CORAL SPRINGS, FL - Gabe Preal admits that being a part of the Coral Springs High School wrestling team is one of the hardest things he has ever done. 

It hasn’t been the hardest thing he’s ever faced, though.  

The sport did help him grapple with bullying and other troubles he was having at school, and on Friday, the senior hopes to punch a ticket to the Florida High School Athletic Association state tournament next week.

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“I like that it is a tough sport and it forces you to work hard,” Preal said. “Whatever you put in, you always get out of it. If you work hard you get the best results out of it.”

While 18-year-old Coral Springs resident has been a member of the Colts’ wrestling team all four years, it’s been a bumpy ride, almost from the beginning.

In his freshman year, he had second thoughts after signing up to be a member of the wrestling team. When he finally went out for the team he was paired with a 170-pounder. Preal weighed 125-pounds.

“It was a month or two after I signed up and then I got a call to go to the practice room,” Preal said. “I called my mom and said I didn’t want to do it, but I decided to go one day and try it. I wanted to cry. I think I threw up twice that first day and the second day I was incredibly sore. I wound up staying with it and I have loved it ever since.”

He began wrestling varsity matches in both the 120-pound and 126-pound weight divisions in his sophomore year. It was also the year that trouble started.

“One of the major things I had to deal with was people trying to antagonize me and try and get under my skin, making fun of the way I looked and the way I dressed,” Preal said. “I was getting bullied in school. There were plenty of days where I didn’t want to come to school. I just took a lot of sick days so I didn’t have to come to school and deal with that. I was alone. I missed the whole day of school and I would just come to (wrestling) practice. It helped me burn through a lot of energy and get it out of my system.”

“That was the fuel I needed to get through it,” Preal said. “The more I came to practice, the more I got better and it helped me get better with my schoolwork too. I actually wanted to come to school more.”

Preal will compete in the Class 4-3A regional tournament at Miami Braddock High School on Friday and Saturday. The top four in each weight class qualify for the state tournament at Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee on March 6-7.

“It’s a great sport because, in that final minute, you just push yourself,” said Pearl, who won the district title in the 126-pound division last week. He’s 22-5 for the year. He finished second in the district tournament last year and failed to make it to state. 

  Winning the district was also an outstanding accomplishment given the fact that Preal’s senior campaign was in doubt after spraining his shoulder during the summer and injuring his knee, hip flexor, and ankle during the season. It interrupted the preparation for the season and he was sidelined for a few weeks during the year.

“It made it harder for me to sit out,” said Preal, who watched Olympic and college wrestling on TV while he was out. “There were a lot of setbacks. I felt every day I missed, there was somebody out there getting better than me.”

Upon graduation, Preal plans to join the Air Force and hopes to wrestle in college.

Colts wrestling coach Dan Jacob said Preal is a great kid and very driven. Jacob said he realized at some point last year that there was the bullying issue since he was missing school.

“I would love to have a whole team of him at different weights obviously,” Jacob said. “He is blue-collar. Gabe shows up on time and works as hard as he can work. He overcomes adversity. If he gets beat, he wants to know what he did wrong and what he can do to get better.”