USA Wrestling BOOK REVIEW: Afsoon ...

BOOK REVIEW: Afsoon is a great read for all wrestlers, or anybody who really wants to be inspired

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Oct. 26, 2020, 5:10 p.m. (ET)

I was very hopeful when I heard that there would be a book written about Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston, the Iranian immigrant who became a pioneer for women’s wrestling in the United States.

To be transparent, I consider Afsoon a friend. I have had a number of opportunities to hear different aspects of her amazing life story, which she shared with me over the years. I was already a staff member at USA Wrestling back in 1989 when Afsoon was in high school and started her international wrestling career. I have known Afsoon ever since, witnessing first-hand her career on the mat, her development as an Olympic coach, and her role as a volunteer leader in USA Wrestling over the last three decades.

The book, aptly named Afsoon, and written by respected wrestling author Craig Sesker, came out earlier this season. I brought the book with me for a recent vacation flight and never put it down. By the time I reached my destination, the book was finished. It met my high expectations and much more.

Those of us who know Afsoon will be very pleased with the book. Sesker not only documented her remarkable life story on and off the mat, but also captured her sparkling life force. As a person, Afsoon brings joy and positive energy to everything that she is involved with. This book is able to share that spirit with the readers.

To start, this is a great wrestling story. Growing up in Iran, girls not only did not wrestle but females were not allowed to watch wrestling, Afsoon learned about the sport from her father, a successful wrestler in a wrestling hotbed. She learned moves taught by her dad in the privacy of her family home, something nobody else could know about. It was not until the family was able to make a daring escape from Iran and ultimately end up in San Jose, Calif. that Afsoon was even able to consider joining the sport.

When Afsoon decided to go out for wrestling at Independence High School in San Jose, there were only a handful of girls who wrestled in the United States. With support of her family, and encouraged by high school classmate Marco Sanchez (later a star at Arizona State and an Olympian for Puerto Rico), Afsoon had to win over her high school wrestling coach David Chaid just to be in the wrestling room. (Yes, he’s the father of NCAA champion and Veterans World champion Dan Chaid). She not only made the team, but she was able to make wrestling into a sports career which brought her all across the nation and around the world.

Back then, girls and women did not wrestle. Period. It took an amazing amount of courage and commitment for Afsoon, as well as the other young women who wanted to wrestle, just to get a chance to be on a wrestling team with the boys. Afsoon was able to persevere, not only because she loved the sport, but because she was willing to do whatever it took in order to crack open the door to opportunity.

What I love about Afsoon and all of the pioneer women who built the sport in our nation is that they never demanded that people allow them to wrestle. They just worked as hard as the boys (and later the men), earning the respect of those around them. Because of the way that they handled themselves and treated others in the wrestling community, Afsoon and her pioneer women’s wrestling peers won over many people who became advocates for women’s wrestling.

Afsoon not only wrestled in high school, but also in college, and for many years on Team USA. When you read the book, you hear the story about her 1989 World bronze medal, the first in U.S. women’s wrestling history, as well as her 1990 World silver medal. You get the inside-story of the ups and downs of her wrestling career.

You also get to learn about the choices she had to make, and the sacrifices that were necessary, just for her to remain in the sport. Afsoon wrestled during the years before there was a National Team program and funding for women’s wrestling, and before there was much public acceptance for women in combat sports. Afsoon had to balance her education, her professional career and ultimately a family, with her passion for the sport and her dream to be in the Olympics (which was not yet even a possibility).

Rather than spoil all of the great wrestling stories, I recommend that you purchase the book, read it and enjoy an excellent wrestling tale told by a talented author.

However, I also believe that her life story off the mat is equally inspiring and truly would interest anybody. You don’t need to like wrestling, or even have a background in sports, to enjoy this book. There is so much else that is part of her story, from her childhood in revolutionary Iran, to her family’s amazing immigration story, to her ability to assimilate in the United States yet retain her family culture. You get to learn about her parents, her husband, her children, her friends and all of the other people who were part of this unique journey. Share this book with others outside of the wrestling community because they will like it, too.

The sub-headline of the book is spot on. It simply says “Iranian girl overcomes adversity to become American success story.” Afsoon’s story needed to be shared with the world, and this book gets that job done very, very well.

The book is $25, and can be purchased at: