I’ll admit it. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. I spent most of my high school and college years training. Wrestling ruined me; wrestling saved me. I have a soft spot for the power of sport forging relationships and understanding in ways that no other brokered therapy session ever can.

Brushing aside the Roger Clemens hearings, I happened upon this New York Times video report and charming slide show about Shamila Kohestani, once captain of the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team who is now attending a private high school in New Jersey on a soccer scholarship. She’s trying to catch up in her schooling to prepare for college. And she’s playing competitive basketball for the first time — an observant Muslim in long sleeves and leggings. What a great lesson in modesty and fortitude, compassion and graciousness for her teammates.

For me, this story evokes a particular memory of a former teammate, Dean Mielke. Affectionately called MilkDud, he was the only one of 13 ranked wrestlers who had a losing record at the time — zero wins and 18 losses, all of them by pin. For six continuous months, four hours per day, he got pummeled on — even by the lighter weights.

But he stayed. He didn’t quit. And eventually he endeared himself to everybody, ergo the nickname. Once, in a tight team dual, we needed him not to get pinned and give up six team points. “You’re a wraaaccckin’ machine,” we told him. “Don’t get pinned. Fight off your back no matter what.”

He spent almost six full minutes with his shoulders levitated centimeters from the mat with his his mouth covered by his opponents’ armpit and chin in his ribs. At the final buzzer, he jumped up, arms in the air, and a huge grin on his face. He was defeated by 13 points, and he was proud of himself.

When I think back to that season and all the championships and victories, I only remember one thing: MilkDud’s victory. Yeah, I’m misty writing about it, and that’s why I tear up every time a team comes together in a movie or an athlete prevails during the Olympics.

Thanks, Dean, for the lesson. I’m a better father for it. Shamila’s teammates will be the better for knowing her too.

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