Give Now

Once You've Struggled

By: Neil Olipani

Growing up in the south side of Oxnard can be a difficult place to live depending on your situation. My situation could have been difficult, but I learned many lessons that helped me make safe choices. One of the most important things I learned growing up in Oxnard is that boredom is a dangerous thing. It is especially dangerous during a teen’s transition to adulthood.

I believe boredom is dangerous because it leads to mischief. I learned this the hard way one day when I was sitting in the principal’s office. In that moment, I reflected on my actions that led me to this seat and I began to realize the long-term consequences. I decided to turn over a new leaf by joining different types of sports and youth development programs.

During the summer of my freshman year of high school, I dedicated myself to football camp. Every day, I was there under the grueling heat from 9am to 4pm. It was miserable, but it was worth it. That summer was different because, instead of being bored, I dedicated myself to something meaningful. One day after football practice, one of my closest friends introduced me to the sport of wrestling. He convinced me to join the team after stating, “If you wrestle, you will be a better football player.”

I joined the wrestling program because of football, but eventually it became more than that. The sport had a culture and community that differed from all the other sports I played. Wrestling made you bond over the gruesome injuries, starvation and sacrifice. Yes, sacrifices and injuries also existed in other sports, but physically depriving yourself was unique to wrestling. To wrestle is to struggle with hardships. In sports, hardships make the entire team come together. Coach once said, “Going through this with people will give you lifelong friends.” It’s true. The closest friends I have today are my former teammates. They are my brothers.

Wrestling alumni always come back to their roots and volunteer. No matter what program you visit, there will be alumni helping. When I first started, some alumni from 2008 were helping with the program. I am thankful for the sport and for the opportunity that allowed me to become part of this community, so I gave back. Like those alumni before me, I wanted to give my time and experience and share any lessons that I learned with the next generation. I officially started volunteering last season. It was the first time that I consistently coached for a full season and not just the summer session.

I came into coaching to give back to the community that raised me but the community kept giving back. Volunteering gave me leadership experience, long-lasting relationships, and more memories. I always wondered why my coach chose to do what he did, and, through my own experience, I realized it was for the memories and lessons along the road. Memories that will always remind me of how I got here. I got here because I remember my mentors who led me and the people who struggled with me.

“Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” – Dan Gable, Olympic Gold Medalists

Neil Olipani is the South County Office Coordinator for the Santa Barbara Foundation.
North County Headquarters:  (805) 346-6123  |   2625 S. Miller Street, Suite 101, Santa Maria, CA 93455
South County Headquarters:  (805) 963-1873  |  1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101