Darling’s title worth the weight ... and weight loss

Paonia High School heavyweight wrestler Tony Darling wrapped up the Eagles’ perfect championship round Saturday night, winning the fifth of five possible individual titles, which led to Paonia’s third straight Class 2A state team title.

DENVER — Tony Darling gained a little weight at the Colorado high school state wrestling tournament.

Not sure how much that gold medal around his neck weighs, but it was worth the wait, and the weight.

Darling reserves his smiles and emotional demonstrations for special occasions. He flashes his smile with the same regularity Scrooge flashes his cash.

But Darling was smiling Saturday night.

After the Paonia High School heavyweight heard the referee slap the mat, he jumped up screaming in jubilation, his muscles rippling.

It was a night for jubilation and smiles for Paonia. Five wrestlers won state titles, but Darling’s title was a year late. Like many that happen every year at the state tournament, Darling was a story of redemption.

“Exciting,” Darling said, modestly summing up his feelings.

The Paonia senior is economical with his words. But the 240-pounder was floating around like a butterfly, relishing in one of the greatest moments of his young life.

Taking photo after photo with family, friends, teammates, shaking hands, hugging supporters, Darling was the biggest man on campus.

This was supposed to happen last year. The heavyweight came in as the No. 1 seed but lost in the title match and had to settle for silver.

“I didn’t want to feel like that again,” he said about that devastating loss.

This has been quite a year for Darling. He helped the Eagles win a state title on the football field this fall and now a state title in wrestling.

As steep as Darling’s athletic accomplishments have been, he also was successful in embracing a healthier lifestyle.

Last year he soared to about 320 pounds. That’s huge — especially for a junior in high school.

Seeing the leaner, trimmer Darling at 240 pounds now, it’s virtually impossible to picture him as that 300-plus-pound teenager. But he was.

“I quit junk food, soda and just started eating better,” he said.

“I was concerned about my health. I couldn’t do anything.”

Too heavy, unable to be active — that got his attention. But then he did something about it. He knew he had to lose weight to be healthier. He dropped to 218 pounds. A 100-pound weight loss in one year.

Then he built himself back up to a more muscular 240 pounds.

He smiles when he reveals his weight loss accomplishment.

Mingling with his supporters on the floor of the Pepsi Center, Darling couldn’t help but remember what it was like one year ago.

Redemption is a meal best served with healthier food and portion sizes.

So he waited, worked and wanted it more than anything. And he got it.

“I can’t describe it, I just don’t know, it happened so fast,” he said about finally winning a state wrestling title. “There’s a little disbelief I didn’t really believe it happened.”

It did, and having to wait a year to get to the zenith of high school wrestling has left Darling with a healthy respect for not taking anything for granted.

Paonia coach Andy Pipher said there was little doubt Darling would find a slice of redemption this year.

“It was impressive. He had a lot of guts and a lot of drive,” Pipher said.

“There was no fear in him. This year the fear was in the other kid and he got it done and went after it.”

There’s no doubt that Darling was hungry for redemption. But he also got a reminder that redemption is not guaranteed.

“I had two losses early in the season and that kept me focused,” he said.

With the heavyweights the last to wrestle, Darling waited longer than most on Saturday to get his serving of redemption.

But he enjoyed every second of it, soaking in the accomplishment.

He wanted it last year and was denied.

Last year’s loss made him wait. But the weight loss made him healthier. Combined, the two have made him much happier.

This is one heavyweight who knows how to handle both the weight and the wait.

The win on the mat and the victory over his weight eliminated a couple of heavy burdens from Darling.

He smiles again.

Redemption was the perfect dessert. This was one gold medal worth the wait and the weight.


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