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There are challenges that come with competing as a female in the male dominated sport that is wrestling -- being the only one in the room who looks like you, overcoming the stereotype of being weaker or the other stereotype that a guy can’t lose to a girl. And then there are also the “behind the scenes” challenges that include everything from: having a different body type to getting your period to cutting weight and constantly having to weigh yourself.
To start, it’s important to know that the female body is vastly different from the male body. Before taking into account any diet, exercise or genetic differences, females have a higher percentage of body fat than males do. As such, when comparing a boy and a girl of “equal weight,” the female will tend to have less muscle mass and more fat mass in comparison with the male. While these compositions won’t make a difference in day to day life, for wrestling they are crucial.
While I wanted to win every wrestling match, I knew that wasn’t physically possible. At my weight of 126 lbs, the boys I was wrestling were often cutting anywhere from 10-15 lbs to make that weight; something that I could not do as easily. As such, early on, I realized that I needed to stop comparing my wins and successes to those of the boys on my team. This is not to diminish their wins, but rather to say that while they were competing against individuals of the same physique as them, I wasn’t. And although that is a tough pill to swallow, it was one that I needed to understand early on in order to improve in the sport.
As an aside for anybody who isn’t familiar with wrestling or what cutting is, wrestling is based off of a weight class system whereby you weigh in the morning of a tournament and are placed into a weight class based on your weight. Many serious wrestlers will lose weight before tournaments to cut as much excess fat and water from their bodies in order to wrestle at the lowest weight possible.
Cutting weight in any normal week was a challenge and that challenge was only exacerbated if I got my period before a weigh in. Not only are periods uncomfortable, but they also cause major weight gain; when we get our periods, our hormonal changes can often lead to an increase in water retention and cause a brief period of weight gain. While this weight gain is not an increase in fat but rather just extra swelling and puffiness, the days leading up to a weigh in, every ounce matters and because of this getting my period was not something that I could deal with (More on this to follow!)
Piggybacking off of my period, I thought it fitting to discuss where birth control came into the picture. To rewind a bit, for a period of time after I initially got my period, I stopped getting it every month. Because of my rigorous diet and exercise schedule, my body was unable to essentially keep the period. My doctor was never concerned about this and we spoke about the pros and cons of birth control but for a while, I put off starting the pill as I wanted my body to get my period on its own. This past February, however, I decided to give birth control a try. At first, the birth control seemed fine; I wasn’t noticing any major changes to my body or mood and I was getting my period. By mid March, however, as I began cutting weight for Nationals, I noticed that the cut was becoming increasingly difficult. And that’s when my nutritionist asked if I was taking birth control and I realized that the birth control, on top of causing me hormonal changes, was also creating a lot of water retention; at a time when I couldn’t afford half a pound of extra weight, I definitely couldn’t afford the added 3 plus pounds that the birth control was allotting for. And as a result, I decided (with my doctor) that I was going to stop birth control for a period of time. I want to express that the decision that I made is not one that I am suggesting you to make for weight loss; your body will regulate itself over time and lose the added weight from water retention if that is something you are stressed about. I, however, didn’t feel that I had the time to wait for my body to try and rebalance itself on this pill and as such, made the decision that i thought would help me to properly continue cutting weight in the healthiest way.
If there is a silver lining from cutting weight and dealing with a different body type than my competition, it has been learning to become incredibly comfortable and confident within my own body. I have come to appreciate everything that my body is capable of doing; I have learned that my body is pretty freaking strong and even if I’m not as strong as the boy I’m wrestling. My major piece of advice to take from this is: never compare your successes in a sport to the successes of a guy in that same sport -- chances are these successes will be vastly different.