If you were awake a little past 6:00 a.m. in Clifton, Virginia this summer, you would've spotted Roopinder Mahil hoofing it on the streets with his friends and teammates.
The senior wrestler for Centreville High School started his mornings with a three-mile run, the first of two workouts he did most days. Later on, he'd hit the gym to build strength for the upcoming school year and season—in which he hopes to attract interest from college coaches after winning more than 90 percent of his matches last season. And not long after lifting, he'd head to a rock wall, where he worked part-time as a climbing instructor.
Roopinder at a wrestling match. (Courtesy of Roopinder Mahil)
With so much physical activity packed into his days—and his sights set on turning heads as a varsity wrestler this season—it's hard to believe that as a kid, Mahil had such terrible issues with breathing that he could barely get through his classes.
"I remember in first grade, I missed a month of school because of asthma," Mahil recalls. "I was always sneezing or going up to get tissues because I wasn't feeling well. I was missing all the material that was being taught in class."
Mahil suffered from a severe form of asthma that restricted him both academically and physically. The condition made it hard to concentrate for long periods of time. His restricted airflow also made him feel lethargic. He couldn't be as active as he wanted, and when he tried, his body would shut him down.
"I couldn't go outside to play with my friends," Mahil says. "I would run out of breath after a minute of running."
By the time he reached 7th grade, Mahil was fed up with feeling sluggish and inactive. He took an interest in weight training, started working out in the gym, and noticed some improvements. Later that year, his mother took him to India to see healers who used home remedies, and the treatments improved his condition.
Centreville High School gym in Clifton, Virginia. (Courtesy of Roopinder Mahil)
"They use medical herbs instead of antibiotics to cure diseases, and it actually helped," Mahil says. "I don't know if you can cure asthma, but I feel much better now. I didn't have any breathing problems by the time high school came along."
His improved breathing led to his heightened athleticism. By the time he entered high school, Mahil was ready to try a new sport but uncertain about which one to choose. A friend persuaded him to check out wrestling—although Mahil was a little confused about how it worked.
"What I first thought of was like fake wrestling—WWE with chairs and everything," Mahil says with a laugh. "I didn't know there was such thing as Olympic wrestling. So I went there and was shocked because it was so different than the wrestling I'd watched as a little kid, you know, the one with the chairs and stuff."
Mahil got off to a rocky start, losing his first few matches. But as he began to learn the intricacies of the sport, and how to train for it, his performances on the mat grew much stronger.
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"I started reading STACK articles on wrestling, because the website has a lot of information on the sport of wrestling and how to train for it. I went there and looked up the proper deadlifts and stuff like that. With that, and through hard work, I was able to be successful."
Roopinder Mahil raises his arm to signal a win on the mat. (Courtesy of Roopinder Mahil)
This season, Mahil plans on wrestling in the 138-pound weight class for Centreville's varsity team. To get an edge on opponents, he's been studying new takedown techniques. "There are a lot of techniques people don't know. The basics, everyone knows, but it's usually the techniques nobody knows that will rack you up a victory."
No matter how the season plays out, Mahil's triumph over asthma and finding his inner athlete are solid wins.