birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Singlet + Headgear

I was the only girl on the wrestling team in high school. I didn’t do it to prove a point, although it ended up that way. I only did it because I was a junior and thought I needed a sport to look better on college applications, and everyone else was already too good in all the other sports. The softball players had been mountain or fast pitching since elementary school. I had zero game on the b-ball court and, despite being aggressive, was comically too short. I always loved sprinting and the relays in P.E. but if you were on the track team I heard they made you jog all the time. So I did the high school athletics equivalent of closing my eyes and pointing my finger on the map…and it looked like I could be a wrestler.

I grew up with a gnarly older brother who had roughhoused with me all my life. I knew I could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. And I had been a dancer for many years, too. I figured dance was similar to wrestling in that they were both based on learning choreography: imitating movement. Wrestling seemed like enough of a hybrid of things I had already tried, so why not?

When I walked into the informational meeting at lunch every head turned. There was audible rustling and muttering. The coach, Coach Barrios, gave me a businesslike nod and kept right on speaking, didn’t distinguish me in any way, a relief. After, I went up to him privately to ask his opinion on me going out for the team. “Do it if you want,” he said. Then, “There was a girl on the team five years ago. She did great. If you’re tough, you can too.” I took this as encouragement, squared my shoulders, and went for it.

Hell Week, as it is known in many a sport, is a grueling process of elimination. People barf, feel humiliated, go home and cry. Worse, I’m sure some of them cry during or after practice—with witnesses. We got screamed at, insulted, punished for not listening with what felt like a hundred push-ups and rounds of sadistic Burpys. Oh, it was hell. And, oh, there was jogging. Lots of it. Running alone, dumping sweat into my saturated sports bra, I wanted to quit, like “Fuck this! It’s not worth this much suffering!” But by the end of the week I felt accomplished for not quitting even though I wanted to. And even though I was so sore from all the squats, I wished I could hold a grab bar to sit down to pee at home the way I now did in the disabled stall at school. I couldn’t quit though, because everyone at school had now heard about the “junior girl wrestler.” I believed that if I quit it would somehow represent publicly that all girls were quitters. I had to keep going. I had to do my fellow females proud.

I made the team. Actually, we all did. UC High had had a strong team the year before but with mostly graduating seniors, so this was a team “rebuilding year” with lots of newcomers like me. If you wanted to wrestle and you made it through Hell Week, you got your singlet and headgear. You made the roster, competing for JV and varsity spots in matches and tournaments around the city. My weight class was the lightest, 103 pounds. By my side was a freshman whose voice who hadn’t changed yet, and three other solid featherweights who became my rivals, allies, and friends.

[to be continued]

The last time I checked my high school’s website it listed Wrestling as a co-ed sport.

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