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Clodgo stays positive despite wrestling disappointments and prepares for U.S. Open in Las Vegas, Nev.
Meagan Templeton-Lynch USA Wrestling

Erin Clodgo pins Tanya Kusse at the 2011 U.S. Open in Cleveland. She will return to the U.S. Open in Las Vegas again this year. Larry Slater photo.

For Erin Clodgo, this last year – while not without its highlights – was riddled with heartbreak.

It began with the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April, where Clodgo lost to Adeline Gray in the semifinals at 63 kg and then fell to Jennifer Page in the third place match.

Afterwards, Clodgo was faced with the tough decision to get hip surgery, something she said she had kept pushing aside. Clodgo went ahead with surgery on both sides of her hips in November and is still working on her recovery. She has not had a competition since September.

Finally, along with the entire wrestling community, Clodgo’s world was shaken last week by the news of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board recommendation that wrestling not be a core sport at the 2020 Olympics.

Through these recent challenges in Clodgo’s wrestling career, she finds ways to stay optimistic and bring joy to her own life and to others. But, this tough 22-year-old wrestler’s coping strategies may come as a surprise.

“I love baking,” she said. “It’s fun, it’s stress-relieving, it’s simple, it all tastes good. It does kind of go against wrestling, though,” she joked.

Recently Clodgo used her fondness of baking and one year of culinary school education to cheer up a teammate having a hard time.

“I’ve been baking cupcakes recently. One of the girls on my team had to have surgery and she was feeling down so I made her a batch of cupcakes and made them really pretty,” Clodgo said.

Of course, news spread and she ended up taking a request for cupcakes from another teammate. She also sent a batch of her colorful treats to the sports medicine team at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center as a thank-you for the help she’s been receiving from them.

Clodgo’s crafty side doesn’t stop in the kitchen, either.

“I’m working on a quilt and it’s all handmade,” she said. “But it’s kind of embarrassing to say quilting is a hobby of mine as a wrestler.”

After her wrestling career ends, Clodgo hopes to open her own bake shop and sell homemade baked goods and ice cream.

For now, however, wrestling remains Clodgo’s top priority. While still recovering from surgery, she is determined to have her redemption on the mat and said that even with losses like at the Olympic Team Trials, all she can do is learn from the experience.

“Now I know what to do and change and where to go from here,” she said. “Everyone deals with [defeat] differently. I just try to go from there and learn what I can from the mistakes. I can’t dwell on it, even though sometimes I still do and can’t control it. It’s upsetting, but you have to make the best of it.”

Her first competition back on the mat may not be until the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in April, but National Women’s Team Coach Terry Steiner hopes to have her ready before then.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Erin has handled [her recovery] as well as anyone could. Her attitude is golden; she kept herself in the fire, kept herself working,” he said of the last several months. “I think she’s handled it superbly. We are going to try to get some matches in before the U.S. Open, I think that’s important because she doesn’t want to be off the mat this long and have the U.S. Open be her first competition back.”

Thinking about the competition, Clodgo finds the perfect balance between optimism and realism.

“This year because of the surgery it will just be kind of getting back into everything and restarting, just building strength back up,” she said. “I’m a little rusty in wrestling and working to remember positions and just flowing. When my hips get tired, I just have to stop. I can’t over-push it or I’m risking hurting myself.”

“It’s not very fun, because, I mean, I want to win and do the best I can. But, realistically, I can’t say I expect myself to win when I haven’t even been on the mat that much,” said Clodgo.

She hopes to be wrestling back at 100 percent by the World Team Trials this summer and earn a spot on the 2013 U.S. World Team. She is seeking her first Senior World Team berth. She also wants another shot at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, especially in light of this week’s news.

“I’m only 22, so I thought I’d wrestle one or two cycles more. I hope [the recommendation to eliminate wrestling] doesn’t go through. It’s just a shame,” she said.

No matter what happens, Clodgo has the love and support of her family to thank for getting this far.

Clodgo began wrestling in her home state of Vermont in seventh grade when the principal of her middle school instructed her to take up a sport to release excess energy after she punched a boy during recess. While hesitant at first, her family backed her decision completely, once Clodgo began winning tournaments on the state and national level and demonstrated her pure love of the sport.

Her sophomore year of high school, a life-changing offer was extended to her. She finished her last two years of high school while training at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University. She then did one year studying the culinary arts in college before moving to Colorado Springs to continue her training.

Despite all of the sports and activities she’s tried over the years or still occasionally dips into, wrestling has given her purpose.

“I did gymnastics forever – I don’t want to say how long. It’s embarrassing how bad I was – I also did soccer, basketball, ballet for a summer. I was just awful at all of them,” Clodgo said.

She also used to snowboard and rock climb, two hobbies that had to take a back seat so she could train full time on the mat.

“Wrestling just clicked. I like the atmosphere, how hard it is, how taxing it is on your body, how much it takes. [Wrestling] is what I am. It’s what I’m about. Not really much else.”

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