LARAMIE, Wyo. -- A bigger, stronger opponent stares you down.
The whistle blows, but you don't hear a sound.
On the official's simultaneous signal, you start circling the competitor, matching his movement while keeping your distance. All around you, a cacophony of voices starts clamoring for action.
But silence is your only motivator. Inescapable quiet accompanies your every muscle shift and flex, and you strain for three periods while wrestling up a weight class.
Welcome to Lee Helbig's world on the mat.
Helbig, the University of Wyoming's heavyweight, is deaf. Although the redshirt freshman does use the cochlear implant in his left ear to hear during practice and everyday situations, he battles in an arena devoid of noise.
And while some challengers may perceive his condition as a disadvantage, he sees it with heightened vision.
Full-on concentration helps toughen his game.
"It definitely makes it easier to focus," Helbig 18-14 overall, including a 15-9 mark at 197 pounds, where he split time earlier this season with sophomore teammate Alfonso Hernandez before taking over his current slot full time said.
"Some wrestlers in high school, when they'd go on the mat and hear people boo or yell that they're not good wrestlers, I know they'd have a hard time trying to perform or feel good about themselves.
"If you're wrestling when you're down, you can lose easily."
Where other athletes must deal with constant distractions, tuning out everything is never an issue for Helbig.
"I just focus in my head," he said. "Some people have wondered: What is it like to have a head with no sounds when you're out there? What's it like?'
"I like to think it's just blank except for all the things I need to do to win, so it's easier to keep my focus."
Helbig, who finished 22-8 at 184 pounds last winter as a redshirt in open competition, is now adjusted to both the rigors of the Cowboy program and the slight teaching tweaks head coach Mark Branch and staff made to accommodate him.
Helbig and the Cowboys are preparing for the NCAA West Regional/Western Wrestling Conference Championship tournament on Saturday in Brookings, S.D.
During breaks between the action, Helbig's lip-reading skill becomes his method for guidance.
"I just try to make sure every time we stop that I take a look at my coach to see if he has anything to say," he said.
Right now, he's interpreting plenty of positives along with the requisite constructive criticism.
The Lansing, Mich., native is a two-time high school state champion, accumulating undefeated records in his freshman and senior seasons. He is playing an integral part in the Pokes' rise to national prominence.
When an academic issue forced UW ranked No. 25 in the nation to reshuffle its roster earlier this winter, Helbig proved himself as an invaluable asset.
With no eligible true heavyweights available, he and Hernandez took turns rotating between 197 and the largest size slot.
"I had to take a step up," Helbig, who is 3-5 at heavyweight, said. "I try to help out the team any way I can because I know our coach is very strict on teamwork. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to show teamwork, to show I can be a good teammate."
Grasping drastic change comes somewhat easy to the UW grappler.
After all, when the silence that characterized much of his childhood ended -- he got the surgical device implanted in fourth grade -- his world altered in an extreme way.
And while he must return to the soundless state on the mat, Helbig is appreciative of all his opportunities with noise and without.
"It's nice to be deaf sometimes," he said with a laugh. "That way, you can always sleep good."