USA Wrestling

JENNA BURKERT PROFILE A mark of awareness

By Lisa Ramsperger | Aug. 23, 2010, 4:45 p.m. (ET)
There are many reasons why a person gets a symbol or a work of art etched on their body. It can act as an inspiration or prompt a memory. Perhaps it's a creative expression.

For wrestler, Jenna Burkert, it was about family.

"It's pretty new, but I've wanted it for a long time" Burkert said. "I always said that if I got a tattoo, that would be the one to get."

Burkert's older brother, Joshua, 22, is autistic. Her new tattoo is of the autism awareness ribbon, with Joshua's name in script above it.

"I had a few different tattoo ideas, but this is one I knew I'd never regret" Burkert said. "Once I won in Mexico at the Pan Ams to come here, it was both a reward for that and a birthday present. [My parents] knew I would never hate it or want to get it removed."

Burkert, who turned 17 in May, also knew where she wanted to get the tattoo - her ankle. The ribbon is now vibrant and visible above her left foot. It features a colorful puzzle pattern inside the ribbon, which is internationally recognized as a symbol of autism.

Autism is characterized as a "spectrum disorder" and affects individuals in varying degrees, primarily impacting the person's ability to communicate and interact with others.

"My brother has been my best friend my whole life" Burkert said. "I've always been a family person and I've always hung out with my brother. We wrestle around all of the time. I guess that's why I'm so rough and tough. We have baby pictures and videos of me wrestling with him and just rolling around. He can't really play sports, so rolling around he could do. It made me tougher."

Burkert is in Singapore for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. On Monday, she finished fifth in the women's freestyle 60 kg weight class at the inaugural event.

"Like everyone else, I was here to win. I came up a little bit short, but I pushed through, and I got fifth and I'm happy" she said after her match. "This competition has been tremendous. It's really prepared me for the Olympics, maybe 2012 or 2016."

While her mom, Rosanne, was in the stands, Joshua and dad, Frank, were back home in Rocky Point, N.Y., watching online.

Burkert is now living away from home to pursue her Olympic dream. She will be a senior at Marquette Senior High School in Michigan where she participates in the U.S. Olympic Education Program at Northern Michigan University.

She was named the 2010 ASICS Girls High School Wrestler of the Year, and she was a 2009 Junior Nationals champion and 2010 Junior Nationals runner-up.

She gives a lot of credit to Joshua for helping develop her wrestling instincts.

"I was always used to rolling around with him" she said. "When I actually got into the wrestling room, I was like 'oh, this is just like it.'

"He was there at all my practices, every match with his notebook."

So when her parents surprised her two days after her birthday on a wrestling trip in Florida, the only decision she had to make at the tattoo shop was how big it would be.

"It's great because it helps spread awareness" Burkert said. "I really didn't think it would do that much, but when I walk around, people say, 'Oh, what is that.' So, it's great."
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