By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Hannah Gladden insists she is just a “normal student.” The Gadsden City High School sophomore takes “normal student” classes, has “normal student” friends and has “normal student” hobbies. Most argue that Gladden is more than just a “normal student.”
Gladden is the only female student-athlete in Etowah County, and possibly in the state, who competes in five high school sports. Gladden competes in volleyball, softball, track and field, cross-country and wrestling – and does it in the state’s highest classification.
Gladden attended Southside High School until she transferred to Gadsden City in the fall of 2010 to begin her freshman year.
Of all the sports she plays, Gladden insists that wrestling is her true love. Gladden is the only female in the state that wrestles.
Gladden has tallied a 16-22 record in two years as a Titan wrestler and pinned an eventual state qualifier in the 2010-11 sectional tournament as a freshman.
Because wrestling is dominated by males, the 138-pound Gladden wrestles against boys in her weight class. Gladden is not intimidated by any of the boys while on the mat. She recently pinned boys from Oneonta High School and Springville High School.
“I try not to think about it being a ‘girl-boy’ thing,” Gladden said. “My teammates and coaches give me great advice and they work me hard preparing for my matches. I just go out and do my best and the rest falls in place.”
Gladden is a tough opponent to pin. Because her physical strength is usually trumped by boys of the same weight class, Gladden relies on a defensive strategy to score points and earn pinfalls.
“I wrestle defensively. I usually go the distance (six minutes) with all my opponents. I’ve been [body] slammed a few times but I always recover quickly. The way I see it, if they don’t pin me in two minutes, they’ve got nothing.”
Gladden’s first match against Southside as a freshman was in front of a hostile Panther crowd.
“The home [Southside] crowd was yelling really loud,” Gladden recalled. “They wanted to see me go down, but it made me want to win even more. I pinned [my opponent]. It shocked the crowd and [my opponent] quit the wrestling team because he was pinned by a girl.”
Gladden said the Titan wrestling squad welcomed her when she arrived as a freshman last year and insists they are “like family.”
“I love each and every one of them. They treat me with respect and they always try to help make me better. They are all like brothers to me.”
It is little wonder Gladden is successful in all the sports in which she competes. Gladden punishes her body with a brutal workout year round.
“Besides what we do at school, I lift weights at home with my dad,” Gladden said. “We do bench press, squats and free-weights for strength training. I do a lot of core work and distance running to build my endurance, which helps me succeed in all five sports. Daddy pushes me to work harder every time we workout and that makes me faster and stronger.”
When times get tough, especially on the wrestling mat, Gladden finds inspiration in a former mentor.
“Former Weaver state champion Justin Holland got me into wrestling,” Gladden recalled. “He saw me wrestle at a very young age and he encouraged me. He coached me for a few years and taught me a lot. He saw that I had talent and chose to work with me despite being a female. He would never allow me to give up, no matter what.”
Gladden said that softball is her second favorite sport, claiming “my heart pumps red mud.”
Gladden burst on the softball scene in April 2011 as a freshman catcher for Gadsden City.
In the fourth inning of the Titans’ Class 6A, Area 14 match with Grissom on April 4, Gladden delivered what turned out to be the game-winning RBI single. The 3-2 win was the first area win in school history for the Lady Titan softball team.
“If Marynas [Fernandez] hadn’t got a hit before me, my hit would’ve just been a single. She made a great play to put herself into scoring position, which gave me the opportunity to drive her home.”
Gladden encourages females to explore wrestling and other sports.
“Girls can be competitive as boys, we just have to work harder. Competing against boys shows how girls are strong and independent they are. If I can do it, anybody can.”
The humble and unselfish Gladden is doubtless a fierce competitor and possesses a special drive to succeed in everything she does.
“My drive comes from hoping that all my hard work will someday pay off and get me in college. I work hard for myself and my parents. My parents support me in everything I do. They are my biggest fans!”