For InterMat’s Rachel Gallardo, it’s been a long time coming, and the Power Five introduction of women’s wrestling couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
When the University of Iowa announced the introduction of a women’s wrestling program, it immediately opened up the landscape of the sport for women’s wrestlers looking to carry their skillset into the collegiate world.
The world of women’s wrestling existed before Iowa, but didn’t have the authoritative “takeover” presence that one of the Mount Rushmore of NCAA wrestling schools possesses.
“When Iowa announced the creation of a women’s program, they made a statement,” Gallardo explained. “They said to every other Power Five school that they’re putting them on notice. ‘We’re locked and loaded, where are y’all at?’”
Similar to MMA, women’s wrestling isn’t met with groans of disgust when brought up, and the decision by Iowa wasn’t greeted with pushback from the community, but there’s always been a palpable line of distinction between the comfort of male athletes vs females.
Even if the women’s division doesn’t catch fire right out of the gate, the collective “luxuries” of the men’s teams is likely to retain and draw new athletes itself.
“If you add a woman to a men’s program, it’s like, ‘Well now we’ve got to get her a locker room and a weigh-in spot, we’ve got to get her her own this or that,’” Gallardo said. “I think that’s where the ‘tension’ that’s almost like red tape is. It’s very frustrating. I worked at World Team trials when it was back at NC State, I think back in 2019. I got the superlative of working that tournament. I don’t know about the men’s participants, but I know the women’s participants had to get dressed in the bathrooms. I don’t know if there was a dedicated locker room space for them.”
Gallardo feels that the sport of women’s wrestling has recently reached a monumental peak that has made Iowa’s decision all the more perfect. This is no longer a sport for parents to rally around “the son they never had.” It’s become a sport that women are seeking out and finding success in like never before.
“We’re now getting to the point where these young ladies aren’t just wrestling because their brothers wrestled or their dad or their uncle,” Gallardo explains. “They’re becoming the first person in their family to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this.’ It’s really awesome to see them hold their own in a traditionally male-dominated space.”
No longer will Iowa fans have to go to Lindenwood University to compete in wrestling out of high school and no longer are women fighting for playing time. In a matter of five years, Gallardo believes more wrestling powerhouse universities will adopt women’s programs and girls first entering the sport will have the heroes they never had before. Ten years from now, women’s NCAA wrestling may be in the same position as the UFC. Women headlining pay per views, women winning performance bonuses and women stealing the show in a sport that was formerly exclusively male.
“It’s so important for people to see people that look like them in these spaces. When little girls say, ‘She looks like me,’ or ‘She’s gone through what I’ve gone through. She’s walked the path I’m walking right now.’ Having that camaraderie is so special. Having that role model is so important for young women.”
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