By Katherine Keel | May 22, 2013, 5:23 p.m. (ET)
 
2016 Olympic hopeful Adeline Gray demonstrates proper rehab
technique for Reese Larramendy.
 
 Reese Larramendy shows off her shirt in support of Gray.
 
Adeline helps adjust Larramendy's form on a grab during
wrestling practice.

 
Larramendy practices her skills on the mat

World champion wrestler Adeline Gray has a lot to smile about. Though she narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, Gray certainly has left her mark in women’s wrestling.

Growing up, Gray planned on playing soccer in college, but her dad encouraged her to try wrestling and Gray soon discovered her talent on the mat. By her junior year in high school, she was captain of the wrestling team and had qualified for her first junior world team. From there, Gray continued to improve and made the senior world team shortly after. She currently lives at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and has her sights set on qualifying for the Olympic team that will go to Rio in 2016.  

Without realizing it, Gray has become an icon for women’s wrestlers of all ages. Each win on the mat catapults her into the spotlight, and thus brings more attention to the sport of women’s wrestling.  Whether or not she recognizes her impact, the amount of influence Gray has on the sport is ineffable.

Eight-year-old Reese Larramendy will be the first to tell you.

Just like Gray, Larramendy got her start in wrestling at a young age. Larramendy began playing football at age 6, but became bored in the off-season and started wrestling to fill the time. She soon fell in love with the sport and never looked back.

Larramendy is one of five girls in a 300-person wrestling league in her home state of Nevada. In addition to breaking stereotypes and proving her athletic worth, Larramendy has other challenges to overcome – one being that many young boys refuse to wrestle a girl. This is a trend that continues amongst male wrestlers of all ages, sometimes even through high school.  This reduces the number of opponents available for her to wrestle and sometimes Larramendy is left empty-handed come match time. She is denied the opportunity to hone her skills against someone of similar size and prove her worth on the mat to both her teammates and coaches.

Larramendy’s father, Greg, anticipated these problems and began researching the sport as soon as his daughter started wrestling. While skimming through match results, Adeline Gray stood out at the top of the ranks, so Greg took matters into his own hands. On a whim, he sent Gray a message on Facebook, in the hopes that she could answer his questions and help him understand both the challenges and opportunities within the sport. Gray responded to the message, and the two kept in touch throughout the past year.

Larramendy soon began admiring Gray and quickly became her biggest fan. Posters and pictures adorn the walls of her room, and she even has a t-shirt that features Gray on the front.  Finally, after communicating back and forth for over a year, the Larramendys met Gray while she was signing autographs at one of Larramendy’s tournaments.

“It was a dream come true for Reese,” Greg Larramendy said. “Adeline’s been her role model for over a year now and, if anything, meeting her just encouraged Reese to work harder and set higher goals for herself in wrestling.”

Three weeks ago, the Larramendys traveled to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to visit Gray for a few days.

“After all of the support they have given me over the last year, I figured it would be a great gift for me to arrange a few activities for Reese, as a way to say thanks,” Gray said. “In addition, I’ve grown pretty close to the family and it’s the least I can do.”

The two began their day in the training center’s sports medicine facility, where Gray spends most of her time, as she is currently rehabbing a serious collarbone injury. She taught Larramendy about the various techniques crucial to rehab, and even allowed Larramendy to try out the equipment.

“Showing Reese the training room and teaching her about rehab is really important, because wrestling is obviously very physically demanding and I wanted her to see all sides of the sport – the good, the bad and the ugly,” Gray said. “Unfortunately, as with any sport, there is always a chance for injury, but I wanted to show Reese that if you get injured, it doesn’t have to take you out of the sport forever and, if you do your rehab correctly, chances are you will come back even stronger.”

After rehab, Gray took the Larramendys on a tour of the Olympic Training Center, showing them the athlete center, dining hall and the suite she shares with 2012 Olympic wrestler Kelsey Campbell.

Finally, Gray showed them the wrestling gym, where she had arranged for Larramendy to practice with the team.

“Reese’s mouth dropped open when Adeline told her she was able to practice with them,” Greg Larramendy said. “Not only would she be training in one of the best facilities in the country, but Reese would have a chance to practice with Olympians, national teamers and world team members.”

Larramendy threw on her headgear and jumped right in with the drills. After warm-up, Larramendy began working on skills with a girl her size, as Gray watched and corrected form when necessary. Larramendy continually showed her dominance, as she successfully pinned her opponent time and time again. As practice continued, Gray showed Larramendy proper technique for a takedown and adjusted her form on a grab.

“All in all, it was a great session,” Gray said. ”Reese worked really hard and definitely made the most of her time here.”

Over the years, Gray has encountered many roadblocks within wrestling, but continues to break through the barriers and leave her mark on the sport. And, though the sport is both mentally and physically demanding, Gray wouldn’t trade it for the world.

“Having this opportunity to live at the Olympic Training Center and practice in a world-class facility is a dream come true,” said Gray. “I’m training to make the Olympic team in 2016 and, although it’s not going to be easy, it makes it all worth it knowing that I can help inspire young girls like Reese to follow in my footsteps. If I can help make women’s wrestling more of a mainstream sport, then I will consider that a victory in itself.”

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