Wrestling, Still Wrestling ...

John McManamy Health Guide

    Becky, who produces BipolarConnect here at HealthCentral, wanted me to check out this news story: "Children of Older Fathers at Risk for Bipolar Disorder."


    But then I found a news item far more relevant: "Professional Wrestler Walter 'Killer' Kowalski Dies at Age 81."


    Bear with me. You'll see where I'm going with this.


    Last year, after moving to Southern California, my housemate Paul introduced me to a resort out on the high desert about 40 or 50 miles from where we live. We would go there on a Saturday or Sunday to play water volleyball and hang out. As well as meeting new people, I quickly found that the break in routine helped reset my brain to normal (in a manner of speaking).

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    One of the first people I met at the resort was 85-year-old Don Arnold. We were soaking in the outdoor hot tub. Picture Kirk Douglas with a flowing white mane and trimmed beard. We got talking. It turned out he had a PhD. His thesis was about stress reduction and cognitive behavior.


    Oh, and he also used to be a pro wrestler. Straight out of the generation of Killer Kowalski and Haystack Calhoun and Gorgeous George. Don may not have been as famous, but he is the one who patented the "helicopter spin." That is where you hoist your opponent onto your shoulders and whirl him around like a propellor before slamming him to the mat.

    Once Don had his victim in his clutches, the match was virtually over. "Kiss me, you fool!" Don recalls Gorgeous George telling him as he pinned him to the mat.


    In his last years in the ring, Don wrestled under the monicker of Doctor Death, with his matinee idol looks concealed in a hooded mask. He was the bad guy, the heel, with this twist - instead of blustering in a loud voice, he would calmly dispense scholarly insults. This had a way of working the crowd into a white heat.


    The other twist was that Don was teaching high school during the day. Neither his students nor his employer knew that Don was the guy they all loved to hate.

    Back at the resort: Don had to be very careful stepping out of the hot tub. After all, he was a frail old man with a hip replacement.


    He emerged from the water. Arms that could rip the horn out of a rhinoceros. Chest like a champion bull, waist like a ballerina, legs like coiled springs. And that regal Kirk Douglas visage.


    Holy crap! I could only think. I'm nearly 30 years his junior and he looks way better than me.


    Indeed, Don was the best-looking guy at that resort, bar none. Correction, make that best-looking guy in California.

    Slight change of pace:


    The name, Israel, literally means wrestles with God. We know who the ultimate winner of that match will be, but God expects us to put up a good fight. We may go down with grace. We may go down kicking and screaming. But we make God earn His victory. We don't take a dive. We don't throw the match.


    These days, Don literally wrestles with the water. I see him get into the pool and work his muscled body against the flow, driving, pumping, pushing. Back in 1949, he set a world record for the bench press. Now, his companion Ardath jokes, he needs three aspirin to open a bag of potato chips.


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    Don has led an extremely full and colorful life. His career in the ring spanned three decades. The last round may not be his, but you won't hear him cry, Uncle. He is still putting up a fight. He is still wrestling ...


Published On: September 08, 2008