Going Out of Bounds


Ireri Mares takes on her opponent at State.

Ireri Mares, Reporter/Photo Editor

I have been wrestling for six years. God, it doesn’t feel that long. I joined after a couple of friends convinced my sister and I, and we were able to convince our mom, which was no easy task. It was the first, but definitely not the last time I heard, “Isn’t that a boys sport?”

Why is it that everything involving physical strength is labeled “for men?”

I’ll have to admit I definitely wasn’t the strongest when I joined.  Actually I always felt weak before I joined wrestling and not just physically -although my arms did resemble spaghetti sticks-it  was more just lack of confidence.  There’s nothing like knowing you can beat the crap out of a person to build your confidence. Seriously.  

Those who were fortunate enough to know me in elementary and middle school will tell you I am not half the person I was. I used to be  a straight A student, the one in the back of class whose voice you never heard, a “band geek,”a “swimmer.”

It feels so alien labeling myself as those. I swam for longer than I’ve wrestled and participated in band for nearly as long. I think the reason they feel so foreign is because that was never me. Pressured by my mother to follow the footsteps of my older sister,  I only had the illusion of a choice. I think part of the reason I kept wrestling despite my lack of success was because my mother hated it.    

I was a little eighth grader who didn’t even know the sport existed the prior year. and I remember this big man was yelling at me telling me I’m going to make it to state. Of course I thought he was delusional; I kept getting beat up at every tournament I went to. How would I be able to be one of the top 32 wrestlers in California? Little did I know,

That same man was in my corner every match he could, always making sure my weight was good, making sure I got that extra practice in, extra work out. It didn’t matter to him that I wasn’t the best on the team. It didn’t matter to any of my coaches and that was what differentiated wrestling from any other sport or activity I’ve done. 

I think there’s beauty in a sport where your team and your coaches become family. Where they’ve seen your blood sweat and tears and trust me, for a sport where the players claim to be the toughest, here’s a lot of tears.  

I never felt overlooked, and always felt like I belonged. It didn’t matter how good I was or how good I wasn’t.   

This year has been hard, I definitely struggled. There was always a shadow following me, telling me I’m not good enough. No matter how many matches I won, or how much praise I got.  

Making it to state was one of the best moments of my wrestling career. I had to qualify top eight at area and top four at Master’s. I placed fifth at area and fourth at masters, barely making the cutoff, but I was state bound!

It felt like a fever dream, after getting my hand raised, running to my coaches I remember him yelling, “THIS IS WHAT WE WORKED FOR! YOU DESERVED THIS! YOU DESERVE THIS.” I think I got permanent ear damage from that moment, but I won’t ever forget that day.

My sister qualified for state twice, and  I’ve always looked up to her. She’s smart and  strong, meant to be my role model from the day I was born. I’ll be honest she was a better wrestler than I was, but in the four matches she’s wrestled at state, she won not one. So,  living in the shadow of her my whole life, I felt like a fraud . I knew I worked hard to get here, but in my mind was still that scrub from middle school who didn’t know how to wrestle, in a place where these girls have been wrestling since they could walk.  

I expected to go 0-2 at state. So, I surprised myself when I made it to day three. It made me think, “Hey I don’t suck.”  And my coach responded, “I’ve been trying to tell you.”

When I put everything on the mat and the adrenaline was pumping through my veins, my hand was  raised, and looking  out of the corner of my eye I had  the same smile plastered on my face as my coaches, identical to the one cheering in the stands. It’s a euphoric feeling. Knowing you’ve made others proud and being proud of yourself. 

There’s something about winning a match and knowing you’re physically superior to that person, it’s a high no drug can replace. 

And so when I wrestled my last match and ended my last tournament, I bawled my eyes out, not because I lost but because it was over. 

There were several tears shed at the end of my match and I won’t say by whom because someone made me promise not to bring it up, wanting to keep their “tough” facade. 

I ended up top 12 at the state tournament which to me was better than winning the lottery, because I didn’t end up there with luck. 

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding those who “peaked in high school.”  The quarterback who became nobody after football, but that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. He became somebody because of football. That’s why sports are so significant, they have the ability to change someone’s life.

It’s not just a sport, it’s a family.