At 113 pounds, Alex Bravo is twice the size he was when he first started wrestling as a spindly little sixth grader.
Thanks to the sport, the Valparaiso senior is also twice the person he was.
"Wrestling is a lifestyle," Bravo said. "It really does affect everything. It keeps me out of bad things. It keeps me busy. It makes me work harder. It gives me the dedication to get good grades. Wrestling's something I love. I don't know how my life would be without it."
Bravo (17-1) has been a key player in the revival of the Vikings program under coach Jim Smith. At the bottom of the Duneland Athletic Conference just a few years ago, Valpo is now knocking on the door of the region's best.
"He's part of that senior group that's helped changed Valpo into a legitimate wrestling school with their leadership, buying into what we're doing," Smith said. "Alex has made himself what he is with very little experience. He doesn't have a wrestling pedigree. He's just the kind of kid who's real good in practice, who works hard, has done everything we've asked and helps his teammates."
A 90-pound freshman, Bravo first appeared in the varsity lineup as a sophomore, when he filled an opening at 120, giving up about 15 pounds. He was a regular at 106 last season, when he went 15-6 and finished second to eventual state champion Stevan Micic of Hanover Central in the Crown Point Sectional.
A week later in the regional, Bravo was well on his way to a first-round win against Eric Peek, then of Portage, when he got caught and pinned.
"I gave up," Bravo said.
The loss was a lesson in toughness.
"We're working a lot on that," Smith said.
It also provided the fire for Bravo's off-season, during which he practiced, ran and worked out on a daily basis.
"The coaches tell us wrestling's 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical," Bravo said. "It's being positive going into a match, telling yourself not to quit. (That loss) gave me a motivation. It made me realize I've only got one year left to make my mark on wrestling, and here it is."
Bravo's only loss this season came when he bumped up to 120 pounds. He's ranked 12th in the state at 113 by Indiana Mat.
"It's not over yet. I want to keep going higher and higher. I'm still working toward my goal," he said. "I want to go to state."
If Bravo makes it to Indianapolis, he hopes that can improve his chances to attain another goal.
"I'd like to wrestle in college," he said. "If I don't get a scholarship, I'd walk on. It's my dream."
The dream rings true with the slogan on Bravo's Twitter account: "The mat is my home, the gym is my school and the podium is where I belong."