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SCHULTZ FEATURE: Carlson has powerful performance on way to Schultz Memorial silver medal

Meagan Templeton-Lynch USA Wrestling

Veronica Carlson lifts a high single leg on the way to a victory at the Dave Schultz Memorial International on Saturday. Larry Slater photo

Watching Veronica Carlson wrestle, you would never know she keeps a paint set in her room at the Olympic Training Center. You would never know she’s suffered from nine concussions and wears full headgear during practices to prevent another one.

You would also never know the hard work it took for her to become the fierce wrestler she is today, or the hard work she is looking forward to this Olympic four-year cycle.

Carlson’s focus on the mat and her strength in competition made this 22-year-old stand out at today’s Dave Schultz Memorial International women’s freestyle competition.

“Anytime I go in I go in, with the attitude that I am the winner and I’m going to get it done,” Carlson said. “There’s no reason that it shouldn’t be me. I know that I work the hardest.”

Unfortunately hard work was not quite enough in her final match at Dave Schultz Memorial, when Carlson was pinned in the second period by 2012 Junior World Champion Feng Zhou of China and took the silver medal.

This loss will not keep her spirits down, however.

“I think it’s with everything in life. Once [a loss] happens, what am I going to do about it? You cannot change the past, and to sit there and beat yourself up and dwell on it is not the right attitude,” she said. “You have to take that grievance period just like anything and then you have to let it go because it’s not going to do anything except wear you down mentally.”

National Women’s Team Coach Terry Steiner said Carlson had some great wins today but has more improvements to make to get to where she wants to be as a wrestler.

“Veronica is a street fighter. She’s going to make it hard, she’s going to be in your face, she’s very strong, very physical,” said Steiner. “Leading into the finals today, I thought she did a pretty good job of forcing her style of wrestling, and bigger than that, not giving up easy points. In the finals, I think we gave up some easy points. I think she did a good job, but we just need to keep improving.”

Carlson is now competing at 67 kg/147.5 lbs, a weight increase from where she wrestled in recent seasons. She has a strong age-group resume, including winning a silver at the 2009 Junior World Championships.

Her proudest moment was during the FILA Golden Grand Prix in Azerbaijan this summer, where she defeated Hanna Johansson of Sweden 1-0, 0-1, 1-0, whom she lost to in the finals at the Junior World Championships.

“The girl I lost to in the Junior World finals was my first match, so it was a big upset for anyone watching,” she said. “But, I knew it was my match.”

That is the attitude Carlson always brings to the mat – one of complete confidence.

“It’s always important for me to tell myself that I’m doing everything that I can and put trust in myself. If you know that you’re capable of having that number one spot and you are doing everything that you possibly can then there’s no doubt in your mind,” she said.

Even if the match isn’t going her way, she doesn’t let that psych her out during a bout.

“You’re not going to sit there during the match and think, you know, this is because I didn’t practice this. You’re going to think, no I can get that point back, that was a mistake but I can recover because I’ve trained for this situation,” she said.

Despite Carlson’s notable successes, she is far from finished and knows she won’t be satisfied until she earns a top spot in the world.

“I know that there’s so much more to come. I don’t feel like I’ve had my break yet,” she said. “Inevitably if I keep working this hard and I keep my body in check, then I know that’s going to come for me.”

As Carlson matures and realizes that the Senior level takes even more work to stay on top than it did as a Junior, she focuses more on her health to get her on a World and Olympic Team.

“Aside from performance, my biggest disappointments come from injuries putting me out,” she said. “I tend to just work through the pain and not think about it and I’ve been realizing that taking care of my body and putting my health as the number one thing is going to be my biggest asset.”

While there may be little of it, in her free time Carlson lets her passion for art take over.

“I’ll just lay all my stuff out on the floor and start mixing different paints and seeing what I can create,” she said. “A lot of my stuff reflects internally what I’m feeling and who I am. Sometimes it won’t be something I realize and someone will be like, ‘hey this had to be during that time in your life’ and I’m like, yeah, it absolutely was. I’ve always had a really strong affinity for art and just great appreciation for the arts.”

She also works with other media such as clay, and is currently taking online classes at DeVry University in multimedia production and graphic design with the help of a scholarship from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“I feel like [art] is something that I can bring to the world. I believe with wrestling, if you give your hardest and put yourself out there, you’re giving back by just committing yourself,” said Carlson. “Same thing with this, I feel like creating gives back. It is therapeutic and also I’ll be able to have something to reference my life.”

It is with wrestling, however, that Carlson gets most of her satisfaction. Living and training with top coaches and athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has been an honor, she said.

She also names the people she has met through the sport as one of the greatest parts about the wrestling and living at the OTC.

“I just really opened my eyes with this sport and I feel like I just kind of take it all in and know that I’m living life to the fullest. Right now life is as good as it gets,” Carlson said.

The skills she has gained from wrestling also make the short list of benefits of being an athlete full-time.

“Wrestling has shown me how to treat my body and be a better person and have a better mindset in wrestling, but everything I’ve learned from it I can apply to my entire life and throughout the rest of my life,” she said. “Every day there’s something to learn.”

Like the relief therapy she gets from painting, wrestling has given her confidence and purpose.

“I feel like mentally it has given me almost a sense of self,” she said. “If I can conquer this, I can conquer anything.”
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