Ryan Hall understood a long time ago that success doesn't arrive at the door with the daily mail, conveniently contained in a UPS box, ready to be opened and acquired with the ease of scissors cutting packaging tape. The 2010 Elsie Allen graduate didn't become a top-ranked collegiate wrestler at 133 pounds by sleeping in, snacking on cookies and practicing when the mood suited him.
"Obsessed is a word the lazy use to describe dedication," reads a slogan often seen on T-shirts at wrestling matches.
Hall, 20 and a junior at the University of South Florida, likes that sentence for its directed vigor. Attack life. Don't be a spectator. Watch, and you will watch others pass you by.
Wrestling? He is not obsessed. He is merely in love with the entire experience, the challenge of it all: thinking about it, practicing, preparing and competing. It's as if the sport bathes him in an eternal adrenaline glow.
He only takes two weeks off every year from wrestling.
"This is the kind of competitor he is," said Tony Albini, Hall's wrestling coach at Elsie who now coaches the sport at Piner. "We're at a match in Ukiah. His opponent had him in a headlock. He couldn't get out of it. Most wrestlers would tap out because if you don't, you pass out for lack of oxygen. Ryan didn't tap out. He refuses to quit. He passed out, for only about five seconds, but that represented what kind of person he is."
Truth to tell, and he likes this kind of truth, Hall is far more typical of Elsie Allen than perception would otherwise suggest.
"The perception (of Elsie Allen) from the outside is incorrect," said Alan Petty, the school's athletic director. "We have a low transfer rate. Many of our students return to teach here. And Ryan in so many ways represents the kids we have at the school."
Hall had a 4.3 overall GPA for his four years at Elsie, including a 4.5 his senior year. He is carrying a 3.78 at USF, majoring in math education.
His older sister and brother went to Elsie as well. Kelly went to the University of Florida as a cheerleader on an athletic scholarship and is now pursuing a teaching credential. Kyle, a Cal graduate, has passed the state bar in Florida.
"I could have gone anywhere to high school (in Sonoma County) and I would have done well no matter where I went," Hall said.
"I still remember the (less than flattering) newspaper articles about the school, but I made the decision to go to Elsie and I have never regretted it. It was never a question for me where I was going. I knew a lot of the teachers and the coaches. I wanted to be challenged and I was."
When pressed Hall said "I like to think I'm an ambassador" for Elsie.
But watch out, Albini said,
because this ambassador could quite well represent a population much larger than a high school in Sonoma County.
"If Ryan keeps with it," said Albini, the director of maintenance and operations for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, "he could wind up on the U.S. Olympic team. He's that good and that dedicated."