After that point I knew I was capable of great things! I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and finally I knew I needed to be training with the best. I made the commitment and moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. At the time they didn’t have room for me so I found a house to rent close to the OTC and I worked at Sherman Williams (mixing paint). Once a place opened up I moved on campus at the OTC and I begin to take college courses at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. I was traveling and competing again and picking up speed. 2003 looked like this: third in U.S. World Team Trials, fourth in U.S. Nationals, second in University Nationals, second in Sunkist Kids International Open, Fourth in Dave Schultz Memorial International.
I was still on the National team with only two girls ahead of me for the 2004 Olympic team, Tela O’Donnell and Tina George. I had beaten Tela in 2002 Nationals but I have never been able to beat Tina. This was going to be the year; I was feeling good my training was great under the direction of Terry Steiner. I felt like nothing could stop me!
I competed in the Kiev Grand Prix in Ukraine taking second and in the Manitoba Open in Canada taking 4th and in January I traveled to the Yarygin Memorial International in Russia. I was on fire; my wrestling was flowing and I felt great entering the tournament. I made it to the semis and was set to face a Russian. On the other side of the bracket are Tela O’Donnell and another Russian. This is the funny thing about international competition the rules always favor the host. When the bouts came out I was to face Tela and the two Russians were to wrestle each other ensuring a Russian in the finals. Tela and I step on the mat and within the first minute we are in a scramble, we both hear a loud pop and the action stopped. My knee had an instant pain and within 30s the pain was gone. The doctor came out to the mat and looked at my knee; he ran a few tests and told me he believed I tore my ACL. I laugh and thought to myself “this guy is crazy” so I disagree with him and demand to continue wrestling. We begin wrestling again Tela got a two on one and began moving me all over the mat, every time I would try to post my leg it would give out on me. I ended up calling it a day and forfeiting the match.
I returned to the US where I received an MRI revealing a complete tear in my ACL and a partial tear of my MCL and meniscus. I could not have been more devastated, it was the end of January and Nationals were set for April and then Olympic trials in June. I didn’t have time to have surgery so I had to tape up every day and do the best with what I had. I lost confidence in myself and it showed on the mat. I finished trials in 5th placed and watched as my good friend Tela beat Tina George in the finals of the Trials. I was happy for my friend but heart broken as I sat next to my grandparents in the stands watching with tear-filled eyes as the announcement of the first ever Women’s Olympic team consisting of 48kg Patricia Maranda, 55kg Tela O’Donnell, 63kg Sara McMann, and 72kg Tocarra Montgomery.
Tela chose me to be her training partner for the Olympics; which meant I would again postpone my ACL surgery to help her train. It was an opportunity I could not turn down and it was an amazing experience. I was able to see first hand what it takes to train for the Olympics and how the process works once you arrive in the Olympic excitement. Athens was more exciting than I could have ever imagined. If you have never been to an Olympics I highly recommend going and watching. There is no other time in the world where so many people come together to cheer on their home countries and support their athletes. It is truly amazing!!! We ended up coming home with two medals for the women, Sara Mc Mann took home silver and Patricia took home a bronze. Tela took 5th and Tocarra took 8th.
I returned home and right away went in for my surgery. If you wrestle as long as I have you are going to get hurt there is no doubt about it. It’s just as much part of our sport as showing up to practice. It’s how you react to that injury that makes all the difference and for me this injury was a blessing. It forced me to look at areas of my wrestling that I was neglecting. For the first time I really began to critically watch videos. I did my homework off the mat and became a student of wrestling. I started to focus more on my lifting and I came back from my ACL surgery stronger than before. I still had to get my body back in wrestling shape but that came with just a little time.