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It was the Summer of ‘98 and I’d spent the better part of it with my cousins in Rhode Island, catching blue crab and telling stories of our boyhood heroes. We lived there for the few years my father worked at Howell Industries, a company that developed navigational systems for touring ships. I was only a child, and fascinated by Popeye the Sailor Man. I’d take a swig of Mountain Dew, pretending it to be spinach and toss crab traps twice my weight onto the dock. Even then I was absurdly hearty for my size.

When I wasn’t playing volleyball with my cousin, Wilson, we’d watch old wrestling tapes from his father’s collection. He’d told me one of our uncles, Lester Crabtree, was a well traveled professional wrestler. But “Darkness” Crabtree was never in the squared circle against Bret Hart. Or Shawn Michaels. Or Macho Man. Or even the first wrestler who really captured my imagination, Captain Mike Rotunda. Wilson talked Uncle Lester up against some of the greats of a generation before television — wrestlers I’ve only otherwise heard Sidney Bakabella mention. Then Wilson showed me the film reels Uncle Lester would send home from his wrestling exploits in Europe, Japan and Australia. He was magnificent.

Lester Crabtree had the best German Suplex in all of Germany. It was a move I wanted to emulate as a collegiate wrestler. I wanted mine to have the same power and grace. It was a move opponents expected, feared and yet couldn’t avoid. Crowds came out to watch me toss the largest sandbags in their schools over my head like kegs at a fraternity house. Then one year, Uncle Lester came out to see me compete.

No one recognized the grizzled octogenarian. I’d barely recognized him from family photos. My mother had told him about my success in wrestling and Uncle Lester wanted to come see for himself if the wrestling gene passed on to another generation. He told me he was proud of me carrying on a family tradition. His tradition, with his signature move. Uncle Lester didn’t have much time to stay. He and his partner, Mr. Snodgrass were, defending their tag team titles in Czechoslovakia. Uncle Lester made me promise I would continue wrestling and keep our family legacy alive. I agreed.

Then on a Senior Class cruise aboard the Pacific Princess I became enamored with a graduating marine biologist. She was a lovely siren reminiscent of a young Daryl Hannah mixed with some Bryce Dallas Howard, with an insatiable passion for the soft-rock stylings of Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins. That, my stalwart seamen, is a tale for another time. Suffice to say, I was set adrift on memory bliss. Honeydripping in a sea of love. I’d lost my way. Forgotten my promise.

This year, CHIKARA has shown me how the honored legacy of my Uncle Lester can live on, through me. CHIKARA has welcomed me as one of their own, and I’m profoundly humbled. A year after my uncle’s passing, I can proudly carry on his memory at CHIKARA’s biggest event of the year. What a fateful coincidence that it’s a contest contesting the very move my uncle mastered and later bequeathed to me. This is my chance to truly do him proud. I won’t let him down.

In a few short days I will test decades of dedication to the perfection of a single wrestling maneuver. My future career will be defined by this moment. Sink or swim, we’re in for one titanic collision. The waters may be rough, the tide is high, but I’m holding on. And with the CHIKARMY as my mates on this voyage, I predict…smooth sailing.

-AR