By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Gadsden City High School sophomore wrestling phenom Hannah Gladden has one goal this summer – the Olympics.
The 138-pound wrecking ball competed in three wrestling tournaments during April and May, vying for a spot on the United States’ women’s national team. Gladden placed first in two of the events and third in another to earn a spot in the national tournament in Fargo, North Dakota in July.
Gladden demolished her opponents during the tournaments, accumulating a 9-1 record.
Gladden placed first in both folk-style and freestyle during the Pigeon Forge Wrestling Classic in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on April 28. Over 400 wrestlers competed in the annual event. Gladden won all four of her matches by pinfall in the 140-pound weight division.
“A lot of the boys stopped their matches to watch mine because when I slam it is very loud and they like it,” Gladden said. “I tried to get exhibition matches with some of the boys afterward, but they wouldn’t wrestle me.”
Gladden attended the annual national women’s match in Lakeland, Florida on May 11, 12 and 13. Girls from 30 different states competed for a chance to wrestle for the U.S. national females team. Gladden was the sole representative from Alabama.
Gladden finished the tournament with a 2-1 record and a third place finish. She defeated girls from Pennsylvania and Michigan. The only loss was to a female state champion from California, who weighed 172 pounds.
The third place finish at Lakeland earned Gladden a slot in the Southeast Regional Freestyle Tournament in Atlanta on May 26, with a chance to go to Fargo in the balance.
Gladden finished with a 3-0 record in Atlanta. She defeated wrestlers from Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina to earn a spot in the Fargo tournament. If Gladden finishes first or second at Fargo, she will earn a spot on the U.S. Women’s National Team and will compete in the Pan-Am Games.
Olympic coach Kevin Black will train Gladden during the Fargo tournament.
“Coach Black coaches the Wisconsin team and he has selected me to be on the team, if I get to go of course,” Gladden said. “It’s amazing to be able to wrestle for an Olympic coach. If I wrestle in the Pan-Am games, I will get a chance to compete to wrestle in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janiero. I have always wanted to compete in the Olympics, this is a dream come true.”
Gladden started wrestling at a very young age.
“Daddy wrestled around with me when I was little and taught me a lot of moves,” Gladden said. “He took me to a wrestling match and I fell in love with the sport.”
Gladden said her first experiences on a wrestling team were not what she expected.
“The coach wanted me to be a ‘mat-maid’ for the team, which is basically a ‘waterboy.’ I refused and insisted I wanted to wrestle. I transferred to Gadsden City where they made a slot for me, and my career took off from there.”
Gladden said there is no such as an off-season in wrestling. Gladden trains two hours a day, five days a week.
“I train in Anniston with Eric Lee, former Oxford High School state champion. He has taught me so much over the past four months and I owe my recent wins to his training. I will continue to train with this summer and hopefully next year as well.”
Gladden said Lee has taught her as much about life than the sport.
“He pushes me to do better, despite any losses to boys in practice. He never lets me quit and he keeps pushing me to work harder and compete more. He teaches me that I have to keep going if I lose and learn from the loss. He is the best coach that I’ve ever had.”
Gladden is proud of her accomplishments, but believes girls’ wrestling would benefit with more support.
“I’m proud to be the only female, but I wish more girls from Alabama schools would get interested in wrestling,” Gladden said. “This sport opens up so many opportunities for girls.”