Gabriel Townsell: Defining Grit through my own experiences

This past Thursday, we had the pleasure of hosting Gabriel Townsell on our virtual group mentoring call. Gabe grew up in North Lawndale on the west side of Chicago, which he describes as the most dangerous part of Chicago from his youth. He credited his faith-based family for supporting his faith endeavors and successful wrestling career through the years, in addition to his creation of music. Regarding the area Gabe grew up in, he stated the following:

“Coming from that environment to the suburbs, both for training and high school, made it apparent to me that there were things about life that I understood, things I’d seen or experienced, and people I related to that wouldn’t and couldn’t be understood by someone there. I saw two distinct Americas, and the gap between both was bridged by wrestling.”

On our group mentoring call, Gabe expanded on his experience living in North Lawndale and his transition to Stanford University. At Stanford, Gabe was a three-time NCAA qualifier, a three-time NWCA Academic All-American, and received a degree in political science with a law concentration. Here at Beat the Streets Philadelphia, one of our core values is grit, which we define as the passion and perseverance to pursue a long-term goal. Wrestling is a sport that truly tests the grit of every participant out there. We asked Gabe how grit has played a role in his long-term success. He said the following: “I’ve fought through adversity, whether it be injuries, losses, personal tragedies, internal obstacles, whatever… but recognizing that the odds aren’t a death sentence with regard to any of those things has paid off in the pursuit of every goal I’ve had.” He continued to touch on the fact that some things that happen are out of our control, and what matters is handling what we can control in the best way possible. One example that Gabe shared of displaying grit in his life was when Stanford wrestled Fresno State at the Battle of the Midway. While dealing with two of his childhood friends getting shot and losing a childhood coach, Gabe gave his prayers and went out to secure a win with a pin. That action took an immense amount of self-control emotionally and physically. Talk about facing adversity and showing a tremendous amount of grit in a time where things weren’t turning out for the best.
We asked Gabe to give his definition of grit, and he answered, “my definition of grit is the ability to find personal reasons to pursue one’s passions and keep them central in all circumstances.” His idea that keeping one’s passions central in all circumstances is something that we can all relate to and utilize throughout our lives when experiencing a scenario that hasn’t necessarily turned out the best for us. Transferring from his neighborhood in Chicago to Stanford, a predominantly white institution (PWI), Gabe also gave his insight into overcoming any fears that may have arisen and advice to any black student-athlete wrestlers out there. The main piece of his advice stated:

“My advice would be to call whatever makes up home for you a lot and make sure you know what it is you want from your college experience and how that betters you specifically; even understanding everything on the front end will come with a fair number of culture shocks as a Black student from a predominantly Black neighborhood at a PWI.”

Coming from a family with two highly-educated and middle-class Black parents, Gabe mentioned that his role model through it all was his father. He stressed the resilience that he observed of his father and that his father taught to him. Having that resilience in all areas of your life strengthens the way one goes about conducting their actions. There is one final and decisive quote from Gabe.

“As long as I have dreams, I will relentlessly pursue those dreams. That much I can guarantee.”

Thank you again to Gabriel Townsell for taking the time to attend our group mentoring session this past Thursday and sharing his insight on his experiences as a black student-athlete, how he dealt with adversity, and the grit he displayed through his actions! Make sure to check out his music on all platforms!

Nick Rubino-In Their Shoes

“Loss is a part of life. If you don’t have a loss you don’t grow. This isn’t tough, this is life.”

– Dominick Cruz

In my decade of experience in combat sports, I have always carried myself with a sense of self-confidence and always patted myself on the back for my ability to overcome & adapt. This was instilled in me through my years of training with my team at Martinez BJJ. Coach Will Martinez led by example and taught me what it meant to be committed through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. These qualities always shined during my training or martial arts competitions. I wasn’t always the most talented, however I felt I always was the most determined, no matter who stood across from me on the mat. As far as my determination has taken me in competitions, it is now taking me even further in life. 

