Addison woman wrestling for spot in Olympics
Veronica Carlson chose a sport that requires her to fight.
The Addison woman fights opponents, doubters, her body's physical limits, injuries and the scale.
And, this spring, she'll be fighting for a spot in the Olympics.
Carlson, 21, is a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., preparing for the Olympic trials in women's wrestling, where she hopes to claim one of only four spots on the U.S. team, and the only one available at her 138.75-pound weight class.
"It's been my goal since I started wrestling that I would make an Olympic team," Carlson said. "It just seemed like to dream of anything less would have been robbing myself of a chance to be the very best I could be."
An athlete since age 5, Carlson always has been strong and, as she puts it, "abrasive." Fighting within the rules of freestyle wrestling comes naturally to her.
Carlson said she hopes her strength, work ethic and drive will be enough to beat at least 15 others in her weight class to gain an Olympic spot after the U.S. Olympic Trials April 21 and 22 in Iowa City.
Carlson's first sport was swimming, and she also threw shot put and discus and ran for the track team at Addison Trail High School. But coaches and others soon directed her to focus all her practice time and effort on wrestling.
"I guess I was always just kind of abrasive as a girl. People told me they thought wrestling would be a really good fit for me," Carlson said. "I had been swimming since I was 5, so I had a good, muscular build."
When she gave wrestling a try in seventh grade, the sport was an immediate fit.
"I was hooked from the first day. I felt like it was a really good decision," she said.
But she didn't specialize in wrestling until her junior year after track coach Lora Davies suggested she choose only one sport to pursue.
"I would think there would be more opportunities for her to excel as an athlete in (wrestling)," Davies said. "She was one of those kids that was like 'Wow, this is going to be a superstar.'"
Aside from being a "coach's dream," as Davies called her, Carlson makes a great wrestler because of her competitive nature, said Anthony Cirrincione, one of her varsity wrestling coaches at Addison Trail.
"She is intense and combative every step along the way," Cirrincione said. "It's rare that you find any kind of athlete that can lay it on the line for everything, and she does."
She was the only female on the 40- to 50-member varsity wrestling team, and during her junior year she shared the captain spot with two boys, she said. During matches with other teams, she almost always wrestled boys, and she often won.
While Carlson said she faced "a little bit of adversity" when she first began wrestling, Cirrincione said she earned respect from the boys she practiced with and wrestled against because it was obvious she worked hard. Regardless of gender or any other factor, intensity earns respect in wrestling, he said.
"Just being as tough as she is and going hard all the time, in wrestling it's impossible not to respect someone that works hard," he said.
"In wrestling, getting after it and working hard and being intense and aggressive is flat-out respected by other coaches, other competitors."
Carlson never made it to state during her two and a half years wrestling varsity for Addison Trail, but she cut her time there short to move to Michigan her senior year to train at the U.S. Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan University and attend Marquette Senior High School.
That training experience gave her a preview of the life she now leads as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center. She practices twice a day, four days a week, and also fits in twice daily visits to the sports medicine office to rehab injuries and stretch sore muscles.
"It's a pretty strict schedule; it's like a job almost," Carlson said.
But all of it is important, especially the sports medicine sessions that, over the years, have helped her recover from stress fractures in her back and a torn ACL. Battling through injuries is something she's been doing since high school, Cirrincione said.
"Sometimes you have to slow her down, because she's not going to slow down," he said.
In a few months, she'll wrestle in a single-elimination tournament hoping to make it to the 138.75-pound finals, where the wrestler who claims the best of three matches becomes an Olympian. Only four women will make the Olympic team to compete in freestyle wrestling. In contrast, 14 men are selected -- seven in freestyle wrestling and seven in another style called Greco-Roman.
While women's wrestling doesn't have the status of men's wrestling, Helen Maroulis, one of Carlson's fellow Olympic hopefuls (aiming for a spot in a different weight class), said the sport deserves more respect.
Often, Maroulis said, it's other women who aren't athletes or don't understand wrestling who put it down, stereotype its participants or "make the mud wrestling and the Jell-O wrestling comments."
Carlson said she aims to give women's wrestling a good name with her actions. And if she makes the Olympic team, she'll be there to "get the job done" and fight for a gold medal, something the U.S. hasn't claimed in women's wrestling since the sport joined the Olympics in 2004.
"I had to earn my place as a competitor and be on my best behavior, only because I'm not so much a pioneer in the sport, but I feel like I wanted to set a good example for anyone who wants to be a wrestler who's female," she said.
"What I want to do is become that role model that other people are going to look up to."
Promoting the sport for women, bringing honor to the U.S. squad -- all of that would be great, Carlson said. But a different, deeper desire drives her the most.
"Even when I was swimming, I always had a dream of being an Olympian," Carlson said. "I'm not in the sport I started with originally, but I still have that same dream of pushing toward an Olympic gold medal, and I think that's what fuels me the most."