cynthia 2

Wrestling her way to the top on and off the mat

It was the second match of junior Cynthia Esquivel’s first state championship. As her opponent grabbed her arm to pin her, Esquivel knew with sickening clarity that her already-injured left shoulder was overextended. With one limb out of commission, and two more full days of wrestling to go, Esquivel’s journey to a state title at the California State Championships Thursday, Feb. 27 to Saturday, Feb. 29  had never seemed farther from her grasp.    

While Esquivel was right-hand dominant, she was accustomed to posting, or tapping the opponent to check for distance, with her left hand, and her injury severely restricted her left arm mobility. In addition, as a wrestler in the 160 pound weight class, Esquivel’s style heavily relies on arm movements such as hooks. 

“Every time I moved [my shoulder], it got worse. Wrestling is a full body sport, and most of my motion for my weight class is using our arms. I started distancing and trying to find different angles and different stuff to do to be able to not aggravate it as much. But at the same time, I didn’t want to steer away from the actual wrestling that I do,” Esquivel said. 

During the three-day tournament, Esquivel lost her second match on the first day after her opponent tweaked her already-injured shoulder. Losing this match dropped Esquivel to the consolation rounds, where a wrestler competes in more matches for a chance to place.

“My initial thought was just my shoulder. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I lost. I was in pain and I was devastated. When things like that happen, you start feeling so negative,” Esquivel said. 

Instead of dwelling on her loss, Esquivel recalls simply returning to her room and sleeping until the next day. Then, on the second day of the competition, Esquivel won three matches consecutively, earning her a spot at a placing match. 

“My coach told me that [being] in consols means your day isn’t done. You just have to work twice as hard. No one likes losing. Everyone likes winning,” Esquivel said. “Everyone in consols, if you lose one more time you’re out. It’s dos adios. Once we’re in the consolation round, it feels like our lives depend on [winning].”

On Saturday, Esquivel’s first match determined whether or not she would place. Winning this match, colloquially known as the blood match for its intensity, established Esquivel as the top eighth wrestler in the state of California. 

“It’s also known as the crying round. If you win, you cry because you get happy tears. If you lose, you cry because your season is over. You were so close. Once I won the blood round, it was tears. [It was my] first year there and I had placed at state,” Esquivel said. 

From there, Esquivel lost one more match and won her last match, earning her seventh place in the state. 

“I was in shock Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It didn’t start sinking in until Tuesday. Even walking around school and having people tell me congratulations, I was just like ‘huh.’ I had placed at tournaments before, but the fact that it was state [didn’t sink in],” Esquivel said. 

Growing up as the youngest child in her extended family, Esquivel frequently found herself facing off against one of seven male cousins, or her own older brother, as a bonding activity among family. While Esquivel remembers losing in her childhood, her experience in wrestling has now turned the tables. Four months into wrestling, Esquivel executed a body lock, throwing her brother onto their couch, when her brother tried to throw her for fun. 

“I felt so bad afterwards but at that moment, it felt pretty cool to be able to prove him wrong and not be beat up by him,” Esquivel said. “I’m the youngest and I’m the only girl so they used to bully me in a nice, friendly way, but now they’re like, I’m good. We’re really close as a family.”

Esquivel began her athletic career at WHS as a part of the soccer program before deciding to try out for wrestling the summer before her sophomore year. Encouraged by her best friend in eighth grade, Esquivel officially became a part of the team.

“The first day I stepped on the mats and did the tryouts, I fell in love with it. It got me excited [and] I just felt like it was my sport. I felt like, ‘I love this, and I want to know more and keep going.’ That feeling, I hadn’t had that feeling in such a long time when it came to a sport,” Esquivel said. 

To improve her technical skills, Esquivel would stay after practice to wrestle the coaches. Over the summer before junior year, she attended a wrestling camp by U.S.A. Pounders Wrestling Club and honed her skills against students from other high schools in addition to the one hosted by WHS. 

“My favorite memories about last summer is that I would stay with my coach and we would just wrestle. It was just fun. It wasn’t anything serious,” Esquivel said. 

Wrestling proved to be a major lifestyle change for Esquivel. Esquivel had weighed 215 pounds entering the wrestling program. Now, as a wrestler in the 160 pound weight class, Esquivel maintains a healthy diet and exercises daily to improve her wrestling. 

“My coach says if you eat [badly], you wrestle [badly]. I started cutting out everything, [such as] unnecessary carbs, sugars and fats,” Esquivel said. “Everything we do should be to benefit our wrestling.”

Esquivel hopes to continue wrestling at the college level and the professional level beyond that. Currently, she is considering learning judo and jiu-jitsu to help achieve her dream of fighting in the octagon in the Women’s Ultimate Fighting Championship. 

“I am so excited to be wrestling freestyle in college,” Esquivel said. “Wrestling isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle. There’s days when you’re so tired and you feel like you’ve reached that wall, but wrestling helps you get past that wall and know what you can do. It taught me, not just in the room, but in life, when things go so wrong, you still gotta keep going and good things will come out of it.”

By Nicole Chiang, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Walnut Wrestling