During my freshman year at Central High School, I decided to expand my abilities as a martial artist and joined the wrestling team; one of 30 programs in Philadelphia supported by Beat the Streets Philadelphia. I learned quickly that the winner in this sport is decided through determination and their ability to overcome. The sport fit me perfectly; it made me feel electric! Not only did I like the sport, but it turns out I took to it pretty quickly too. In just my freshman season, I even won the individual Public League Championships! That left me hungry, I wanted to top that, so I set a long-term goal of becoming the first state qualifier and medalist in Central High’s history. Little did I know, however, that would never come to fruition due to matters out of my control.

During the summer, I poured my heart and soul into my training. I improved as a wrestler. When December of my sophomore year came, I felt like I was ready to make history. Then, just one week into the season, I grew ill with an illness that completely changed my life. I remember the week vividly. I won my first match, but felt horrible the entire time. Being the determined person I am, I chose not to listen to my body & continue on to my next competition. Unfortunately, this time I wasn’t so lucky. I was gassed the entire match and actually collapsed due to exhaustion at the final whistle. I was later diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and I was forced both off the mat and out of school entirely. I visited numerous doctors and hospitals, continuing to get the same response; there was no viable treatment and that I may live the rest of my life like this, bedridden. After six months of fighting, finally, I was given hope. Using a combination of drugs, my cardiologist found an answer! In short order I was no longer bed ridden, and soon, I would be ready to wrestle again!

That offseason, I went to competition after competition, training 2-3 times a day. It was a rough start initially getting the rust off, but, eventually I was beating state medalists! Now, having regained my self-confidence to go along with my unwavering determination, I was ready to qualify for states my junior year! Just as I had come back, however, things took a quick turn when I tore my labrum during the first scrimmage of the season. For almost a month, I decided to wrestle through my injury & postpone surgery. However, I was left virtually unable to practice and instead would run up to 10 miles per day. Even with these limitations, I had compiled a 12-2 record. Then, my family and doctors decided that my season should end early and I received surgery to repair the ligament. I was heartbroken.

After a 7 month recovery with strenuous rehabilitation, my senior year was going to start soon. All of the adversity I had faced no longer mattered, I was ready to take what was mine! Then, the unthinkable happened. Just three weeks after being cleared by my doctor to wrestle, my shoulder dislocated and I tore the same ligament again. I trained so hard, I had wanted this for so long and now I could never achieve my goal. There was an eerie sense of devastation that I had never felt before, it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I wasn’t sure I could go through it again. I seriously considered ending my wrestling.

After a few weeks I was off to see another surgeon. He gave me a few options and asked what my goals are. I told him I wanted to wrestle in college. He explained in order to do that I would need a complicated procedure called a Latarjet. It involves restructuring the anatomy of my shoulder. Also, if my shoulder dislocated again I wouldn’t have a choice in  continuing to wrestle.  I decided that I would have the procedure. I am still recovering from my most recent surgery, which will take 9 months to heal, with an even more intensive rehabilitation. I am hopeful my shoulder will never have a recurrence because of the stronger procedure.

I have learned when facing adversity a support system is essential. The unwavering confidence I had in achieving my goals was disrupted by reality. When injured, isolation occurs from your sport. You miss the day to day activities and your team moves on without you. I tried to stay connected to the team as much as possible. I ran some summer practices and contributed as best I could. Beyond friends and family, there was a small group of people that supplied the needed encouragement to move forward. They talked to me as if I still had something to look forward to in wrestling if that is what I wanted to do. It meant a lot. Beat The Streets always kept in contact and asked how they could help. The disappointments of the past were slowly replaced by excitement for the future. I am currently in discussion with a few college coaches and deciding where would be the best fit for me both academically and athletically. While I haven’t yet made up my mind on where that is, I do believe collegiate wrestling is in my future. While not always easy, wrestling teaches us how to get up off the mat. And I’m going to continue to do just that.