DENVER - Stephen Dabelko ran along lonely roads east of Colorado Springs, listening to Garth Brooks, George Strait and Charlie Daniels while waving at an occasional prairie dog.
Always, he was watching, in his mind's eye, a vision of highlights from his future.
The Coronado High senior wrestler had vowed to himself he would rule Colorado 5A in the 113-pound class.
On every run, he replayed his vision. He would vanquish his opponent in the finals before a loud crowd at Pepsi Center, walk calmly to the corner of the mat, point into the stands at his family and then, to complete the celebration, pull his favorite shirt over his head for all to see.
The 113-pound state champ would wear a shirt that proclaimed, "Jesus Christ is Life."
Yes, that was the plan.
Dabelko came so achingly close to grabbing it all, to making his vision come true.
On Saturday night, Dabelko battled Pomona High sophomore Justin Pacheco, his arch-nemesis. Dabelko had lost one match this season, and, yes, it was to Pacheco.
In a defensive battle, Pacheco beat Dabelko again, 3-0, although the score is deceptive. Pacheco's last two points were scored in the final seconds of the match. (Coronado's KJ Kearns lost in the 138-pound final, and Jimmy Weaver won the 182-pound title.)
Sad doesn't begin to describe the scene. Each year, a few wrestlers seize their dream, leap with joy and hug mom and dad and anyone else in the vicinity. These select wrestlers have arrived at the mountaintop and vanquished all opponents. They rule the state.
The losers trudge around lost, at least for a few minutes.
After the defeat, Dabelko immediately approached his coach, Matt Brickell.
"I'm sorry," Dabelko said, tears already forming.
"Are you kidding, Stevie?" Brickell replied. "You're a stud. You're a great kid. You worked so hard."
Dabelko was minutes away from keeping a promise to himself, pointing to his family and ruling 5A.
"I visualized it every day," Dabelko said. "Winning a state title, but ."
On those lonely runs on the outskirts of the Springs, Dabelko talked to himself.
"I only have one shot left," he said as he ran alone. "This is my last chance. I'm going to make the best of it. I'm going to do everything it takes."
He gave everything. Trouble was, everything wasn't quite enough.
He was staring at the floor a few minutes after the defeat as he tried to make sense of his battle with Pacheco.
In the past two seasons, Dabelko and Pacheco tangled four times, with Pacheco winning three of the matches. Dabelko estimates there were only 10 points scored in the four matches. He never quite solved a wrestling riddle named Pacheco.
"I could not figure him out," Dabelko said.
Sunday morning, Dabelko plans to rise early to attend worship service at Pikes Peak Christian Church.
"He has a real strong faith," Brickell said.
In the afternoon, Dabelko will head to the mat in his garage.
"I'm definitely going to wrestle someone," he said.
One vision failed to come true.
It's time for a fresh vision.