This is the story of Aleeah Gould, a 14 year old female wrestler. We were really pleased to speak with Aleeah and her mother, Mindy, to talk about Aleeah’s wrestling career, gender stereotypes and the strength it takes to stay on top in a male-dominated sport. Don’t forget to check out Aleeah’s two-page spread in The Women’s Issue! It all started at age 6 – when Aleeah’s father (an assistant high school wrestling coach) had brought her 4 year old brother into the kids’ club to get him started in wrestling. My husband and I had long debated girls wrestling. I knew he didn’t plan to have her wrestle, but I knew my daughter’s feisty side so I said we would go as a family to sign her up. When we were there, she said, “Daddy, why can’t I wrestle?” That was all it took. She went on to wrestle in the California Age Group Wresting Association (CAGWA) from age 6 to 9. She loved wrestling even though she didn’t always win. She always fought hard, she rarely was pinned but she didn’t win that often. In all her time in CAGWA, she only wrestled a girl once toward the end. The majority of the time there were only boys on the team and at her events. A match that stands out in my mind is the one time a boy pulled her hair – she was so mad, she pinned him! From then on I would tell others to pull her hair! When she wrestled girls, she usually did very well but back then, there were only two girls’ meets in California per year and rarely were there girls her age/size to wrestle.Her dad was always positive and encouraging. However, he eventually suggested she try another sport. He convinced her she wouldn’t be able to beat the boys in upper body strength in the future. About a year ago, Aleeah started training in Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ) at Riverside Submission. When she started thinking about classes in high school, I suggested she try wrestling at least her freshman year as it was the best time for her to enter a sport. She had wanted to but there was a lot of back and forth about whether it was best for her. Her first tournament was 8th grade girls’ state and there were really tough competitors there. These girls had been wrestling for a while. Rather than getting down, she was encouraged to be as strong or better. She started training and during her high school season, she won more matches (mostly against boys) than she lost. I believe her BJJ training gave her that aggressive piece she needed. Aleeah was very inspired by this – and so was her dad! She gets a lot of compliments on how aggressive she is and often other coaches will tell her dad they can’t believe she is only a freshman. I can’t wait to see her have a few years under her belt so we can really see what she can do. We wondered how well she would be doing today if she hadn’t had the opportunity to train since she was six. At that point we purchased wrestling shoes for her little sister, who is six now. As her mom, I pulled her out of a club when she was little because the coach would tell the boys (in front of her) that they wrestled like girls. I thought it sent her the wrong message. The biggest changes I see in her sport are the numbers of girls wrestling. There are a lot of really tough girls out there and I am excited to see her getting back into her sport. To me, Aleeah is a hero because she never was afraid to stand up and be different, even with TONS of opposition. I am so proud of her paving the way for her little sister and other girls. All of the female wrestlers at this point should be commended for it. They have to deal with a lot. Luckily, Aleeah is pretty good about blocking out any of the negative stereotypes.
“I work to get better and improve myself. It is always me that I am competing against. When I wrestle some boys, they may be stronger so I have to have more technique and wrestle smarter. In wrestling, gender is always an issue. There have been certain wrestling clubs I wasn’t allowed to go to because I was a girl. Some boys are more aggressive because they are worried about being beaten by a girl. Some will laugh before a match or spend more time pulling off my hair cover than wrestling me. However, I have had much more support and more positive than negative this year wrestling. I struggle with juggling a lot of activities. I am currently Freshman ASB class president, have a 4.11 GPA in 7 classes, and participate in multiple sports. I have to be very organized so I get my schoolwork done and have time for all of my practices. Unfortunately, getting hurt this year mid season was my biggest challenge. I really struggled with not being able to train and I was frustrated having to wait for healing time. I just want to have fun and do well in my sport.” – Aleeah
As her mother, I feel encouraging her to do a sport she loves in spite of outside criticism is the most important thing. Aleeah has always loved wrestling and fought to do it. This year when she wrestled a boy at a tournament, she came off the mat and said, “Mom, he called me a bitch.” This was post-match when they were shaking hands. She had not only pinned him, but let him up a few times to practice takedowns. I told her, that was the ultimate compliment. She smiled and was satisfied. We have always taught her to be graceful and proud and she handled it fine. When she saw a wrestler throwing a fit and crying over a match, Aleeah was appalled. We’ve taught her that she has to come in even tougher. They want to judge you for being a girl – don’t give them that! When she was little, there were a few matches that she cried out of frustration. Her dad always scooped her up and took her out of the gym to talk to her and make her feel better. He never wanted to give them that, either. Today, she is strong. After a match she lost, she had a massive asthma attack and was in tears because it scared her. Her coach thought she was upset over the loss. She was irate and wanted to be sure he knew what had happened. I really don’t think I need to encourage her anymore, she can handle herself. Our job as parents is just to step back and let her enjoy herself and do what she loves. Follow Aleeah’s wrestling page on facebook for more updates!