I could tell you why I chose wrestling, or I could tell you why wrestling chose me.
At seven years old, a not-so-tough, not very strong or athletic, not very confident little girl was told by her mother to jump in and be a drilling partner for her younger brother so that he wouldn’t have to quit the sport due to lack of participants. Wrestling did not care that I was not tough, however; it knew it was capable of instilling that fortitude in anyone who stepped on the mat and came back time after time for each challenging workout. Wrestling did not care that I was not too strong; it knew it had a variety of moves to offer that required technique and strategy, not just muscle and finesse. Wrestling did not care that I lacked confidence; it knew confidence was actually the least important trait to have when starting. It would teach me confidence through experience.
Experiences with wins and losses would show me that I would be capable of both, but that I should not put my identity in either. A win didn’t make me a champion and a loss didn’t make me a failure. Wrestling knew I would later learn that my confidence didn’t come from my performance, but from the person it had helped shaped me to be. Last but definitely not least, wrestling did not care that I was a girl. It knew it could give to me the same it gave to every other child that joined the sport: a chance to grow into a strong individual by the challenges it offered, to develop good habits and instill positive values, to help me be my best self, to inspire the drive and belief that I can make positive contributions not just on the mat but off the mat as well, thanks to everything it taught me. Thanks to wrestling choosing.
If you know my full story about how I got started in the sport—being asked to jump in there and help my brother out, being a girl who was previously asked to quit ballet, diving and every other sport I ever tried because all I did was cry—you would understand fully that it was wrestling that chose me, I did not choose it. Even when coaches, parents, culture, and other boys on the team didn’t want me to choose wrestling, it was okay because wrestling knew what it was capable of when it chose me.
In 1998, I won a bet against my dad that if I won my first ever wrestling match I would be able to compete the rest of the season, which I did. I lost every other match I wrestled after that initial one. My record was 1-30 my first year. Wrestling kept choosing me, though, and amazingly I never thought twice about wanting to choose it back. I had found my passion and my calling. I didn’t need to be convinced of every reason why a girl shouldn’t wrestle, shouldn’t be wrestling boys, and will never be good enough to succeed in the sport. I knew this was what I was meant to do since I was eight years old and heard for the first time that women’s wrestling was going to become an Olympic Sport.
Wrestling always chose me, but it wasn’t truly until it was added to the 2004 Olympic Games that I was ever able to choose it back. Before then, my parents told me I would have to quit after my first year, because “what’s the point in investing in a sport you’ll have no future in”. But thanks to the women who came before me fighting for the opportunity to be able to choose wrestling; thanks to the Olympic Committee for recognizing that women deserve a chance to participate in this amazing sport; thanks to the coaches and training partners who thought “why not let her join”, I was finally able to choose wrestling back.