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Gracie Figueroa Q&A: Learning from time off, bond with brother, training at Menlo

by Joe Wedra, USA Wrestling

Photo of Gracie Figueroa by Tony Rotundo

This year, will interview one collegiate wrestling athlete each Thursday as a part of a new Q&A series for the 2021-22 college wrestling season. Stay tuned each Thursday for a new feature, spotlighting these student-athletes both on and off the mat.
In this week’s Q&A, we chat with Menlo’s Gracie Figueroa, 2021 Senior Nationals winner at 62 kg. Below, Figueroa talks about her experiences training during the COVID-19 shutdown, how she stayed sharp and what she’s looking forward to this season at Menlo. She also discusses her brother, Richard, and how the two’s relationship helps both of them compete at the highest level.
Q: What was it like being at Menlo when things got shut down to the pandemic, and what was the abrupt change in training like for you?
A: Well when everything started to get really serious, we were at Nationals. It was the day before we were getting ready to compete, and I was cutting weight at the time. So, at first I was like ‘Wait, I just cut weight for what?’, so I was a little upset but I just didn’t know how serious it was. We got quarantined and California was very strict, with curfews and everything… I went to Arizona during the quarantine a lot so I was able to train there, being more open.
Q: How difficult was it to focus in on plans and training, not knowing what the plan was going to be moving ahead?
A: It was pretty much just for us, working on skill. It was just a lot of not knowing when the next tournament was going to happen. So, there was just time to be learning more instead of focusing on things like just conditioning, working on weight and things like that when you know a tournament is going to happen. But we didn’t, so it was just training really hard until we knew what the next event was going to be. So, we really were pretty much working really hard every day.
Q: What did the time away from competition and time off from tournaments and events teach you?
A: With wrestling, I get to travel a lot. So being able to travel to Arizona during quarantine and having those connections to be able to train, I realized how much fun this sport really is. It’s not always just about tournaments and winning. It’s really about growing as a person and as an athlete. It honestly helped me a lot mentally.
Q: It sounds like you were able to take the very best from the situation and turn it into a positive. Was it helpful to have that time to just rest?
A: It felt good. I didn’t really have pressure, and that’s what I liked. I didn’t have to worry about anything – it was just me wrestling. That’s all I had to focus on. I didn’t have to worry about a tournament or anything like that. I was just able to have fun with the process.
Q: Your brother, Richard, is also competing at a high level. As you both are in rising stages of your careers, what is it like to have someone like him to connect with during the process?
A: Honestly, it’s a great experience. We’re the only wrestlers in our family, so we’re able to help each other out. If he’s having a hard time, or he didn’t do well at a tournament, I’ll reach out. And he knows that if I don’t do well at a tournament, he’ll reach out. We always, when we get nervous before tournaments, we’ll Facetime each other. And we don’t always say we’re nervous, but we know we are. We have that casual talk to really get our mind off of it…
It’s really awesome. I’m thankful. He’s literally my best friend and I love him to death for that. It’s fun that he gets to experience what I got to experience when I was in Juniors too.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being able to wrestle in college and be able to be a full-time student athlete?
A: I’m a college athlete and I also do work, so sometimes it’s a lot. But it also makes me feel normal in a sense. I think it’s just what pretty much every teen going up to being an adult needs before really “adulting”… you don’t have to be a full-time athlete right away, and it’s just a little bit of a break that you need. And you meet so many people, too and you get so many great opportunities while you’re in college.
Q: Particularly at Menlo, can you talk about the environment there right now and how things are shaping up early here in the season?
A: It’s a great vibe over here. We’re just so excited to be able to compete. With the men’s and women’s teams, we all support each other. I work out with the men’s team, too, and they’re all so supportive of what we want, and we’re also incredibly supportive of them. We’re just really supportive and all of us are so thankful to have the opportunity to wrestle.
Q: You talk highly of your coaches and their connection – how great is it to have an open line of communication and a great environment led by the coaching staff?
A: It’s really important, because it’s mostly you out there on the mat. There’s no one else. So for your coach to understand you and for you to be able to talk to them about things that are bothering you and for them to help you overcome that, it helps a lot. Just for your mentality, too, being able to talk to someone who gets you is huge.