First Person Singular: High school wrestler Harriet Symington

Harriet Symington, 14, lives in Bethesda and wrestles at Walt Whitman High School.
Harriet Symington, 14, lives in Bethesda and wrestles at Walt Whitman High School. (Rebecca Drobis - For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

When I was 6 or 7, I saw a flier for youth wrestling and told my mom I wanted to sign up. I was expecting one of those big rings, like on TV, with people throwing chairs and all that fake stuff. It was just me and one other girl whose dad was the coach. It never really occurred to me that I was doing anything differently. When you're in second grade, no one really thinks about if your friends are boys or girls; they're all your friends. [But] no one on my team treats me any differently. They're cool with it, or they just don't think about it.

Wrestling in high school is nothing like youth league. It is really intense. At soccer practice, we're talking half the time; it's barely exercise. Cross country is a workout, and it's mental because you have to keep motivating yourself to not stop, but it's not as exhausting. Wrestling takes everything. You have to focus and be determined. I love it because of that. I am an aggressive person, and I like going after something. After practice, I can barely think to do my homework. I just want to crawl in bed. But it's a good kind of tired. It's satisfying.

Sometimes when I weigh in, I'll hear guys on the other team talking about me, and it [ticks] me off. I'll just take all that [anger] and save it for a face-off. It feels good to shut people up who are are wondering why I am even out there. There are benefits to being a girl. We're more flexible, so we can get out of holds easier. Our hips are wider, so the stability helps. But I don't think about my opponent as a boy; I just think about wanting to win.

At a tournament last week, I took this guy down. That must have made him really mad, because he did a reverse and punched me in the face. I got a nice black eye and sprained my MCL [medial collateral ligament]. I took an injury timeout and kept going because I really wanted to beat him, but I didn't. If someone creams me who is just a better athlete, I don't get that mad. But if it's a hard-fought match, I am pretty upset. I just want to sit in a corner, be mad and think, If I had just done that one thing. Wrestling isn't everything, but it can feel like it, especially after I lose.

I am not some scary, intimidating girl. I have never been in a real fight, like in the halls or anything. But in a way, I really want to. Just once, I want to know what it feels like to just go all out and fight with no rules.

-- Interview Amanda Long

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