Current mood: triumphantSo my kid comes home from school one day back in October, and having completed the cross-country season, decides to go out for a winter sport.
I do not refer to my son. No. My 14-year-old daughter.
I would post a photo of her, but she doesn’t want her picture on the Internet in any form or fashion. (She doesn’t even want me to mention her name.) But the stats speak for themselves: She’s 5’7", 131#, solid muscle, and has a real give-’em-hell attitude about her.
Oh yeah, she likes the makeup and the long & flowy dresses, too. Think Taylor Swift. So, if anyone is going to turn Western PA middle school wrestling on its collective male ear, it’s going to be her.
In her first interscholastic match back in early December, she did get pinned, but it took well over a minute. In the previous match, though she didn’t play, her first-string teammate in that weight class got pinned in 30 seconds. In her second match, she went well over two minutes. In practices, she’s gotten pins on 160-pounders. I’d say she’s doing pretty well. She isn’t first string, but she’s only in her first year.
She’s one tough cookie, too. While she can be the dainty lady anytime she feels like it, she can also be a Tasmanian devil, which makes life around here certainly interesting. A few weeks ago, she and my wife were rebuilding the floor under the downstairs commode, an all-couple-day project. Call a plumber? Naaah, the women have everything under control, so kindly please stay out of the way, thank you.
The biggest problem so far has been her diet. She really, really needs to build up muscle mass, on the way to developing raw power, so needs to concentrate on consuming protein. The problem is that she [was at that time] a vegetarian (with eggs, milk & fish OK), which strictly limits what she can consume. Since she now has to watch her weight, too, to maintain her current weight class, she can’t just eat anything willy-nilly. Sarah has figured out a lot of the requirements and restrictions, but holding to it is quite another thing.
Being female is a lesser but significant issue. Pound for pound, males tend to have more muscle without even trying, so she’s at a natural disadvantage. She can make up for it through education, strategy and physical training, but it’s a lot of work. Wrestling is a full-body workout. So far, so good.
We get lots of questions from parents about her choice of winter sport. First and foremost, why wrestling? The fast answer is that she got the impetus to try this from a book, There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock, by Jerry Spinelli, about a 13-year-old girl who joins the boys’ wrestling team. It came up for discussion a couple of times in 2007, and we indicated that if she wanted to go for it we wouldn’t stand in her way, so off she went. Are we worried about her getting hurt? No, and in fact, the day before she joined, she did get hurt in an ice skating accident -- a pure girly-girl activity, from her perspective -- and ended up with a huge bruise. But wrestling is a contact sport. Of course you’re going to get hurt, or at least deal with a considerable amount of pain. The key is in learning how to minimize the chance of injury, while maximizing the chance of pinning your opponent.
Then we get the questions about modesty, about touching body parts and being touched. (Sigh.) It’s a controlled activity -- fighting, really -- in front of at least a couple dozen people, dressed in a uniform, with a referee on the mat just inches away. I fail to see why the subject is important, or even significant, and if it is, why it’s OK when two boys are in the same positions. If some boy does try to pull a feelie on her, it will get her mad, which will work to her advantage. She knows this. She also knows boys won’t touch places they might otherwise, which is also an advantage to her.
No, what she’s doing is knocking down barriers, and in so doing, messing with people’s heads. That’s something she’s good at. I just wished she’d had the opportunity to get into it a few years earlier. Like any first-year wrestler, she’s learning an entirely new sport, new rules, new moves, new everything. It would have been a lot easier for her if she’d started at 5 or 8 like a lot of the other kids. Her coach and team as well have to learn to deal with having a girl on the squad, as it’s the first time a girl has stayed with it for more than the introductory meeting and maybe one or two practices. In school district history. And this is a huge district, with well over 700 in a graduating class, which makes it all the more amazing that she’s the first.
The fun part about going to her meets, even if she doesn’t wrestle, is watching the looks on the faces of opponents and coaches when they figure out she’s a she. Guys turn red. Or blanch. You can almost hear them gulp. Coaches do a double take. Overhearing a couple of wrestlers as she came out of her locker room just before one match, exchanges like "What weight class is she? Gee I hope I don’t have to!"
So why don’t more girls wrestle? Parents, mainly. Just after her daily practices, the pee-wee team practices. Not a single female is to be seen. At that age, the gender differences are minimal, and girls would really have a fighting chance (pun intended). So as I see it, if you’re going to get more girls wrestling, you need to get them in when the boys do, between 5 and 8. To get that to happen, the minds of parents would need to change. Sexism starts early. Like at birth. I remember being asked when she was born whether I wanted a boy or a girl and answered a baby, and why would it matter? Anything open to one gender was open to both -- then -- to us.
Someday. Meanwhile, at least one girl is out there, showing the boys she can too wrestle.