When Adeline Gray started competing in world wrestling championships in 2011, it didn’t take long for this powerhouse to start making her presence known.
Over the past five years, Gray has competed in every world wrestling championship. She’s wrestled in two different weight classes, and won three gold medals.
This summer, she’ll make her Olympic debut at the Rio Games.
Gray hit the mat at a young age, armed with her father’s unwavering support.
She explained to ESPN: “I think my bond with my father has been what’s really made me so successful. My father was the youngest of seven boys. So when he had four daughters, I think it was kind of a shocking moment: ‘What do I do with girls?’
“When I started wrestling, it built this really amazing relationship with my dad. He was my personal coach for the first eight years of my life, and he’s been to every one of my world championships, hugging me at the end of each one.”
While this pro has already achieved remarkable success, her path has also, unfortunately, been paved with all sorts of onlooker confusion.
“Women’s wrestling,” Gray told ESPN, “is a great sport that a lot of people don’t know about. I still get that sideways tilt of the head, like a puppy is looking at me: ‘Women wrestle?’
“It’s almost disheartening, because I work very hard and it’s a very competitive field internationally, and people in our country just don’t really know about it.”
Gray finds herself constantly encountering shocked folks, unable to wrap their heads around the fact that she, a wrestler, looks as beautiful as she does.
“With heavyweight wrestling, people are expecting this Helga type of woman, obese and going out there on the mat to try to smash people’s heads.”
However, Gray finds this shallow notion couldn’t be further from the truth, explaining, “It’s so much more than that — the weight is really low, so it’s about technique. It’s skill, strength, power, and executing that in a very precise way.”
This three-time gold medalist finds herself constantly defending her career to folks who can’t seem to shake their preconceived notions.
She explained to ESPN: “I absolutely hate the statement, ‘You’re too pretty to wrestle.’ I think people used to view female athletes as very butch, masculine — you kind of had to disregard your femininity to excel at an elite sport.
“Now, it’s just a different world.”
Earlier in her career, Gray did struggle to fit herself into certain preconceived molds. She spent a lot of time dieting. For the 2012 Olympic team trials, she lost nearly 30 pounds.
Her body, though, soon began rejecting the forced weight loss.
In time, Gray realized that sticking with her natural weight would truly be her most successful course of action. She explained: “There’s definitely something to be said about wrestling at your natural weight.
“I’m now wrestling a lot closer to my natural weight class, and I’m getting to focus more on wrestling and just getting better and making my body stronger, rather than constantly fighting to make my body small enough.
“Everyone is so focused on losing weight — your body likes to fit within a certain range, and if you force it to go one way or the other, it’s difficult.”
Now, she’s all muscle and happily focused on perfecting her technique rather than slimming down for the scales.
This 25-year-old, 5’10”, 165-pound athlete continues wrestling her way into the public consciousness, and hopes to use her growing fame to help other young girls rise above lingering sexism.
“When I talk to young girls,” she said, “I tell them you can have the best of both worlds. You are allowed to be a female and be considered beautiful and still be an athlete and still be badass in that realm.”
Gray’s message is a beautiful reminder that the past need not dictate how we continue shaping our futures.
After persevering past her own obstacles, Gray has gifted herself a new challenge.
She hopes, in addition to winning more gold medals, to become a role model for young girls — especially those looking to lead norm-breaking lives.
She explained: “I want to impart some dreams to young girls who haven’t had opportunities in the past. Boys really have a leg up on us because they have these professional leagues that they can dream about.
“So if I can be like Serena Williams or like some of these main stars out there who are being iconic and groundbreaking and are role models for this next generation, it would be an honor and a blessing.”
This remarkable wrestler heads to the upcoming Rio Olympic Games with a beautiful, inspiring dream keeping her competitive drive burning brighter than ever.
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