Island Coast wrestler takes down the competition
To Island Coast High School senior Jenna Swift competition is the name of the game.
With a strong commitment to athletics, the star wrestler has risen to the challenges of competing in a male-dominated sport.
With an 11/7 record this season, Swift has easily earned her berth on the team.
“I’m motivated by the competition and wanting to prove to myself that I can do it,” Swift said.
Wrestling is a high-endurance contact sport. Wrestling requires passion and intelligence. The training is physically and mentally demanding. Most of all, wrestling has long been considered to be exclusively a male club.
Female wrestlers like Swift, however, are changing the dynamics of high school wrestling.
In recent years the sport is growing in popularity amongst young women. Much of this interest is generated by the growing popularity of professional athletes such as Rhonda Rousey as well as the inclusion of women’s wrestling into the Olympics.
The number of girls participating in wrestling has more than doubled in the last decade. According to The National Federation of High School Associations, 11,496 girls from 1806 U.S. schools took part in a high school wrestling program in 2017.
Federal Law, often referred to as Title IX, guarantees Swift access to high school sports. But the inclusion of female athletes is not without its challenges. When there are not enough female wrestlers at a high school to form a girls’ team, girls must be given an opportunity to try out for the boys’ team.
As wrestlers, boys’ strength accelerates through high school. Girls, in comparison, must rely more on self-discipline, technique, and attitude than muscle mass.
For a girl to qualify for an all-boy’s wrestling team may have initially turned heads. Yet Swift was determined to prove herself.
“There should be no discrimination. If a they work hard and can do as good or better than a guy why would you not want them on the team?” Swift said.
Being the only girl on the team is a Catch-22. On the one hand, Swift is constantly defined by her gender first and as a competitor second.
In a 2015 media interview, Swift “hoped that by her senior year to be answering questions about her dominance on the mat rather than her gender.”
Four years later, and finishing up her final season as at Island Coast High, Swift has come to appreciate being the only girl on the team.
“I like getting to show the boys that a girl can win at what has always been their sport. I like being the only girl on the team. I like competing against the boys, proving to myself that I can do it,” Swift said.
Motivated by the thrill of competition, Swift is well aware of the role she has taken on as a girl competing with the boys. And even though bragging rights are hard-earned Swift is also wrestling to show other girls not to place limits on themselves.
“Prove to them that regardless of the sport if a girl puts her mind to it she can do it. You are the only set back,” Swift said.
She is proud to go head-to-head with the boys on the mat.
“I know that when the boys see me they think it will be an easy win and then when I beat them I own the satisfaction,” Swift said.
Swift is intensely serious about winning.
“Before a match, it’s all I think about. What do I need to do to win?”
As a high school freshman, Swift went out for wrestling. She also plays softball for Island Coast High, however, and, because of her competitive nature, defines herself as a wrestler.
“I felt wrestling would be more challenging than some other sports. Not a lot of girls do it so I thought I would put myself to the test. I enjoy softball but wrestling has more competition and is an individual sport. If I lose it was because I did not perform,” Swift said.
As for being part of the wrestling team, Swift as earned her right to wear the Gator colors.
“We’re a team. My teammates support me and I them. I am thankful to be part of my team,” Swift said.
Although Swift is always trying to do better than her last match, she knows that she could not have succeeded completely on her own.
“My coach has pushed me and never gave up. I thank Coach Jones and my other coaches in the past who never gave up. I want to know what I am doing wrong and what I can do better,” Swift said.
Her parents were completely onboard with her decision to become a wrestler.
“My parents are always there to support me. They never give up on me and no matter what I can always count on them. They know my strengths and weakness and help me become a better person and athlete,” Swift said.
Becky Swift had no trepidations about her daughter becoming a wrestler.
“Jenna has always had a very high competitive spirit. She always works hard and looks for ways to improve. She has great ambition,” she said.
Having watched her daughter compete for the last four years Becky Swift has come to appreciate the sport of wrestling.
“I didn’t realize back when I was growing up that they should have had it for girls all along,” she said.
Becky Swift did add that watching her daughter wrestle is “Nerve racking. Not because I am afraid she will get hurt but because I know how much she puts into it. She has her coach and team at school, goes to the gym, and always wants to improve. We are always proud of her win or lose.”
The reward for all her hard work has paid off. Swift recently competed in the girls’ State Tournament in Orlando. Swift placed 2nd at the 113lb weight class.
To Swift, competing in the tournament was a profound experience.
“It was awesome. The adrenalin kept me going. The girls I wrestled were very competitive. To be part of it is a memory I will never forget,” Swift said.
When asked what is the greatest lesson learned from being a wrestler, Swift had this to say: “You have to work hard and keep pushing yourself.”
After graduation, Swift plans to attend college, perhaps on a wrestling or softball scholarship. When thinking about her long-term goals as an athlete, Swift has a plan.
“I want to be a mentor for children. I want to have my own business so athletes can come train and offer opportunities to children who may not get elsewhere,” Swift said.
Wrestling has taught Swift many lessons.
“I know that if I work hard and put my mind to it I can do it. I am very competitive and know what I have to do to reach my goal. Sometimes it is harder than others but I will strive to always do my best. I love sports and challenging myself to be better. In the long run I know it will pay off,” Swift said.
What advice does Swift offer for other female athletes who may follow her into wrestling?
“Never give up. Keep pushing yourself.”