DENVER — Good morning. I want you to meet my friend Mike.
“Love the taste of blood! Blood tastes like victory!”
OK, a little context on Mike: he hasn’t lost his marbles. He’s not a shark. He’s one of the sharpest and hardest-working kids at Cheyenne Mountain High School, according to his wrestling coach, and late Friday night he inched one bloody victory closer to realizing the one-and-only dream he’s held since he started wrestling 13 years ago: state champion. And it bled so good.
“It’s everything. It’s everything. Everything. Everything. Everything,” Mike McFadden told me, clapping his hands together at each everything. “I’ve given every ounce of my body into this. It’s been my dream forever. It’s all I think about. It’s all I work for. It’s everything. Everything.”
Here at the Colorado High School Activities Association wrestling tournament, teenagers like Mike are everything. And I dug everything McFadden shouted, clapped and, at one point, screamed down an empty tunnel at Pepsi Center. Mike put everything — everything, everything, everything — into a state semifinal match against Mountain View senior Erik Contreras, a worthy adversary for sure, until McFadden won with an 8-3 decision. Thirteen years of goal-setting and hallway wind sprints (more on that later) and, yes, blood, came pouring out to a stranger. But we’re friends now, and as Mike’s friend, I need to tell you something about him: don't threaten Mike with pain. He doesn’t feel it, nor does he acknowledge its existence.
As we spoke, blood dripped from his lower lip. It caked onto his front teeth, like he’d just munched a pomegranate. His fingers were bloody, his jersey was bloody, his chin was bloody. And my man rocked the biggest bloody smile this side of Chuck Norris. Imagine the pastime you love most in the world — fly fishing? golf? euchre? — and that’s how Mike feels about wrestling.
“He just brought it this year,” Cheyenne Mountain coach Tyler Seaney said.
Like most of these guys, Mike brought it every day. He finished second at state last year, as a junior, and second wasn’t going to be good enough as a senior, to the point the Indians introduced a new drill to prove their resolve. Immediately after they finish a wrestling match, they head out into the hallway — pick a hallway, any hallway — and run wind sprints. Seaney said it’s to show his guys they aren't tired, that they still have something more to give.
“Mike never missed a sprint,” Seaney said.
Saturday is a day Mike will never forget. If he wins the Class 4A state title at 138 pounds, he’s going to place the gold medal in a conspicuous spot at his future family’s home, for all to see. If he loses the state final, 20 years from now he’s going to think about what he could have done differently. He'll think about it every week. A state championship loss never goes away. It grows horns.
“First period I bit my lip hard, man!” Mike said, again with raw emotion. “I could feel it bubbling up into my mouth, and that’s when I knew it was on!”
Mike said he's "riding the wave" that's "a tsunami now!" His future plans include Ultimate Frisbee practice Tuesday and attending the University of Oklahoma, where Seaney said Mike hopes to wrestle in college. None of that mattered Friday night. Uncertain of his championship competition, Mike was busy calling his shot, and I wasn't about to step in the way.
“I don’t care who I wrestle tomorrow," he said. "Whoever gets in my way is going down.”
It's Jaxon Garouette. He's 40-9, a sophomore at Pueblo County, another worthy adversary. McFadden's 34-3, and if you can't tell, just a bit fired up.
"I’ve never won a state title. I’ve never even won a medal round at state. Now I got a chance. It’s my last chance. I won’t leave anything out there.”
This state championship match means everything, everything, everything.