The following is a special editorial feature courtesy of 2016 Junior World medalist Alexis Porter (NYAC). Along with being a top contender on the US women’s freestyle circuit, Porter is also the older sister of NMU Greco-Roman standout Jesse as well as the daughter of former National-level competitor Jesse Sr. Wrestling has been a family affair in the Porter household virtually her entire life, a passion shared by all involved. The success Alexis has experienced as an athlete provides her with a unique and rounded perspective that is only buoyed by her strikingly effective communication skills. So consider what she has to say. Alexis Porter speaks from a place of unique knowledge and her appeal for the inclusion of women’s Greco-Roman wrestling is coming at a time when wrestling’s survival as a whole could be counting on it.
WHENEVER I travel, I normally have the same three conversations with any given stranger. They see my wrestling backpack or my Team USA jacket, and instantly I am hit with the million-dollar question — “You wrestle?” Yes. I pause and wait for the follow-up that is most certainly coming. “Girls wrestle?” I recall the same thirty-second history lesson and lay it on them as an attempt to do my small part as an ambassador for the sport. I tell them how women’s wrestling is still new but growing rapidly. I tell them how it has been an Olympic sport since 2004, and I tell them that there is also men’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman. Every so often, I receive more intuitive questions from my fellow passengers. “Oh, so only one style for women? Why is that?” Well, if only I could answer that one.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Alexis Porter. I am a top Senior women’s freestyle competitor, Junior World Bronze medalist and University National champion. Just as importantly, I have been an avid Greco-Roman fan for as long as I have been wrestling, and for good reason. My father, Jesse Porter Sr., was a top national competitor during his time and trained under the legendary coach Joe DeMeo with the likes of Ike Anderson and Shawn Sheldon. He participated in two Greco Olympic Team Trials and as a result, cultivated a strong passion for Greco in both my brother and I. My dad introduced me to Greco when I was about 12, just two years after I had started wrestling. Like many of today’s youth, I was nervous and hesitant. I wasn’t all that excited about trying something new.
You mean I can’t touch the legs at all? How the heck am I supposed to score?!
Boy, did I have so much to learn. Luckily for me, my start in Greco came from a combination of two things — the nonexistent opportunities to compete against girls and the fact that my dad gave me no choice. With no genuine experience, he threw me in freestyle and Greco tournaments right alongside my younger brother Jesse Porter, who some of you may should recognize as one of the top Senior-level competitors at 75 kilograms.
I soon learned that Greco was no walk in the park. Suddenly, I couldn’t hang in ties. I couldn’t bounce around out of my stance for a break. I realized that Greco-Roman wrestling was the most challenging of all three styles. In freestyle, I could find ways to rest and control the pace of a match easily. In Greco, as soon as I let up my pressure, I lost control of my dominant positioning. My biggest fear was being thrown, but it was also my greatest pleasure. I developed a pretty nasty reverse lift. And all I can say is I have been in love with Greco ever since.
Over the past decade, women’s wrestling has become a large part of the discussion surrounding the future of our sport. Unlike Greco-Roman, which has been contested at the Olympics since 1896, women’s wrestling was not added until 2004. After the scare we had back in 2013, most of the public would agree that to remain a part of the schedule of future Olympic Games, we need to continue to make improvements to our sport. Women’s wrestling offers the opportunity to make a significant improvement. In this progressive nation, many Americans operate with the belief that men and women deserve equal opportunities in all aspects of life, whether that be in the office or on the field — or in our case, on the mats. Women’s wrestling is credited as one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation at the high school and collegiate levels. Now more than ever, it is important that we capitalize on this growth by continuing to create more opportunities for women to compete. As a male, you have two options to compete and potentially make an Olympic team. Women, on the other hand, have just one — freestyle.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) credited a lack of gender parity as one of their main reasons for shortlisting wrestling in the Olympics. As a response, the world governing body United World Wrestling (UWW) added two more weight classes to the women’s Olympic Team going into Rio. As of today, each of the three respective styles is allotted an equal six spots. However, we cannot be satisfied with this one change alone. It is paramount that we push for the addition of women’s Greco-Roman wrestling. Gender parity is one of the few keys to our sport’s salvation. Increasing participation at developmental levels is necessary to ensure the survival of wrestling. The concept that many people are missing is this: these numbers can come from the men’s and women’s sides alike. Growth for one is growth for the whole of wrestling.
It is important the we as athletes, coaches, fans, and a national governing body continue to generate discussion and push for change. It is my hope that one day soon I can make a choice to try out for the women’s freestyle OR women’s Greco Roman Olympic team. I’ll give you a hint — if it’s an option, you won’t see me grabbing legs anymore.