Family and wrestling work together to inspire Katherine Fulp-Allen

By Chris Casper | Feb. 14, 2014, 4:32 p.m. (ET)
Photos of Katherine Fulp-Allen at the 2014 Dave Schultz Memorial by John Sachs,

You could say women’s freestyle wrestler Katherine Fulp-Allen was born with wrestling in her blood. In her mind, wrestling is all about family.

She is the daughter of Lee Allen, two-time Olympian (1956 and 1960) and one of the early supporters of women’s wrestling. A founder of the Bay Area Wrestling Association, where he coached women, he then coached the women’s wrestling program at Menlo College. Unfortunately Lee passed away at the age of 77 in 2012.

Fulp-Allen is also the younger sister of Sara Fulp-Allen, a seven-time U.S. National Team member who was a U.S. Open champion and placed third in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2004 and 2008.

Katherine is poised to continue the family tradition of excellence in the sport, looking ahead to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Lee Allen was the first coach for his daughters, and was able to continue coaching them through their college years at Menlo College. Fulp-Allen recognizes that her father’s influence on women’s wrestling helped enable her and her sister to thrive in the sport.

“He was definitely one of the founders of women’s wrestling—he did it in hopes that Sara and I would start wrestling. So, for me, wrestling is synonymous with my dad. It’s everything all wrapped up together,” Fulp-Allen said.

“He’s the one who started us with wrestling, and kind of helped forge a path for us so we could compete against women and be at the level that we are today. He was obviously a big influence over our lives,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen remembers a patient, low-pressure mentor who taught them to love the sport. Was it assumed that Katherine and Sara would wrestle or did they need some convincing?

“I think it was a little bit of both. I don’t know if he always knew for sure, because every day was different. Some days, when we were little kids, we would want to wrestle, the next day we didn’t. So I’m sure there were times when he was worried and concerned that maybe we weren’t really going to pick it up,” Fulp-Allen said.

Also taking an active role has been their mother, Joan Fulp.

“It definitely took my mom some convincing, because she didn’t want to buy any stuff, especially wrestling shoes, because they’re expensive. So we just had those water shoes, and we would duct-tape them to our feet! I’m sure it was probably worrisome for my dad—are they really going to like it?—we don’t even have shoes for them!” she said.

“So I don’t know if it took convincing. Anyone who knew him would say he was a very patient man. He just let whatever happened happen, and encouraged us in the right ways. He didn’t push us too hard, too young and I think it made all the difference,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen sees her relationship with her older sister Sara as a good balance of competitiveness and inspiration.

“Definitely, there was a combination of some sibling rivalry and the ‘if she’s doing it, I can do it.’ I think that aspect always helped push each other along. I was seeing her success. She was very successful at a young age, through high school, through college, throughout her career. Having her a few steps ahead—she is three years older than me—it was like me seeing my future. It definitely helped me, but I also never questioned what would happen. I knew my path,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen was active in effort to keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympic Games. She feels honored to have been a part of such an ambitious effort, coming together with other wrestlers from around the world to support the sport they love.

“Getting wrestling back in, those were awesome events to be part of. It can be hard from an athlete’s perspective. Besides social media—we do the best we can there—it’s not like we can put all this effort into a program or an event. We are busy training and it’s kind of like our duty to show off our sport in the best possible manner. So it was really a unique opportunity to be involved and still feel like I was giving my part. I was doing my best without putting on an entire event, so I felt really involved,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen enjoyed helping the women’s wrestling program at the Beat the Streets in New York She was surprised and encouraged by the very positive response she received at a clinic in which she helped instruct.

“First, I was extremely amazed by the numbers, huge numbers of girls. I can’t remember the exact number, maybe close to 25? It was a fairly small room, but we had two or three mats and it was packed,” Fulp-Allen said.

“It was really cool to put that whole thing on and to be part of that whole New York wrestling scene, especially because I am with the New York Athletic Club. I’ve never gotten to spend extra time there or spend time with New York female wrestlers. Of course, the girl who is the coach there, Jacque Davis, she is one of my best friends from college. We wrestled in college, so it was really special for us to reunite and do that together,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen’s successes in 2012 and 2013 came as she wrestled at 55kg. She is deciding how the new weight classes for female wrestlers will affect her going forward.

“In college I was 51kg. When I moved out here in 2010 I was about two years out from London (the 2012 Olympics), and it was decision-making time. I can never go down to 48 kilos, height-wise, so I had to make the decision to go up to 55. It was kind of perfect timing. I had had surgery right before so I spent the time getting up to 55. But even though 55 was a bigger weight class for me it was a successful year. Taking third at the Olympic Trials showed the great work I had put in. Obviously disappointing, but I knew that, hopefully, the new weights would be a better weight for me. 53 is perfect: all that weight I put on at 55 can stay and I can compete at a weight that is a little better for me,” Fulp-Allen said.

Going forward at the new weight of 53 kg, Fulp-Allen has key areas that she is focusing on in her training.

“I really like simple moves such as a high single, but my favorite move would be doing an inside arm drag to a high shot. For me it’s stance and positioning. Positioning is really important to me, especially because of my length. I’m going to be tall for my weight class no matter what. So I definitely want to improve my stance, movement and positioning,” Fulp-Allen said.

When Fulp-Allen isn’t sweating it out on the wrestling mat or competing, she takes advantage of the beautiful Colorado Springs area, often with a good friend.

“Being in Colorado I love to go hiking, taking my dog out and just playing with her. These are the low key things, I wish I could say skiing or snowboarding but I only did that once when I was little. Maybe I will eventually one day, but for now I enjoy the low-key things like hiking and my dog. My dog is pointer mix that weighs 45 pounds and is really spunky and hyper—kind of like me,” Fulp-Allen said.

Where does Fulp-Allen see herself post-Olympics and post-competition? Somewhere far, then somewhere near.

“My ideal place to live would either be Colorado or California. These have been home, but for sure at some point I would like to live in a different country for a little while. I’m really open to wherever things go, but for now it will probably be Colorado because I’m pretty settled here,” Fulp-Allen said.

Fulp-Allen returns to family when remembering her favorite place that she has wrestled.

“I think my favorite place I wrestled would have to be Greece. It helps that it was University Worlds and it helped that I won! I spent extra time with my family: my mom, my sister, my dad. We all were there and it was a really memorable trip for all of us. That definitely is why—it was just a special experience to have all the family together at University Worlds,” Fulp-Allen said.

The day was extremely special for her family because both Katherine and her older sister Sara medalled at the 2008 University World Championships. Katherine won the gold medal at 51 kg and Sara took the silver at 48kg.

What’s on the agenda going forward in 2014? Fulp-Allen is hoping to secure a spot on the World Cup team at 55 kg and win a gold medal.

“I’m looking forward to, hopefully, going to Tokyo—depending on how things turn out— for the World Cup and World Championships,” Fulp-Allen said.

With the support of her family and the memory of her father, it could be a very good year for Fulp-Allen. As she says, wrestling and family is “all wrapped up together” for her. You could say wrestling is not only in her blood, but in her heart.