Christina Martinez feels at home on a wrestling mat.
“This team kind of just makes me feel like I’m part of the family,” she said. “Kind of like a little sister, even though I’m older than a lot of them.”
She prides herself on being tough, and not just physically. She’s currently 0-4 this year in the 106-pound weight class.
“You have to not get upset and angry every time you get beat because you get beat a lot,” Martinez said.
The junior JV wrestler has never wrestled another girl and is the only girl on Manhattan’s wrestling teams. Head coach Robert Gonzales said Martinez is the first girl on the team in at least nine years.
“I’ve seen quite a few girls, but I’ve never had a chance to wrestle one because they’re all in the 113 weight bracket, and I’m in the 106,” Martinez said.
But she doesn’t mind having to wrestle guys, usually freshmen. At “97 pounds on a good day” she is often a lot lighter than the boys in the smallest weight class.
“Once you get out of your mind that they’re a guy and you’re a girl and it’s weird, it’s like completely normal,” Martinez said. “You’ve just got to think of the technique.”
She added that she can sometimes see a difference when opponents walk onto the mat to face her. She said sometimes they seem more confident or try harder to win.
“It kind of motivates me because if they’re going to try extra hard to beat me, if they can’t beat me, that means I’m pretty good,” Martinez said.
Head coach Robert Gonzales said her teammates see her tenacity and work ethic, too.
“Our guys have bonded stronger because they know Christina’s working so hard,” he said. “When Christina’s wrestling, there seems to be an abundance of support.”
Martinez has been around wrestling her whole life. Her father, George, and brothers, Alejandro and Gabriel, wrestled, and she used to help her brothers get ready for tournaments.
Martinez said her parents needed convincing to let her join in, though.
“It definitely took a lot of time for my dad to be OK with it,” Martinez said. “My mom, she was kind of skeptical, too, but more like, ‘Don’t want you to get hurt,’ more of that than, ‘You’re wrestling guys.’”
Martinez wanted to go out for wrestling as a freshman, but at 88 pounds, there was no one who could work out with her, and then she was busy with her other sport, cross country, last year.
Gonzales had a meeting with Martinez’s mom to make sure everything was in order for this year, safety-wise.
“We talked, (Martinez) stood to her guns,” Gonzales said. “she said, ‘I want to take part. I want to be a part of this.’ I need to be a proponent of women’s wrestling, if we can get that to exist in our society.”
Gonzales added that other high schools in Kansas, like Burlington High School and McPherson High School, have moved to include girls wrestling as a separate category.
Gonzales said having a girl on the wrestling team has been a learning experience for everyone.
“I think that if I’m going to be a good teacher and a good coach, then I should be correct in pronunciations and wording, Gonzales said. “Maybe I should say a ‘fireman’s carry,’ or a ‘single-leg carry’ or maybe I should say ‘one-leg carry,’ but everyone understands what a high crotch is because you’re shooting underneath the crotch … it’s one of those things, I’ve welcomed the opportunity, I’ve had to learn how to probably be a better coach with a young lady in the program.”
Martinez was nervous in her first tournament, and once she stepped on the mat, she noticed just how much heavier the 106-pound boys were than her.
“I lost pretty fast,” she said with a laugh.
But since then, she’s felt herself improving.
She’s staying on the mat longer and longer, and she didn’t get pinned until very end of her match last time out. She sometimes wins during live wrestling in practice.
“My first goal is to not get pinned,” Martinez said. “I got that once. Now, I want to win by points.”
She would be happy if she won by a pin, too.
Even though tournaments are her favorite part of wrestling, Martinez also loves just being able to go to practice.
“It sounds kind of weird because it’s super hard and you’re dripping with sweat and it’s exhausting, but I really like it,” she said. I’ve done quite a few sports, but I’d have to say this is my favorite just because it is so hard and it’s really difficult, and you have to actually want to do it. If you don’t want to do it, these workouts are so hard, you will quit.”
Martinez has her own bathroom for changing and is in charge of keeping it clean, but she said that’s the only thing that’s different from the rest of the team for her.
And that’s the way she likes it.
“There’s not a lot of girls that would just be able to go do this,” Martinez said. “It’s such an intense sport, and you have to be able to tough it out. Because on a regular basis, you do get thrown to the mat, and it’s not comfortable. You get put in positions that are very uncomfortable.”
“Tough it out” is the same thing she would say to another girl considering wrestling.
“You’ve just got to go in there, show them what you’re made of and just tough it out,” Martinez said. “If you tough out a week, now they respect you and accept you in their little family.”