Wrestling With Loss And Honoring The Dad Who 'Would Do Anything For Anybody'
Standing in the East Mecklenburg High School wrestling room, Chris Dickey smiled. These four walls hold a lot of memories for the 17-year-old who has been wrestling since his freshman year. He pointed to the blue mats padding the walls.
"It’s a good room," he said, looking around. "This year we didn't have a lot of kids, but years prior, imagine this room full of kids — just, like, sweaty, hot. You do not even want to walk in here. You'll be like, 'Dang, this room is like a sauna in here.'"
He remembers when he was introduced to the sport. A counselor handed him a pamphlet for a summer camp that had the word “WRESTLING” written across the top.
"I'm like, 'WWE? Wrestling? They have a club for that? Oh shoot, I gotta try that!'" he said, laughing.
Of course, high school wrestling is a far cry from the theatrics of the World Wrestling Entertainment he remembers watching as a kid, but his interest was piqued.
Although it wasn’t what he expected, Dickey fell in love with wrestling. It was a physical and mental challenge that he found consuming.
"One person against you, that's trying to take what you're wanting, and you beating them from not stopping your goals? That just feels awesome to me," he said "And that adrenaline rush if you want to win, and then you finally win? It's, like, overwhelming with joy and happiness. So that's the reason why I love wrestling."
And he’s really good at it. Dickey is a two-time conference champion, four-time regional place winner, four-time state qualifier, and last year’s regional champion. This weekend, Dickey is looking to capture his first state title in the tournament at Glenn High School in Kernersville.
Dickey is also a leader; he’s a team captain.
"So, my job is to motivate the guys to keep the team morale up, just keep on going," he said.
That desire to lead and motivate is something he got from his dad, Weylin Dickey, who helped coach the team.
"When we would go to tournaments, he would do this all the time — kids who are not on our team, he'll go and coach those kids. I'm like, 'What is he doing?' That was kind of cringey because he's you're dad, of course. But then at the same time, I started doing that, too.
"So there'll be kids at other tournaments and stuff that I don't even know, and I'll be like, 'Get off your back! Come on, man, fight, fight!' I'll also do it. I ended up taking that from him."
Throughout the pandemic Dickey continued to train and wrestle when he could. And his dad continued to coach him. Sometimes that meant going to out-of-state tournaments with looser COVID-19 restrictions, like South Carolina. His dad walked the line of knowing how to push Dickey while showing love and support.
He gave that kindness to everyone, Dickey said.
"My dad, he loved everybody," Dickey said. "He would do anything for anybody. And if you wanted advice from him or want to be coached by him he was always down to help you, help you get better if you wanted to succeed."
But last December, his dad developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. Dickey and his mother also felt like something was off, so they got tested for COVID-19.
All three tested positive. The family began to quarantine.
What happened next, Dickey says, is burned into his brain. It was a Sunday morning in December.
"Sunday morning, I was in my room," he said. "I was just on my bed and I was on my phone or something. And then I hear my mom call my dad's name. And she's like, calling his name like, 'Hello? Hello?' And then she was like, 'He's not breathing!'
"I ran out of my room, flew open the door, check on my dad. My dad's just, like, cold as stone. Just, like, gone."
"You can tell when somebody is gone just by how they look. And he was gone like that," Chris Dickey said, snapping his fingers.
Dickey and his father had bonded over wrestling. After his father’s death, the sport became a way for Dickey to cope with the sudden loss.
"So, I just constantly kept wrestling and wrestling and wrestling and that was a thing that filled the void a little bit," he said.
Dickey said he is not the same wrestler he was a year ago, when his dad was alive. He realizes how much his dad pushed him to be better. Now, that push has to come from within. He channels the many emotions that come with grief when he wrestles.
"I'll talk to myself and use his words coming out of me," he said. "So anything inspirational or something like , 'You've got to keep going, Chris.' Or, 'It's all right.' Or, 'You could have done better here.' Or, 'Don't give up.' "
Moving forward, he's focused on what his dad would want him to do next — not on the fact that his dad isn't there to do it with him.
That included graduating from East Meck High in June. That was an exciting milestone, but in some ways, hard. He had always imagined his dad being there for that moment, watching and cheering him on.
"One big thing I wanted my dad to see was to see me graduate," Dickey said. "But I felt like he was there watching it, watching me just go across stage. Even though he wasn't physically there, spiritually he was probably there."
When thinking about the loss of his father, Dickey remembers something his great-grandmother told his mom and his mom told him.
"Life is for the living," he said. "So don't dwell or be sad about someone passing. Just enjoy the time that you had with them.
"So I just enjoy what I had with him. And constantly just keep on moving from there."
In the fall, Dickey will start at UNC Pembroke and plans to keep wrestling there. Eventually, he wants to become an occupational therapist. The idea of helping others who have been injured regain strength is something that really appeals to him.
It’s the same quality his dad, Weylin, had.He was always the coach who never met a stranger he didn’t want to motivate — and encourage to do their best.