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!