WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — I run off the mat after I wrestle, removing my head cap and shaking out my long hair. The first person I go to is my coach, Shawn Henebry. I know he will support me, whether I have won or lost. He will tell me how to do better next time by executing a move differently or changing my mental game.|
It's a rough and tumble world on the mat. Wrestling is very competitive. As an individual sport that requires the athlete to actually fight another person, it's very taxing mentally and physically. So having the support of my coach and the boys and girls on my team is absolutely essential.
When I was a freshman in high school, I had no idea of what sport I wanted to do. After unsuccessfully trying field hockey, I realized I needed something to really push me.
At Prospect High, wrestling was an obvious choice. Rumors swirled about how tough the coach was and the insanity of the workouts. While the idea of joining something known to be harder than everything else repels some, it was exactly what I was looking for.
The rumors proved true from the first practice — which began with a 3 1/2-mile run and lifting lots of weights I had never seen or touched before. Not all girls go into the sport as blind as I was, but a lot of the wrestlers I talked to didn't know what bench pressing was until they joined the team.
At first, none of the veteran team members seemed to take me seriously. But on day three, a boy I had known for a couple years, C.J. Estores, turned to me on a run and asked, "Are you serious about this?" After I said yes, he never doubted me again. He started to treat me like all the others, and the team followed suit. C.J. also became a good friend and mentor.
I currently wrestle in the 116-pound weight class, though I have fluctuated between 115s and 120s throughout the past three years. That's one thing my coach has always been strict but supportive about — keeping me on track with my weight. Henebry has shown how easy it is to eat healthfully. Because of the time I've spent trying to determine the nutritional value of food, I've gained a greater appreciation for the things I put in my body.
More than that, I appreciate my body a lot more after knowing the limits I can take it to. I never understood just how much I would like my legs until I ran sprints on them until they quaked, squatted until they felt like jelly, or used them to secure pressure when on top of an opponent.
At Prospect High, wrestlers receive a T-shirt at graduation that says, "Blood, Sweat, Tears … the Brotherhood."
I have never done something as difficult as wrestling, and I have never met anyone so willing to stand up for me before my coach. Henebry becomes close with most of his athletes, and for me, he's become like a second father, helping me also sort out issues with classes or figuring out what I want to do with my future.
Girls, competing in a traditionally male sport, rely on his encouragement and dedication to our progress. For one teammate, Karla Adams, he helped her grocery shop so that she could pick out food that helped her training. For Kelly Kusumoto, the California girls' state champion in 2008, Henebry coached with a stuffed Pikachu doll on his lap. Kusumoto had gone to quite a few tournaments by herself, with only Pikachu to comfort her, so they struck a deal: If she made it to state, Pikachu would help Henebry coach her through it. She won that year.
Henebry knows there's a difference in the mentality between girls and boys who wrestle, but he never lets that stand in the way of giving me a challenge.
This season, Henebry put me against a boy in a dual meet, and I beat my opponent by 1 point. He could have given the match to a boy on the team, but I was honored my coach knew how the pressure of performing in front of my teammates would propel me to fight harder.
Having my team cheer me on also encourages me to be a leader, and I really care about the people I step on the mat with. I feel a close bond with the boys on my team because they know the pain, suffering and pressure I've endured.
But I feel even closer to the girls, especially Karla, who has wrestled with me for two years. Being on a wrestling team can be an uphill battle for girls, but we couldn't do it without one another and the support of our teammates and coach.