Wrestling has to be the most intense sport I have ever seen.
It is a team event but you are completely alone on the mat – with the din of encouragement from your teammates and coaches voices muffled somewhere in your periphery sound bubble.
Mostly you are just trying to keep your face from being smashed into the mat and get some points. Or if your opponent slips for a moment, pinning them down.
The coaches are not messing around either – their whistle is deafening and constant. There is a cordoned off pen on the side filled with parents who are all in. Even if your kid wants out, most will push them right back in.
Girls wrestling is a whole other thing.
Only six states sanction girls youth wrestling at schools. The rest have to wrestle with the boys.
Boys do not want to wrestle girls – and on mixed teams they sometimes forfeit rather than hit the mat with a girl.
Boys cut 20 pounds to make weight. Girls stay solid.
The girls are pioneering a movement with bloody noses, shoulders knocked out of whack, and a commitment to moving mountains with their bare strength. The mat is covered with sweat and tears. All the girls could probably kick my ass upside down.
I am not going to find out.
Olivia, a 15 yr old wrestler from Ohio – who has already fought all over the world – gathered her team in the lobby of Comfort Inn by the Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City. They were at the Girl’s Folkstyle National Championship and had fought up to 8 matches that day.
Olivia gave one of the most inspired team pep talks I have ever heard: “In the end, it will all be worth it. You’ll miss your friends and all, but it will all be worth it. You gotta think about your life.”
The Sisters On The Mat team from Texas all get together after practice for a deep talk about setting goals and what it all feels like with their incredible coach, Monica. Then they write in their journals.
This was an amazing week. Watching coaches screaming from the corners, capturing the groan of wrestlers pushing themselves beyond their limits, the pep talks in the buses and diners, the boredom lining up for the weigh-in, and the consolation that is whispered to the winners and losers wrapped in hugs.