Photo: Gaby Ramos-Diaz wrestles Ronna Heaton in the Dave Schultz Memorial finals. Photo by Richard Immel.
Gaby Ramos-Diaz is a freshman at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, with the potential to make a big impact in the WCWA.
Ramos-Diaz hails from Catano, Puerto Rico, where she was successful as a Junior-level wrestler. She represented Puerto Rico at the 2016 Junior World Championships in Macon, France, where she finished 13th, and the 2017 Junior World Championships in Tampere, Finland, where she took eighth.
She also owns a pair Junior Pan American Championships bronze medals from 2016 and 2017.
This fall, Ramos-Diaz came to the United States to pursue a collegiate wrestling career after she was discovered by Wayland Baptist head wrestling coach Aaron Meister at the Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
“I never thought I would get to come to the United States to wrestle here and study at the same time,” she said. “I went to Fargo once and Coach Meister saw me and he reached out to me to be a part of his team. I looked at a few schools and Wayland Baptist was a school that really pursued me, so it was an easy choice.”
Shortly after arriving to Texas, Ramos-Diaz’s world was flipped upside-down when Hurricane Maria, one of the deadliest hurricanes of the season, made landfall on her beloved country on Sept. 20.
It’s consider the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico.
Ramos-Diaz was out of contact with her family, while trying to navigate a new setting.
“Emotionally, I was destroyed because I couldn’t talk to my family for about three weeks,” she said. “I was worried sick, and that affected me a little bit in my training. I was always checking my phone to see if my mom or dad called. It was a hard three weeks. At the end of it all, they’re OK. That’s really what matters.”
Fortunately, she had a great support system in her coaches, teammates and fellow Puerto Rican, Andribeth Rivera, who is a WCWA champion for Campbellsville University.
“I can only think of how hard that could be for a freshmen to be so far away from home at the time of crisis. She's gets along with everybody, so having the team to hang out with and talk with helped. She showed great focus, and maturity through that time,” Meister said.
On top of the worries that came with Hurricane Maria, Ramos-Diaz admits that it was a struggle adjusting to her new life in the U.S. for several reasons.
“Coming into the United States, it’s a big, big change. First language then culture. There are some similarities but not many,” she said. “I feel like sometimes the language barrier is my biggest struggle. Also, I don’t know the moves and techniques in English, so I have to get used to words like single-leg, double-leg or drag arm. There are a lot of things I still don’t know, but I’m learning.”
Not knowing the wrestling terms in English hasn’t slowed her down one bit on the mat.
Ramos-Diaz has won three collegiate tournaments so far this season and has stood atop the podium for two Senior-level events.
“My season is going pretty good because I’ve been able to wrestle multiple times in a lot of tournaments. It’s good for me because back home, I don’t get to wrestle that much,” Ramos-Diaz said. “I think the thing that impresses me the most is that I’ve learned how to control my matches and wrestle smarter. My biggest adjustment to college wrestling was my stance. My stance was horrible but right now it’s getting a lot better.”
She began the season with a win at 116 pounds in the Oklahoma Open in October in Oklahoma City and followed it up with a championship performance at 116 pounds at the tough Missouri Valley Open in mid-November in Marshall, Missouri.
Most recently, she took the top prize in front of a home crowd at the Wayland Baptist Invitational, wrestling at 123 pounds.
Since November, Ramos-Diaz has won gold at two Senior tournaments.
“I thought that if I could wrestle Junior Worlds, then I can wrestle in other Senior tournaments. I think I picked up the courage to keep on going and motivating myself to push forward,” she said.
The first tournament victory came in early-November when she won the 55 kg/121 lbs. weight class at the 20th Annual Dave Schultz Memorial International in Colorado Springs, Colo.
She defeated 2015 Cadet World champion and 2016 Cadet World silver medalist Ronna Heaton in the finals with a solid 10-6 decision. Heaton is a freshman at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Wash.
“It felt great because I never thought I was going to wrestle Ronna at that tournament,” Ramos-Diaz said. “She’s really good. I remember thinking that one day I really want to wrestle with her because she has some good wins. It was a really good opportunity to get to wrestle her. I feel like I’m at the same level now.”
This weekend, she wrestled her way to a spot on the Puerto Rican Senior World Team and is set to represent P.R. in the Senior World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, next year.
“To be on the Senior Team for Puerto Rico means more experience and more responsibilities,” she said. “I want to show that I can hang with the best on the Senior level around the world. I never thought I would make it this far in my wrestling, but here I am. I did it. Now, I just have to keep working harder and accomplish my dreams.”
Until then, she will turn her attention back to the college season with her eyes fixed on a national title in February at the WCWA Championships, hosted by Oklahoma City University.