LAS VEGAS -- Leigh Jaynes-Provisor is not your typical wrestler.
That was clear from the high-pitched scream of “Yay, Mama!” that emitted from 2-year-old daughter Evelyn during Jaynes-Provisor’s post-competition press conference.
Jaynes-Provisor is not 25 – the average age of the rest of the U.S. women at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships.
She is 34.
She is a mother, a wife and a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Army.
And now, she is a world championship bronze medalist at 60 kg., a feat she accomplished 17 years after first taking up the sport in high school.
“I really march to the beat of my own drum,” Jaynes-Provisor said. “A lot of people would say that at 34 you’re past your prime, your career is over. I really don’t believe that.
“In my locker, it said a Michael Jordan quote that limitations are just illusions. You set those upon yourself.”
Jaynes-Provisor understands limitations better than most, which is why she has become a symbol. She is a symbol to men, women and children around the world that anything is possible and any obstacle can be overcome.
Hers is a story that could not get much more dramatic if it was written for a movie.
She was born to a father who struggled with drug addiction as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder from his time serving in Vietnam and a mother who was single before long.
Her mother’s inability to provide financial stability for Jaynes-Provisor and her brother led to her being placed in a group home, a time of her life that also included stints in a rehab center and the psychiatric ward of a hospital, which she says were the result of a misconception.
When her mom returned to reclaim her, the police said she was trespassing and assaulted her, according to Jaynes-Provisor.
She found a job at a fast food restaurant, then filled out paper work to become emancipated and was on her own at age 16. For the next two years, she slept wherever she could – in a car, on a bench, in a motel.
In those two years, she took up wrestling on a dare and now here she is, one of the best in the world.
Failing to make the Olympic team each of the three times women’s wrestling has been in the Games – and only making the 2007 and 2012 world teams prior to this year – Jaynes-Provisor has only just begun to see major results in the past two years, thanks to two major changes off the mat: the birth of her daughter in 2013, who she says provides her with perspective, and a new mental approach that came around the same time.
“I’ve always felt like God was in my corner, but really just recently I surrendered it all to God,” she said. “I’m a wife and a mom and a service member and a wrestler, and that’s a lot on my plate. It makes it a lot easier for me to just give it all to God and just go out there and do what I do best.”
A late bloomer if ever there was one, Jaynes-Provisor needed the time. She said there is no way that, 10 years ago, she could have handled the pressure to get past her semifinal loss to Ukraine’s Oksana Herhel (which happened in 18 seconds) like she did on Friday and come back to win bronze over Azerbaijan’s Irina Petr Netreba, 4-4 by criteria.
“I would’ve cried on my pillow and barely made it out there,” she said of how a 24-year-old Jaynes-Provisor would have handled the situation.
But with a deafening home crowd cheering her on – highlighted by her No. 1 and No. 2 fans, daughter Evelyn and husband Ben, a 2012 Olympian – she found the strength to persevere, as she has her entire life.
“My family supported me,” she said. “I know that Ben would never lie to me and he told me that I had the ability to do this, and I believe him because he is brutally honest sometimes. So I believed him when he told me I was the best in the world. He believed in me before I believed in me and it became a reality tonight.”
Also in attendance at the Orleans Arena was Jaynes-Provisor’s father, Clayton Jaynes. Jaynes-Provisor called him earlier this year to patch things up, after dealing with abandonment issues most of her life.
“My father’s here for the first time,” she said after the bronze-medal match. “It’s really a memorable occasion. He’s a Vietnam veteran. I’m in service and today’s September 11, and I just wanted to go out there and represent the United States to the best of my ability.”
She also credits much of her success to two secondary families: the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which has provided her the resources to train at such an elite level, and the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which she calls the “most difficult wrestling training out there. They are brutal in getting you into shape.”
Jaynes-Provisor’s performance capped a strong showing from the U.S. women, which included wins from Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis one night prior. The bronze medal in the final women’s weight division also secured Team USA the third-place spot in the women’s team rankings, to match its placement at the past two world championships.
She hopes to inspire all aspiring wrestlers – young and old – with her story and hopefully with another medal at next year’s Olympics.
“I believe it’s the most character-building sport,” Jaynes-Provisor said. “I just say give it a shot and not everybody is going to be (the best) – obviously, I’m a late bloomer. Don’t give up, just keep learning and it’s going to teach you unique lessons in your life that will translate to literally everything that you do.”