Rutgers grapplers embrace nagging medical condition
Most of the time, it is easy to spot a wrestler who is walking past you. There is something unique about the way they carry themselves, their strut and the Rutgers wrestling backpack they wear.
While there are a few aspects of collegiate grappling that are pretty — two wrestlers wearing only a spandex singlet while they wrestle for seven minutes — there is one feature of a wrestler that brings junior 157-pounder Anthony Perrotti’s mother to tears.
That characteristic of a wrestler is probably the first thing you notice at any level.
“If you are fighting in the wrestling room and you are scrapping, you are going to get cauliflower ear,” Perrotti said. “There’s only a handful of kids in the wrestling room who don’t have it — they’re pretty lucky. But my mom cries every time that she sees it.”
The first thing you are going to notice about a wrestler, whether they grapple collegiately or a few years in high school, is their cauliflower ear. And as Perrotti said, it is not easily prevented.
A person is eligible to get cauliflower ear after repeated blows to the ears, making wrestlers, MMA fighters and boxers prime candidates for the condition.
But the way you get the hard, elbow-like growth outside of your ears is much more gruesome than a few knocks to the side of your head.
“Basically, it’s a bruise to the ear. You try to prevent it by getting them to wear their headgear, but even then you can’t always prevent it,” said Rutgers wrestling athletic trainer Dan Pocci. “What happens is they take a blow to the ear, it swells up and if you don’t treat it soon enough, all that outside tissue basically dies off. What’s left down is just scarring and dead tissue.”
But it’s not all bad.
The collection of dying tissue can be saved if the wrestler acts fast enough. The process to revitalize your ears as is described as the most painful thing a wrestler can endure, according to head coach Scott Goodale.
Pocci said there are surgical processes to fix your ears, and it usually takes a concerned individual’s initiative to go through with it, despite the pain.
“The way to prevent it is within about two days, you need to drain it,” Pocci said. “You need to drain it, and then we try to pack it with some stuff and give them some time off. You want to prevent that repeated trauma. Once you get past that 48 hours, you are going to get cauliflower ear, so you have to get to it quickly.”
Goodale has a different take on the condition. He said it’s one of the least glamourous parts of the sport.
“It’s extremely painful,” Goodale said. “It gets drained, and it’s extremely painful. And you have to keep draining it. It’s the needle that keeps sucking out that really hurts. Otherwise it ends up being a bad ear, and then it becomes a surgical procedure — it’s a real pain in the neck. It’s not fun. It’s very uncomfortable.”
While Goodale shies away from the pain of dealing with it — something Perrotti attributes to his head coach’s poor tolerance when dealing with pain — he has a theory about wrestlers and how they deal with the rough-looking condition to their ears.
“Nobody wants to wear their head gear during practice, right? So that’s what happens — you get one of those things,” Goodale said. “But, to be honest, wrestlers kind of like [cauliflower ear]. It’s like a badge of honor.”
Still, Perrotti said he doesn’t mind being outcast by the physical appearance of his ears.
It just means he has done something the average person is incapable of doing. It is part of what makes his identity as a wrestler unique.
“You see a guy with cauliflower ear and you know they have been in a dog fight on the mat — that’s how I take it,” Perrotti said. “I like it, though. I never got it drained because I thought it was cool.”
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