Continuing His Legacy – Katherine Shai
For me, wrestling has always been about family. My dad went to the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games in wrestling. He created the path for my wrestling career and had the vision to push opportunity for women in the sport. My sister competed on the national team for almost a decade, and helped me see the possibilities for my own future within the sport. Our mother has been our cheerleader all the way, and is now heavily involved in supporting the growth of girls high school wrestling in the US. I had my coach, my teammate, and my cheerleader all in one place and 1960 Olympic Games in wrestling.
He created the path for my wrestling career and had the vision to push opportunity for women in the sport. My sister competed on the national team for almost a decade, and helped me see the possibilities for my own future within the sport. Our mother has been our cheerleader all the way, and is now heavily involved in supporting the growth of girls high school wrestling in the US. I had my coach, my teammate, and my cheerleader all in one place.
My father was my coach since I began wrestling in elementary school, all the way through college. When I moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 2010, it was a huge adjustment period. This was also around the time my father’s health took a turn for the worse. He had been dealing with congestive heart failure, longer than our family knew, and it started to take its toll.
I was preparing for the 2012 Olympic Trials, and was aware of the possibility that my dad would not be able to attend due to health.
“I hadn’t however, anticipated that my sister and I would be flying out to California 3 weeks before the trials anticipating goodbye.
The thoughts of prepping for a huge competition were set aside, and family was a priority. I knew I had done enough prep work that time off wouldn’t change a thing. They gave him 6 months. I stayed strong during this process, and we supported him through tough decisions about what his life would look like in the coming months.
Two months later after the prognosis, we lost him. I didn’t make the Olympic Team, and now I had lost the one who taught me everything I had known about how to love the sport of wrestling. When you lose someone so close to you, you realize time is short. Why was I spending all my time training away from family? I knew I wasn’t ready to quit wrestling, but the sport became something else. Your love for a sport changes when you start to regret the time spent away from your family by choice.
I had competition soon after his passing, and there were a lot of expectations for me to make a World Team. I knew deep down, that I was not in a good place to not only make this team but to train at a high enough level to compete well at the Worlds Championships.
The pain was real, and I would have to leave practices in the middle to cry in the locker room. I started feeling angry at wrestling. I didn’t understand why my dad had loved the sport so much. I gave it my time, energy, and sacrifice, and it and it felt like I got not in return. I spent less time with friends and family because of wrestling, so why would I give it even more of my life and energy? I started thing that I would be done with wrestling after the 2016 Olympics, and I could peacefully step away from the sport. I definitely didn’t think any would care. Wrestling and the community didn’t matter because my world of wrestling was now gone.
I knew however, my temperament wouldn’t allow me to just give up. I knew I had to at least be open to change, and change my feelings toward a sport that I loved. I resolved to get to know the community of wrestling at a closer level. I worked on contacting new coaches and creating relationships where I could build a trusting bond. Reaching out and depending on others besides my own family took me out of my comfort zone. It turned out to be the best thing for me, and for my career.
I learned my coaches stories, and those stories began to change my opinion s about why we do sport. It became apparent that it was the resiliency learned in wrestling that has prepared me for a time like this. I learned that even though they didn’t reach the pinnacle of sport, they discovered their love for wrestling expanded beyond the need to personally succeed. Their stories changed my heart, and helped me recognize the love my own father had for wrestling. It took years of change and healing, but I gave myself that time. You never fully heal a wound when you lose someone, but you learn how to deal with the hurt one day at a time.
Today, I know my re-connection with wrestling is my father speaking through me. He knew I needed to go through years of instability to discover my own path. I’m sure over his own long career wrestling and coaching, he dealt with many ups and downs. I have found my passion and that includes giving back and supporting opportunities for young wrestlers to join the sport. I also embrace the opportunities I have to speak about my fathers and his legacy. It gives me a sense of pride to continue sharing his life and his work with others. Any opportunity I receive to speak about his life, I do in his honor and the sport he loved.