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Women’s History Month: 2021 National Team reflects on who inspired them in wrestling

by Taylor Miller-Gregorio, USA Wrestling

Photos of six-time World champion Adeline Gray (L) and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller.

Women’s wrestling has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation, leading the U.S. to becoming a rising power on the international stage at all age levels. But it couldn’t have happened without the trailblazers in the sport, who helped build it from the ground up, push through several obstacles and reach some of the pinnacles of the sport early.

To continue its celebration of Women’s History Month, USA Wrestling asked the 2021 women’s freestyle National Team who inspired them in wrestling. Below are some of their responses:

Adeline Gray, six-time World champion and 2020 Olympic silver medalist
2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller played many roles in my life throughout the years. She was someone I wanted to be. She was a hardworking successful wrestler, my teammate and my coach for a few years. She is a trailblazer who has made it known that there is space in this sport for women. She is now starting a college program and building a life is she proud of. She is still inspiring! I remember when we were training for 2014 Worlds and the shark bait drill came up. I remember having a challenging time. Randi’s motivation and extra effort when practice got hard was inspiring and forced me to refocus and adjust to get more out of those moments. She helped make our team stronger through her stubborn commitment and dedication to the craft of wrestling.

Kayla Miracle, 2021 World silver medalist and 2020 Olympian
To only pick one or two women that have inspired me in this sport is an impossible task. There are so many that have gone before me and cleared the path so that I can do what I love. World champion Tricia Saunders and Olympic medalists Patricia Miranda and Clarissa Chun are just some of those trailblazers. But there are still so many that inspire me daily, and I am lucky to call them my teammates. The other 29 women on the national team putting their toe on the line with courage and hope help push me to chase my dreams every day.

Jenna Burkert, 2021 World bronze medalist
When I first started wrestling, I would say the biggest trailblazer for me was nine-time World medalist Kristie Marano (Davis) since she was a New York legend. Later on, my big wrestling hero was Patricia Miranda. I remember I met her and all the National Team athletes at a camp when I was in sixth grade. It wasn’t a kids camp. It was literally the National Team camp and then me, a 12-year-old. That was a really cool experience, and I still have all these pictures with all the athletes. Most of them took the time to meet me and say hello. It was a year or two later I was wrestling at the Cadet finals of Body Bar and I ran into Patricia Miranda. Right away she said hello to my mom and me, and I already felt special because this Olympic bronze medalist remembered who I was. She asked how I did at Body Bar, and I told her I was in the finals. We were just talking and I mentioned to her that I was starving because I didn’t eat anything all day because I was nervous. She said, ‘Hold on. I’ll be right back.’ We were at the Olympic Training Center because that’s where Body Bar was held at the time, and she ran all the way to the cafeteria, made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a cup of Gatorade and ran all the way back to the tournament to give it to me. I was in seventh or eighth grade, and this is the Olympic bronze medalist, you know! She explained the importance of nutrition while competing, and it was such a pivotal moment in the beginning of my career because it doesn’t matter how big you are or what medals you have, you’re still a person and you’re still a human. She took the time to reconnect with me and give me some tips. That’s a huge part of why she’s my hero, even to this day.

Forrest Molinari, 2021 Senior World bronze medalist
Adeline Gray is someone I’ve looked up to. First, she has been a big sister and a friend to me pretty much my entire wrestling career. When I was younger, she was someone I could look up to and learn from. And now she is a good friend who I love competing on the big stage with and I can always turn to. Second, how she has taken on the role of being a huge advocate and ambassador for our sport. She does an amazing job and really puts her heart into it. Third, I have always been inspired by her unwavering self-confidence and conviction. I remember being very young and wanting to be able to walk into the wrestling room like she did: knowing she is the best of the best. Not to mention she now has six World titles and an Olympic silver to back it up.

Alyssa Lampe, 2012 and 2013 Senior World bronze medalist
When I was younger, World champion and Olympic medalist Clarissa Chun was (and still is) an inspiration to me because of her poise when she was competing. This time around, I’m inspired by the younger generation who bring so much energy and passion for the sport to practice and competitions, specifically, Dymond Guilford.

Victoria Francis, two-time Senior World Team member
I've had the pleasure of getting to know National Team member Ashley Flavin (Sword) over the past few years and hearing the stories of the obstacles she's had to face and overcome and her resiliency is inspiring. 

Alex Hedrick, three-time age-group World Team member
National Team member Jen Page (Rogers) went to the same high school I did but was six years ahead of me. I feel like when I came around, the coaches and community already had a lot of respect for women in wrestling because of Jen. She paved the way for me and was always a great example for me to look up to. Another one of the most inspiring women I know through wrestling is Sara McMann. Sara is one of the toughest people I know. She has overcome a lot of adversity and hard things, but she is still so selfless and giving.

Marissa Gallegos, 2021 National Team member
I was inspired by Olympic champion Helen Maroulis because when I was 12, she was kind to my friend and me.  Her kindness off the mat made me see the light she is. Her chain wrestling is also amazing, and she has a huge arsenal. 

Yelena Makoyed, 2021 National Team member
I realized that without other females on my team I would not be where I am right now. Female athletes, especially within close proximity, are the ones that inspired me to keep going and showed me that I can do just as well or even better. Also, another athlete that inspired me was Natalia Vorobieva. I appreciate her because like her, I am also Russian. I also love her style of wrestling and how funky it is. But the coolest thing is that after she gave birth to her son, she went right back to competing and she still looks great out there!