Wrestling for a spot in a man's world

The sport I have come to love so much can be so difficult to comprehend and sometimes to mentally accept. I have only ever understood how to be kind, considerate and honest, not aggressive, angry and sometimes violent. That’s the difference between who someone is and the sport they play. Their minds switch on and off. To me, that’s just wrestling. 

I find it difficult to be angry and aggressive all of the time when I am on the mat, especially as a teenage girl with many emotions going through me. I won’t lie and say I haven’t cried too many times to count. The emotions you feel in wrestling are like no other. Losing doesn’t just make you feel bad; it makes you feel like everything you did was incorrect. That’s the downside of losing a match. While everyone says the loss is okay because you looked good out there, you still feel terrible.

I have yet to experience a win because of an injury I faced earlier in the season. I dislocated my shoulder and since then I have been able to constantly pop it out and back in. Dealing with that is not easy, especially in a sport where having an injury makes you look weak. I have been told numerous times to stop acting like a girl and to toughen up. It is not easy to stop acting like a girl when I am, in fact, a girl. Being told that feels degrading and hurtful, but we’ve been trained to just ignore the hurt and push through it. Be strong.

On December 17, I went to my third match ever and faced the same injury. While on the mat, the girl I was wrestling unknowingly popped my shoulder out and shoved it back in on the next move. I gave up because of the pain. Walking off that mat felt like the biggest defeat of my life. From my coach yelling for me while I was crying, my parents telling me it’ll be okay, to me going into the bathroom dry heaving and crying in a stall, your defeats will destroy you piece by piece.

A girl from another team asked my mom who I was and what happened. I came out of the stall to a girl I’d never even met before and she hugged me and told me it would be okay. The first form of comfort I’d been given in wrestling ever was from a girl I had never seen before.

I had walked into a sport my father told me was considered a “Man’s World” and I felt so confident, yet I was utterly blind. I love the sport dearly, don’t get me wrong, but how can it feel so degrading? 

Over time I have come to realize that seeing myself as I am is also an issue. I felt so disgusted for a while whenever I looked in the mirror because my body was changing due to losing weight. The body dysmorphia my teammates and I felt was utterly awful. Now we look at ourselves and feel a little better about how we look. I don’t like stepping on the scale and seeing that I need to lose weight. It means I have to run the weight off and I can’t eat. Growing up and hearing stories about how boys would get eating disorders from wrestling used to feel like a myth, but I can understand it now.

Regardless of everything that truly sucks about wrestling, there stands the fact that I love the sport. I love getting on the mat and feeling some form of excitement. When I played golf, it was never as nerve-wracking. You’d just hit the ball and keep planning your next move. With wrestling, I have to keep moving without a second thought. Having my teammates as my second family makes going through each thought better. I could tell them the craziest things and we would just laugh about it. That’s the best part about the sport to me: finding people who make it enjoyable and feeling protected by them. 

My cousin is on the boys wrestling team and he’s always there to make me feel comfortable and safer. Although he’s annoying, it is comforting to have someone there for you. The other boys are not the same as him. While he’s forced to be nice to me, the other boys have no remorse or respect. Some of them are great friends, but it seems to be hard for the others to share a “male sport” with a bunch of girls. Getting used to the boys was not easy for me, especially having to wrestle with them. It will never feel normal or comfortable. But, as the coaches say, it’s not supposed to. 

I was afraid to tell my extended family about joining the team because of what they would say. It made me feel insecure and scared to join. Truthfully, I had nothing to fear because of how supportive they were. My parents are my biggest supporters and have been since day one. I have learned so much about wrestling from my dad in these past months. He helps me with anything I need to know. My entire family has wrestled, so knowing that they can help me is really helpful. To be completely honest, being a female in a sport dominated by males has its hardships, clearly. But that does not mean you can not have fun and enjoy the sport.