Women In Action

Photo by Al Lacey | Model Samantha Holland sports a Fashion Nova two-pice and Nike 270’s.

by Mikayla Sodersten

How one of Southern Oregon University’s top wrestlers, Sydney Norvell, turned her fear of rejection into determinationinspiring female athletes everywhere.

25 seconds into the match go by when Sydney Norvell got her first take-down against her opponent. Once he was down, she was working cheap tilts, crossfaces, and everything else she had been practicing. Then, giving it everything she had, she gave him a hard crossface and cradled him. Using all of her strength she squeezed him with her arm, so tightly that he had no other choice than to give up. The guy was on his back for about eight seconds until she knew. This was when Norvell pinned her opponent in her first match as a collegiate wrestler.

Sydney Norvell is a former Southern Oregon University wrestler and current Oregon State University student. In high school, Norvell participated in co-ed sports such as gymnastics, swimming, soccer, and track but it wasn’t until her junior year that she became interested in wrestling.

She wanted to challenge herself and she knew that she had the the mental and physical discipline needed. She wanted to prove to herself and others that she could wrestle just as well or maybe even better than the boys.

“I’m not going to treat you any different than the guys,” said the wrestling coach on the first day of practice. But this was exactly what Norvell wanted and she had no hesitation.

“I dove into it like I was a guy,” Norvell said.  

She started going to practices and soon after, she inspired five other girls to join the team. Her strong willpower and determination led to her being one of the best on the team and being awarded the “Most Outstanding Wrestling Award”, an award unanimously voted on by referees and coaches across the state.

Norvell started a movement in her community by proving that women can participate in a traditionally male sport. According to Norvell, male wrestlers would feel uncomfortable using their full strength against her.  Sometimes they even opted out of competitions because they didn’t want to wrestle a girl.

All of this did not hold Norvell back. To continue with her wrestling career, she accepted a full scholarship to Southern Oregon University. While there, she had record winning statistics for both men and women.

“Too many people hold back from doing what they want because they are worried about what other people will think. I took my fear of rejection and turned it into determinationshowing people what I was truly capable of,” Norvell said.

Although being a female wrestler has given Norvell confidence, she has also encountered push back. Her participation in what is perceived as a male sport was looked down upon by members of her own family. Usually they were all supportive and wouldn’t discourage her, but with her grandparents this wasn’t the case.

Her grandparents refused to watch their granddaughter be in a “fighting” setting. Before wrestling matches she would look up into the stands to see if her grandparents were there, but they never were. This didn’t discourage her and she still gave each fight everything she had but for some reason winning just didn’t feel the same.

“This was the toughest battle I faced, not being supported by my whole family in something I loved,” she said, “Winning is nothing to me unless I’m surrounded by the people I love when it happens.”

In an attempt to make them understand, she asked her grandparents to just come watch one match and that was when everything changed.

“They saw how successful I was, they saw how proud my parents were, but most importantly they saw the heart I had for the sport,” Norvell said.

Now they are some of her biggest supporters. Through wrestling, Norvell became an advocate for breaking gender stereotypes and playing by your own rules.

“We are the generation of change,” Norvell said, “never forget it.”

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