When she was 6 years old, Erin Golston decided she wanted to be an Olympic wrestler.
After watching her older brother wrestle every weekend, the Lake in the Hills native was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
"He was bringing home trophies, and I wanted trophies, too," Erin, now 18, said.
Beginning today, Erin will represent Team USA in the Junior World Championships in Romania.
Not everyone was as thrilled with the idea as she was. Her father, Kenneth Golston, had wrestled in high school and a little in college, so he knew of the wrestling mentality and the struggles she would face.
"I was a little apprehensive about it because I knew she would be wrestling boys," he said. "That was my little girl … I just didn't want to do it."
After a few family discussions, however, he relented and got to work training her.
"I thought, 'I'm going to make it hard for her, and hopefully make her quit,'" he admitted. "Maybe not the right thing to do, but in the end it maybe made her how she is."
He wasn't the only one who was uncertain about Erin's wrestling dream. The lack of female wrestlers in the area meant she grew up competing against boys, and some tournaments had her competing in higher weight brackets.
One tournament even had a group following her from match to match simply to cheer against her. She was 7 years old at the time and eventually won the tournament.
"I know they were doing it because she was a girl," Golston said. "If it weren't for tournaments like that … it wouldn't have pushed me (to train her) like it did."
Realizing that his daughter was both talented and determined, Golston changed his mind about her wrestling. With his help, Erin started training daily and competing every weekend.
Her typical day consisted of going to school followed by a 50- or 60-mile drive to practice, during which she and her brother would do their homework -- Erin has always been on the honor roll, her dad said -- and eat dinner. They usually didn't get home until 10 every night, giving them just enough time to shower and go to bed.
"With how much work she put into it, it had to be her wanting to do it, or it wouldn't have happened," Golston said. He knew that with the work ethic she showed at such a young age, she could be great.
With the help of excellent coaches from the beginning, Erin quickly excelled despite continuously facing the other gender.
"Guys are a lot more aggressive, and as we get older their bodies are obviously a lot different, they're a lot stronger," Erin said, noting that finding people her weight, today a mere 97 pounds at 5-foot-0, has always been a challenge. "It frustrated me for a while, but then I realized it helped me."
Catching the eye of coaches around the country, Erin was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic Education Center on the campus of the Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., and left home when she was 15.
"It was really hard the first year," Erin said, but she eventually got used to it.
Her dad felt the same pain.
"I would have much rather had my little girl here until college. That was probably one of the hardest things, and a hard decision," he said.
Attending the USOEC, however, turned out to be a good step toward realizing her dream.
After 12 years of sacrifices and hard work, Erin will take another step toward her goal today in Romania, where she will represent Team USA in the Junior World Championships.
Mom is making the trip to watch her compete, but her dad won't be there.
"I think she tries too much to win for me, so I don't want to put extra pressure on her," he said. "She'd like to have me there, she says it all the time, but I just think she wrestles better when I'm not there."
When she's finished in Romania, Erin will get to spend a rare week at home, relax for a month or so, and then head off on her next journey: her freshman year at NMU and training for her next meet.
Her father summed up the reason behind all of Erin's work. "If you're not going to do anything, you're not going to accomplish anything."