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Walking into a space and feeling like you are an outsider is difficult in any setting. It is especially difficult when you walk into a gymnasium filled with boys in their underwear waiting to be weighed in before a wrestling match and when you look around, you see nobody who looks like you: a 5’2 muscular girl with braids and pink high socks. As a female in a predominantly male sport, I’ve definitely had my fair share of uncomfortable moments that have left me feeling incredibly vulnerable. While being vulnerable is not something that I can say I enjoy, I will admit that it is often in these vulnerable and uncomfortable moments that I am able to realize I’m capable of much more than I think. These moments have forced me to find strength in myself: sometimes that’s literally physical strength, and other times that’s mental strength and the courage to push through.
Moments where physical strength comes in to play occur quite frequently for me when I’m wrestling. Sometimes they occur when I’m on the mat and need to find the confidence to literally get my feet under me and stand up. Other times they happen when the score is close and I decide on a whim that I need to take a shot in order to win the match. These moments aren’t always fun but they are the ones that have instilled in me a toughness that has allowed me to find success. Physical strength and toughness can get you to a certain point, but when physical strength is no longer enough, that’s when mental strength comes into play.
Before a major wrestling tournament in January of my junior year, I was sent the screenshot of a snapchat conversation between guys on a different wrestling team. In the conversation, the message from one boy read “He just texted me saying he's wrestling you” to which one of his teammates responded back “Word. Now I don’t have to wrestle the Bitch from Hackley. She would’ve gotten tossed.” While reading the messages originally stung me, I realized that letting what this boy thought about me get under my skin would only cause me to psych myself out when it came time to step on the mat the next time. This was when my “mental toughness” kicked in. I used this boy’s inability to see me as a wrestler to get myself excited to go out and compete the following day. While I didn’t end up wrestling the kid who had sent me the message, my wrestling was strong and my matches went well. Even if the day hadn’t gone as I had wanted it to, however, I don’t believe my big take away from this story would change -- whether I won or lost, I still put myself out there by stepping onto the mat and channeling my strength and athleticism. Further, I also proved to this boy that his perception of female athletes was so far from accurate. The sad truth, however, is that while I know that this boy’s perception of a female wrestler is not that of every guy, I do believe that there are boys who believe that they are more athletically capable than girls.
Yes, biologically, males are often stronger than females, but that doesn’t define or dictate the power, capabilities or athletic prowess of any female. Not only have I become stronger from competing in a male dominated sport, but I have become tougher; I have learned not to shy away from challenges because they are hard and uncomfortable but rather look them in the eye and say “bring it on.” And although this may seem cliché, I wholeheartedly believe that the challenges and obstacles I have had to overcome from being outnumbered in a space, being “weaker” than my competition and having the courage to compete have made me, not only a better athlete, but an all around better person.