Sally Roberts, Wrestle Like a Girl

By Tom Danner for The Predicament

Sally Roberts Wrestle Like A Girl

Wrestling is considered one of the oldest sports in the history of the world. It has however evolved and changed in many ways. One current historical change is the surge of women participating in the sport of wrestling. According to the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association (WCWA), “The number of women who wrestle in high school has grown from 804 to 16,562 as of 2018. Since 2004, women’s wrestling is now an Olympic sport. 48 colleges sponsor a varsity program. 14 states have a state high school women’s championships.”

One leader in the area of women’s wrestling is Sally Roberts. Roberts is the founder of the Wrestle Like A Girl organization. According to their web page, the mission of Wrestler Like A Girl is “to empower girls and women through the sport of wrestling to become leaders in life.” From her bio, “Roberts was the first in her family to graduate high school, graduate college and earn an advanced degree. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Colorado - Colorado Springs and a Masters of Art degree in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of the Rockies. Roberts trained at the Olympic Training Center for eight years. She was a three-time national champion, 2003 World Cup champion, and a 2008 Olympic Alternate, among other titles. Roberts also served six years in the Army as a Special Operations soldier in Afghanistan. She was also a member of the prestigious World Class Athletic Program and represented both the U.S. Army and Team USA in elite athletic competitions.” She took time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions and talk about her passion for wrestling.

1. During the month of November we honor our military veterans. Thank you for your service. What is your military history?
I did not make the Olympic wrestling team, so I joined the Army in 2008. I asked for the toughest job for a women, and as a result, became a member of the special psychological operations unit. Our job in Afghanistan was to win the hearts and minds of the constituents. I worked with a female interpreter so we could talk to the Afghan local women to see if there were any issues of concern. We tried to establish a rapport and break down barriers with the local Afghan women so they would share areas of concern. Our hope was that they could feel we were all on the same team. I served one tour in Afghanistan. Then I was recruited by the Army athletic program and wrestled for Team USA under the umbrella of the Army. A bad day of wrestling is still better than a good day at the office.

2. What are characteristics that wrestling and the military share?
They both value the individual as part of the larger team unlike any other sport. There is a brotherhood or sisterhood about being as authentic or raw as individually possible. In both, you are giving more than you are capable of. It is a rallying of being on same team, a comradery that is unparalleled in any other sport. With both, you have to put your toe on the line of who you are and what you are made of. In general, wrestling is a safe place. If you get knocked down, you can get back up in wrestling. The military is the same way in some ways, but when you lose in the military, it often means someone has died. You need to show up every day and put your best foot forward, whether you want to or not, so you can achieve the larger mission that you are a part of. Titles don’t mean anything compared to coming back with all your brothers and sisters in arms.

3. What is your wrestling pedigree?
I was told to find an after-school activity! During eighth grade (Sacajawea Junior High School, Seattle, Washington), I was getting into a lot of trouble. The police told me I had two options: I needed to either get involved in an after-school activity or end up in juvenile detention. If it weren’t for wrestling, I probably would have been in jail. I needed to find something to do.
I tried to get into traditional women sports, but I kept getting cut. I leaned toward wrestling because it was a no-cut sport. My mom had no problem with me participating in wrestling. She had a non-traditional job as a construction worker. She herself was testing the limits of traditional women’s careers.
I was the only girl through junior and senior high school (Federal Way High School) who wrestled. Now, that same district has so many girls participating in wrestling that the school has a full team, and there is a separate girl’s junior high district championship.
More women are participating and states are forming separate women divisions. I needed to find something to serve as a building block to become a productive member of society. Participating in wrestling is more important than the titles you can achieve. Wrestling is being part of something.

4. You are the founder of “Wrestle Like a Girl.” Can you describe the organization and what have been some of your obstacles and successes?
In 2016, my time in the service was over. I was no longer a competitive athlete. I wanted to be an advocate for women in wrestling. This was something I did on my own. I self-funded it for two years. It wasn’t until three weeks ago (November 2018) that I acquired a staff. We moved from having consultants to a full staff. Currently, we are moving our offices to Washington D.C. The fun for me was when it was hard and complex to get it started. Now, I look back and know I produced this. It is cool.

5. Who have been other leaders in developing women wrestling, and what advice do you have for those in Iowa where interest is growing for women wrestling?
The sport needs as many people to participate as possible to grow. Wrestling is a sport open to all. You can be a boy, a girl. You don’t have to have limbs; there is no discrimination. Every single person on the planet should compete in wrestling at one point in his or her life. Wrestling builds the next generation of leaders who can fight for what they believe in and deserve for the brothers and sisters who stand to the right and left of them. The more people involved in wrestling promotion opens the door to more sponsors and interest. Wrestling will build the next generation of leaders who can fight for what they deserve.

6. It is a non-training day. What do you do to relax?
I head to the sauna. I love the sauna. There is something about elevating your body temperature and sweating. It is a healthy way to think, relax, clarify thoughts and come up with new ideas. Many influential people, including Fortune 500 CEOs, found the sauna to have the same benefits. Wrestlers are smarter because they use the sauna.

7. Anything you would like to add?
I would like to thank everyone who has been supportive of the sport. Girls and women wouldn’t have had a chance to wrestler if it weren’t for male stake holders like Terry Steiner. He put his name and reputation on the line. He was the National Team and Olympic coach who helped open the sport to women. He was laughed at for getting what some thought was a low grade job. He was leader.
Lewie Curtis comment………..
As November passes, we thank those who have served our country. Through their valuable commitment and leadership we can practice freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Sally Roberts has demonstrated both of those traits with passion. Women wrestling is one of those opportunities that is increasing in our country. Iowa has always been a leader in wrestling. It will be interesting to see how Iowa continues to grow in this opportunity.