Wrestling for the Crown
by Lisa Ann Smith
Fortunately for the other women vying to be Miss USA 2014, the pageant was not a hands-on competition. That’s because the reigning Miss Virginia USA, Arielle Rosmarino, has a rare skill that would have made her an easy favorite to win the crown and contend for Miss Universe. Her specialty: single-leg takedowns.
That’s right, Rosmarino has spent years both gracing the stage and grappling on the mat. And though to outsiders these two passions might seem at odds with one another, to Rosmarino, they strike just the right balance between teamwork and individual effort that her “very dominant and intense” personality craves. “For wrestling, even though it’s an individual sport, you cannot win that match by yourself,” she says. “It takes your team, your coach, your family and friends to be supportive of you, but then once you get on that mat it’s all you.”
Former UFC fighter and world-class wrestler Randy Couture agrees. As a celebrity judge in this year’s Miss USA pageant—where Rosmarino ended up as a semifinalist—Couture says he came away from the event impressed by how much Rosmarino’s wrestling background fueled her determination. “She’s a perfect example of that wrestler’s mindset,” Couture notes. “In a lot of ways you learn the lessons you need to get you through anything in life on that wrestling mat.”
Call Her ‘Earl’
From an early age, Rosmarino’s competitive instincts drew her to both wrestling and pageants. She began wrestling in the 6th grade after receiving a flier in the mail that featured a local cheerleading program on one side and wrestling on the other. Having grown up wrestling with her brothers, she knew her choice. Less than three years later, another intriguing delivery arrived. The National American Miss program sent a pamphlet that drew her in and led her down a path to eventually become known as the “Wrestling Beauty Queen.”
But while she enjoyed early success in the pageant world, acceptance in the male-dominated sport of wrestling didn’t come as easily. As the only female to have ever competed for the Glenvar (Va.) High School wrestling team, Rosmarino was an anomaly. Back when she was a freshman, her teammates didn’t quite know how to take her insistence that she be treated like one of the guys.
“When you’re growing up with the boys here in southwest Virginia you’re always taught to respect women. You’re not physical with women,” says her former coach, Jamie Soltis, who prior to coaching the team was a two-time individual state high school champion at Glenvar and is now the middle school principal. “It took the guys getting comfortable with wrestling her hard, and, honestly, that all goes to Arielle because of her attitude about it, her work ethic and her desire.”
Full acceptance, he says, meant daily practices in an intense environment where you pushed yourself to the brink on mats so drenched with sweat that you could slide across the floor. Arielle earned a nickname as the new “guy” on the team: Earl. Her moniker proved useful when opposing teams began forfeiting matches in order to avoid wrestling a girl. Coach Soltis even signed her up for tournaments as Earl.
It’s hard to believe the current Miss Virginia USA could avoid detection, but she says she was a “late developer” and helped the cause by keeping her sweats on and hair tied back in a hairnet before matches.
“She had earned the right, in my opinion, going through what she went through at practice every day to have the other kids compete against her,” Soltis says. “I still call her Earl to this day.”
“In a lot of ways you learn the lessons you need to get
you through anything in life on that wrestling mat.”
- Randy Couture
Leave No Doubt
Rosmarino says the mental toughness she learned through wrestling armed her with confidence that transferred directly onto the beauty pageant stage. The physical demands of the sport added to that confidence. She credits wrestling for developing her determination and inner strength as well, which she draws upon when delivering motivational speeches to kids. She incorporates a mantra her former high school coach, Soltis, instilled in her team following their narrow loss at the state wrestling tournament. That motto—Leave No Doubt—remains emblazoned on a green and yellow metal sign in the high school wrestling room.
The 5’ 9 ½” blonde bombshell recounts a story from her days on the Glenvar (Va.) High School wrestling team that symbolizes her competitive gusto. After upsetting the top-seeded wrestler in an early match at one tournament, Rosmarino became so exasperated with her next adversary’s stalling techniques that she eventually punched him and cursed. The point she gave up for unsportsmanlike conduct didn’t make a dent in the score and she ultimately emerged the victor.
“When I got into high school, I only got pinned twice,” she recalls. “So even though I lost more than I won, I didn't let myself fully get defeated. Because I love the sport so much, I just did what I could with what I had.”
Rosmarino’s high school went on to win the state championship in 2009, although, by that time, constant migraines had forced her into a managerial role with the team. In preparation for the Miss Virginia USA pageant in early 2013, she put on her championship ring as a reminder of that driving philosophy and hasn’t taken it off since.
Foundation for Success
Wrestling still strongly influences Rosmarino in many other ways. For example, she integrates the conditioning drills she learned back during her wrestling days into her current workout routine. (Stand-ups are a particularly good core workout, she notes.) And employing that same self-discipline she learned in the sport, she took it upon herself to set up more than 100 appearances beyond the required amount in her duties as Miss Virginia USA. Since winning the state title, she’s driven 22,000 miles across Virginia and raised more than $1.5 million for nonprofit organizations.
Though Rosmarino can point to a wall covered with banners, crowns and some 85 or so trophies from a decade of pageant successes, there were times when she walked away without any such mementos. And though she didn’t win the Miss USA crown, these moments don’t deter her. Thanks to her time on the mat, she says she learned to take those perceived failures and use them to propel her forward.
“Honestly, I think the losses are what made me stick with each thing because, personally, when I lose, I learn so much more about myself,” says Rosmarino, who has her eye on the future and looks forward to spreading a message of female empowerment across the country. “Miss USA was the best competition I’ve ever competed in in my life because I left no doubt. I did the best that I could. I left it all on the stage and I trusted myself and my preparation.”