Photo courtesy Kimber Family
Sydnee Kimber gets asked the question all the time: Why do you wrestle?
Her response is always the same: Why not.
“I wrestle because I can,” Kimber told me. “There are so many girls say they are just a girl so they can't wrestle, but I take that and say I can wrestle because I am a girl.”
She wants to prove that wrestling isn’t just for boys anymore.
“Some people think it’s too rough with too much contact,” said Kimber, a sophomore at Mt. Edgecumbe. “I don’t mind. I like being rough. In wrestling nobody ever tells me to easy, and I like that.”
Ten years ago national icons like Sara McMann – the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in wrestling – and a local legend named Michaela Hutchison – the first girl in the national to win a state wrestling title against boys – put female wrestling on the map.
Now a third-generation wrestler from Sitka has it in her sights to carry on the proud tradition. On the mat, she is arguably the toughest pound-for-pound grappler in Alaska. Off the mat, she is a 4.0 student who spends some of her free time encouraging other girls to try the sport that has changed her life.
“There are about twice as many girl wrestlers in Alaska as there was last year,” Kimber said. “Every year I go to a national tournament I meet new girls from all over the U.S. I love it.”
Kimber recently capped her sensational season with a U18 championship in the 155-pound weight class at the Flo Reno Worlds in Nevada, where she was part of an Alaska contingent that included Agatha Andrews of Akiak, Sterling Magnuson of McGrath and Andrea ‘Emory’ Johnson of Bethel.
The 907 Wrestling club team features kids from all over Southeast Alaska. The team trained in preparation for the Arctic Winter Games and Reno Worlds.
This was Kimber's third time at the Reno tournament, where she place second twice the in 145-pound 14U division. This year she won her first match with a 14-second pin before prevailing with back-to-back decisions, 6-0 and 6-1.
Her victory highlighted a season where Kimber won her second Alaska state championship at 160 pounds. She was selected as the Outstanding Female Wrestler at regional and state tournaments. Kimber gave up only four points to female opponents and posted a winning record against boys.
Wrestling has long been synonymous with the Kimber name. Her grandfather, Michael D. Kimber, wrestled in high school in Michigan before coaching elementary to high school kids in South Dakota and Alaska. Her father, Michael S. Kimber, wrestled for Mt. Edgecumbe in the 1980s and then in college at Pacific University in Oregon. He has been the Mt. Edgecumbe coach for 16 years.
The sport is in her blood.
“Wrestling is just as mental as physical, so before every match when I was warming up I would tell myself that if I want to win I have to wrestle like a champion over and over in my head until I went on the mat,” she said.
“As I shook my opponent's hand I would tell myself again that I am a champion. Being a champion doesn't necessarily mean winning. Even if I lost I would still be a different type of champ. I would be my own. I am proud of myself and how far I have come and the obstacles that I have had to overcome to be who I am today.”
Led by Kimber’s victory, the 907 Wreslting team finished second in the 18U girls team division, just six points behind Vandit Wrestling of Washington.
Andrews placed second at the 18U 170-pound bracket. Andrews went 2-1, with pin over Emily Rhea (CA) and Tristyn Britanna(WA).
This season Andrews was the 182-pound Alaska state champion after finishing second in 2014.
Magnuson finished second in the 18U 240-pound bracket. She won by fall over Kimberly Carillo (CA), Niccola Godinet (WA) and Eva Leon (TX). In her first year of wrestling Magnuson defeated the defending state champion at 220 pounds to win the state championship.
These girls are Alaska tough, but they have a softer side too. They wear their game face only on the wrestling mat.
“At tournaments, when we are all going to weigh in all the girls talk to each other, we are laughing, giggling and talking about everything,” Kimber said. “We become friends, but as soon as you have a match you become very serious and you are just wrestling another somebody.
“As soon as we come of the mat we become friends again. So yes, girls can be a successful wrestler and a lady.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent with the Alaska School Activities Association.