After world championships that year I went to a reach the peak seminar. I was sponsored by the Olympic committee and was for 2008 hopefuls. I attended and could not be more thankful. Brandon Slay was the keynote speaker. He gave an amazing speech, but one thing I picked up from him was accountability and support. He told a story about how he placed 8th at Nationals in 1999 the year before he won his Olympic gold in Sydney. He then wrote letters to his inner circle, his coach, parents and good friends. He asked them what he needed to do to improve his wrestling, and they all responded with very critical feedback. He took what they had told him and applied it to his wrestling their feedback helped him make the team and win a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. I then did the same; I asked my close circle what do I needed to do to be number one. It’s hard to look in the mirror sometimes and you need your close circle to help keep you accountable, this journey is not an individual effort, it takes a village. My family and friends were honest with me and they suggested I do a better job of managing my weight, getting to bed earlier and staying out of the night scene. Now once you ask you have to follow through and I did. I made goals to never complain about anything, I would come to practice everyday with a smile on my face and happy to be able to wrestle.
2006 was off to a great start I took third at New York AC Holiday International, second in Clansmen International, Sunkist Kids/ASU International Open champion, Second in Dave Schultz Memorial International,Ivan Yarygin Memorial International champion (Russia). Then I went to Sweden for another tournament before Nationals. I was warming up and my partner was just doing basic double leg takedowns I posted my leg and heard a loud pop. I knew instantly that I had blown out my other knee. The trainer came over and I could see in her eyes that she knew it too. My heart sank and I knew I would have 6 months of rehab ahead of me. This meant everyone else would be getting better and I would again just be trying to get back to where I was before surgery. I can’t explain how terrible I felt. The Olympics were two years away and I was going to be set back again. I was placed on a flight the next day and sent back for surgery.
This time I was more motivated than ever, I had done this before and nothing was going to stop me. I threw myself into my rehab, my lifting and my homework but this time I added sports physiology. I begin to meet with a sports physiologist at the Olympic training center twice a week. This was one aspect of wresting I had always pushed to the side and that was a mistake. I attribute a huge amount of my success to what I learned over the next two years in sports physiology.
Once again I was back on the mat in 2007. I won nationals that year and I made my first world team. Finally I was number one in the US! I placed 10th at world championships, which was a problem because only the top 8 qualified for the Olympics. I would still have to qualify the weight for the US and I would need to make the Olympic team as well. There were three qualifiers left, Pan American Championships, a tournament in Canada and the final chance in Finland.
2008 came much quicker than I had expected but I was ready in every way possible. I had a great group of coaches, teammates and unbelievable family and friends cheering me on. I went to the World Cup in China that year where I would face Japan’s Saori Yoshida. Yoshida was the returning Olympic champion but she was much more than that. She had never lost a match on the senior level. I had been waiting for my chance against her. Izzy and I had prepared a game plan specific for wrestling her. I went out on the mat confident and ready to get after it. I won the match and became the first women to beat Yoshida on the senior level. I was ecstatic the Olympics were just around the corner and I had just beaten the Olympic champion. Anyone is beatable on any given day. Yoshida is an amazing wrestler and if I had wrestled her 10 times I think I might have lost 9 times but I beat her once and that’s what counts.
I returned from the world cup with the job of qualifying the weight. I prepared for the Pan Americans championships that were to be held in Colorado Springs at the OTC. The winner of the Pan Am’s would qualify. I made it to the finals and then lost to Canada. Second is really never any fun. That meant I would have to travel up to Canada for yet another qualifier just before Nationals. I went up and qualified the weight, thank goodness, with just enough time to come back and get ready for Nationals.
Nationals went well and I won the tournament! I sat out of trials and waited to see who won the mini tournament and who would face me (best two out of three matches in the challenge tournament.) Sally Roberts won the mini tournament and we were set to wrestle our challenge tournament. Sally won the first period but I came back to win the next two periods to win the match. The second match was very similar again Sally won the first period and I came back to win the next two periods and captured my spot on the Olympic team! The feeling you get when you know your hard work paid off and you get to go and represent your country in the greatest games of all time is amazing. I felt like I was floating on air and the world had stopped for a brief second. That night I spent with my family as we celebrated our success and I thanked them for all the support over the years.
The Olympic experience was again amazing! It’s everything you imagine it will be and much more! The air is filled with hope and excitement and you fill like you have more energy then you know what to do with. I ended my Olympic journey with a 9th place finish at the 2008 Olympics. My journey to the Olympics was more than just the final few months. My journey was about the people I meet and learned from along the way, the adversities I learned to over come, and the opportunities I was given in the very beginning.