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Challenges in Women's Wrestling

By Sydney Meyer
On October 19, 2017

Photo by: Ashley Alonzo

A stadium of roaring fans goes silent. All eyes peer curiously. The athletes take their positions. For a moment, everyone focuses on the mat. “Is that even allowed?,” they ask. With the start of the match, they look away, uninterested, dismissive. Teammates shrug and leave to talk over the main points of the last match. No one is watching.

Involved in women’s wrestling, a largely unrecognized sport, Addie Lanning and Anna Ernst know what it feels like to break barriers.

“Wrestling is so applicable to other areas of life. …It’s kind of like a quote from a famous wrestler, Dan Gable: ‘If you can wrestle, then everything else in life is easy,’” says Ernst, a senior on the OU wrestling team.

Lanning, also a senior wrestler, agrees, stating the disciplined mindset she has developed because of wrestling will affect her in years to come. 

According to the National Wrestling Coaches Association, women’s wrestling has grown in the past few years to nearly 30 intercollegiate women’s wrestling programs, with more being added each year. Ottawa University has featured a women’s wrestling program for four years now and is continuing to grow.

This acceptance and promotion of women’s wrestling has not always been the case; a reality both Ernst and Lanning have both experienced.

“My high school team … had never let a girl on the team. And even though my brother was still on the team, I still had to overcome that barrier,” Ernst says. “I used to go weight-lifting every day with the team, and no one would talk to me. The entire team just ignored me.”

Ernst knew she was destined to wrestle after attending her brother’s first meet.

“It was just something that ‘clicked’ right away,” she says.

The first couple of years were rough for Ernst, as she faced opposition and isolation from her teammates. She was ignored in the weight room and at wrestling meets, and she didn’t receive the opportunity to wrestle many other girls. Her parents didn’t want her to wrestle, and her brother didn’t believe she would be able to carry her weight on the team.

“You have to be willing to come back to practice every day. You have to be willing to accept the process as a slow process and you have to be willing to fall and get back up,” Ernst says.

Lanning had a similar experience, deciding to wrestle after watching her brother’s matches.

After quitting soccer, Lanning stepped into an all-guys team, which, due to her outgoing personality, wasn’t extraordinarily difficult. Finding someone to relate to, though, was hard. She was treated differently by her coach, who “focused on his boys most of the time.” Her experience was enhanced after receiving a new coach, who was a strong promoter of women’s wrestling.

Women’s wrestling provides both social and physical challenges, as women who wrestle face constant criticism and disbelief. Despite being credited as an Olympic sport and existing on dozens of intercollegiate campuses, women’s wrestling is not a well-supported sport.

The lack of knowledge, however, provides Lanning with the perfect opportunity to pave the way, educating and informing people about her sport.

“One of my favorite things is doing a sport no one really knows about yet and being able to inform people. I feel like there are a lot of social issues with women’s empowerment going on right now, and I think wrestling is one of those things that puts it out there to society. It’s like … women can do it just as well as anyone else, basically,” Lanning says.

In Kansas high schools, women’s wrestling has not yet been sanctioned, but a petition for high school women’s wrestling has been established. If this petition goes through, high schools will make women’s wrestling a funded sport at the high school level. 

Because this is the fourth year of Ottawa University’s wrestling program, several graduating seniors have become the first four-year participants. The women’s wrestling program recently changed coaches, thus bringing new skills, experiences and support to the team. Both Lanning and Ernst speak highly of their new coach, praising his family attitude and enthusiasm.

The first tournament the OU women’s wrestlers participated in, which took place Oct. 14, allowed both Lanning and Ernst to start their senior season off strong.


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