Mike DiMauro: Saluting the life of our region's Wrestling Mom

Feb. 7—Her 18-month battle with cancer, good fight notwithstanding, was about to morph into a peaceful, eternal sleep. And there they were in a hospital room a few nights ago. Singing. It would be no other way with Nancy Saxton Kosman, who did chatty and cheerful from habit.

And so her friend Michelle Perkins Smith, one of the caregivers on "Team Nancy," began singing their song, Carole King's "You've Got A Friend." Perkins Smith held one hand. Nancy's son, Jarod, among the most accomplished high school wrestlers of them all here in our corner of the world, grabbed the other.

Nancy Saxton Kosman's eyes were closed. She was uncommunicative. Or so they thought.

"We got to the second verse," Perkins Smith said, "and Nancy squeezed my hand. Just incredible."

Nancy Saxton Kosman, the region's Mother of High School Wrestling, popular dental hygienist for many years at Contemporary Dentistry in Groton, passed not long after. She was 61.

Those final moments of resolve are hardly stunning news to the legions who knew her. Besides, Saxton Kosman was never stronger than at this time of year — her time — when her favorite sport held its annual league and state championships. Sure, she spent her life watching her son dominate the sport. But then she was everyone else's Wrestling Mom as well.

It wasn't long ago that the ECC championships were held at Fitch, where Jarod Kosman won multiple state titles. The two-day event, with a full gym of spectators and a dozen teams participating, has the rattle and hum of Times Square, only with more commotion. Nancy would put herself in charge of the food. For everybody. Put it this way: Nancy's brigade could have fed the entirety of Ohio State's football team and still had snacks left over for Nebraska's, too.

"I'm at home every night doing this. I baked all the muffins," Nancy said at the time. "You have to want to do this. I think wrestling parents are unique. They know what it's like to spend eight hours in a gym two days in a row. They know it's important to have good food. Like fruit. Not that anyone eats that. Fitch puts a little extra into it. All the table help. All the volunteers. Thursday night we were here till 9:30-10 o'clock setting up."

There, in one spasm of words, was Nancy: Dedicated, funny, loyal. She will be missed always. But especially at this time of year.

There are no words for what befell Saxton Kosman, whose social magnetism came naturally. It wasn't just at wrestling events. She could clean and polish teeth and still speak 10 words per second, with gusts to 50. She is the best — and sadly, worst — example that cancer does not discriminate.

It wasn't long after she wasn't able to work that "Team Nancy" formed. Perkins Smith, Jen Babb, Yolanda Beers and Linda Sartinsky. Ziggy Marley's line, "people treat you according to the energy of what you put out there," never had a better example than Nancy Saxton Kosman.

"Nancy's favorite word was 'believe,'" Perkins Smith said. "She had that on pillows, blankets, painted rocks and jewelry."

Saxton Kosman's illness also provided her some full-circle moments with her son. She devoted her life to him. Then him to her. Maybe Jarod Kosman learned that all the times and moments in our lives eventually come around again, perhaps to form a balance, perhaps to illustrate that life imparts answers at its own pace.

"Jarod was by her side every moment of every day for 14 days in the hospital," Perkins Smith said. "He did not leave her. It's really heartbreaking as a mother to see him go through all this. But without him, I could not have made it through some of my days. Two people with unconditional love for each other."

It has been suggested that nobody really dies until people stop talking about them. Result: immortality for Nancy Saxton Kosman.

The guess here is that the great Dave Nowakowski, who deftly runs the ECC Tournament, will ask for a moment of silence before the finals at Saturday's ECC championships. Think a happy thought for high school wrestling's Everymom.

"Her strength. No matter how rough the days, her smile never left her face. That's what I'll remember," Perkins Smith said. "Her strength and the love she had for her son."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro