Leigh Jaynes envisioned a much different ending. A much happier ending.
The three-time wrestling world championships team member and 2015 world bronze medalist planned to finish her career with a strong performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
But Jaynes, battling a number of issues on and off the mat, was unable to achieve her lifelong dream of making it to the Olympics.
So instead of taking her shoes off and leaving them on the center of the mat to signify her retirement in Rio, Jaynes instead is looking for one last opportunity for glory on the wrestling mat.
Jaynes is among a number of top wrestlers who fell short at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and are now looking for a chance at redemption at the Non-Olympic Weights World Team Trials. The event is scheduled for Nov. 9-12 in New York City and will serve as the qualifying event for the Non-Olympic Weight World Championships on Dec. 10-11 in Budapest, Hungary.
“It’s really great to have an opportunity to wrestle in an event like this,” Jaynes said. “I didn’t have a good performance at all at the Olympic Trials — there was no way I could end my career like that. I want to redeem myself. I want another chance to compete against the best girls in the world.”
Jaynes, 35, not only is training full-time but she’s also the mother of an energetic 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn. Jaynes will compete in women’s freestyle at 60 kg.
Jaynes surprised many observers by making the 2015 world team, just over two years after having her first child and at an age when most female competitors have already retired from the sport.
“A lot of people said I was past my prime and my career was over,” Jaynes said. “I really didn’t believe that. In my locker, I have a Michael Jordan quote that says limitations are just illusions. You set those upon yourself. That quote really inspires me.”
As it is an Olympic year, world championships are held only for non-Olympic weights, which are Greco-Roman (71 kg. and 81 kg.), men's freestyle (61 kg. and 70 kg.) and women's freestyle (55 kg. and 60 kg.).
Talented young star James Green is another wrestler hoping for an opportunity to close the year on a high note. Green won a world bronze medal in 2015 at the non-Olympic weight class of 70 kg. He dropped down to 65 kg. for April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials, but the weight cut took a toll on him and he lost early in the tournament in men’s freestyle.
Now Green is back at his natural class of 70.
“I’ve improved and progressed so much since last year,” the 23-year-old Green said. “I’m really excited to get back out there and compete in New York. I’m really motivated. I’ve already been on the podium — now I want to win a world title this year. I won’t be satisfied with anything less than that.”
Green trains at the University of Nebraska with Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Jordan Burroughs. Green benefited from a recent trip to train and compete in Russia.
“It was awesome to have an opportunity to train at a place with so many tough wrestlers,” Green said. “I learned a lot, and it was great preparation for the events that I have coming up.”
The Non-Olympic Weight World Team Trials will be held in conjunction with the annual Bill Farrell International at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.
Among the other top entries for the trials is four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber, a past junior world silver medalist who will compete at 61. Past world team member Jimmy Kennedy is entered at 70.
Kelsey Campbell, a 2012 Olympian, and past world team member Deanna Betterman are entered in women’s freestyle at 55 kg. Alli Ragan, fifth in the world in 2014, will compete at 60.
Past world team member Cheney Haight is among the Greco-Roman wrestlers registered at 81 kg.
This is the first world championships to have this format of all three styles of wrestling. In 2008 and 2012, a separate world championships for women was held in all seven weight classes after the Olympic Games. Jaynes was among the wrestlers who competed in the women’s worlds in 2012 in Edmonton, Alberta. She fell short of placing in that event.
“It’s great to have that chance to come back right away and compete again on a big stage after the Olympics,” she said. “Maybe you didn’t make the Olympic team, but you could still be a world champion the same year. That’s what I’m shooting for. It would be a great way to finish.”
Craig Sesker is a sportswriter based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.