pretty much going with the flow," said Dustin Clocherty, a freshman from Ventura High and the Raiders' starter at 141. "You do what you have to do to wrestle. I make weight pretty easily, so I don't have to cut that much. For the wrestlers who have good diets, it's easy for them."

For others, like sophomore Melkon Melkonian, Moorpark's 191-pound competitor, the battle of the bulge is constant.

"Making weight has always been hard for me, so the seven-pound allowance has helped," Melkonian said. "We have about four guys who have to cut a lot of weight, like me and Chuck. But as time goes by, it gets easier."

The goal of new rules is to encourage wrestlers to remain close to their competition weight during training, eliminating--or, at least, drastically reducing--the need to shed pounds too quickly.

"The more you eliminate the yo-yo effect, the better you're going to be," said Moorpark Coach Paul Keysaw, a former NCAA champion for Cal State Bakersfield.

But old habits die hard.

"Weight loss is inevitable in wrestling," Keysaw said. "But every individual is different. Some guys are affected tremendously by losing four or five pounds. But I've seen guys lose eight or nine pounds in three or four hours and do it safely."

Ideally, wrestlers hover between four to six pounds above their competition weight, shedding the extra pounds gradually through dieting and workouts in the days leading to competition.

Dropping 10 pounds in a day, however, is far from unique in a sport in which "cutting weight" is a time-honored ritual.

Desperate wrestlers have resorted to such rapid, yet rare, weight-loss techniques as vomiting, enemas, laxatives, even donating a pint of blood.

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