For Mercer Island sophomore Jenny Chen, it was about proving doubters wrong from the beginning.
“I was going to start [wrestling] in middle school, but my dad forbid me,” said Chen. “He was like ‘No! Asian girls aren’t as strong as guys.’ And I flipped out. I was like, ‘you are going to watch me, you are going to watch me.’”
Chen is in her second year of wrestling and is one of two girls wrestling for Mercer Island’s wrestling team. Junior Ailin Fu is also in her second year on the wrestling team. Fu said she got into wrestling because she wanted to try something different, while Chen, who says she’s always been a tomboy and always hung out with the guys, got into wrestling through her friends who were doing it.
Wrestling coach Creighton Laughary said there is a high school girls division as well as opportunities for girls wrestling beyond high school. Laughary said while it can be a little different, both girls are doing great. Laughary may empahsize different wrestling techniques for the girls to get pins, but he treats his wrestlers all the same. “They get the same advice that any new wrestler gets about wrestling: wrestling is an investment. Put in a little time, a lot of work, and in time it will pay off,” said Laughary.
While Chen and Fu are not the first girls to wrestle at Mercer Island (2005 MIHS grad Jean Laschever, a four-year Mercer Island varsity wrestler, went on to wrestle at Pacific University), both girls admitted that the experience was difficult when they first started.
“As girls, we know we’re the minority on the team. But we still have our own support system. We’re each others’ support system,” said Chen. “A lot of times, we’ll get up off the mat and we’re like ‘I just got pinned by another guy, I don’t know if I can go through another match like this.’
And then you’ll see the other girl and we’ll look at each other and it’ll just be like, ‘you can do this, we can do this, let’s keep doing it.’”
“Once you’re on the mat, you’re a wrestler. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, you’re gonna fight. And if you dont have pride in who you are and where you come from and what you’ve done to get on that mat, you’re gonna lose.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of other coaches that have said ‘wow, that’s a great way to fight.’” said Chen. “There have been a couple of guys who’ve looked at me and they’re like, ‘oh, it’ll be an easy win.’ But once I get on the mat, I last two minutes, four minutes against them. I’m not easy to pin because I’m extremely flexible, and they’ll be sitting there like ‘why can’t I pin you?’ And I’ll just be like ‘excuse me, I am amazing. I am a lot more amazing than you thought I was.’”
Both Chen and Fu said the other guys have been accepting, and Chen said she’s found support from her guy teammates.
“The freshman guys are pretty great. And the older guys are like big brothers that completely and totally ignore you until that one moment when they just need to express something. That one yell of support from the older guys, it keeps you going for a long time,” said Chen. “I know Ailin and I don’t get it very much from the older guys, but when we do, it’s like angels singing and we’ve gone to heaven.”
Chen said while she tries to recruit other girls, they’re usually not exactly interested. But they like the idea of what her and Fu are doing, the idea of breaking barriers.
Fu said she’d like to stick with wrestling after high school, find a college where it’s a club sport and continue wrestling in college, and Chen echoed the sentiment.
“I want to stay connected to wrestling for all my life if possible, because its such a great sport,” said Chen. “It’s not just the sport that’s great, it’s the team and the atmosphere of the room. You get to meet new people and bond with new people.”
And Chen has advice for those wanting to try something new.
“Be persistent and always be proud of who you are. No matter what other people are going to say about you, no matter how terrible you are, you’re always going to get better. And even if you don’t get better, you’ll always know that you tried and you gave your all.”