HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – James Levy is a senior on Hilton Head Island’s wrestling team with 100 wins under his belt and even he has a tough time keeping freshman Zao Estrada down.
“She has a high pace and she keeps going,” Levy said. “She doesn’t really get tired or anything.”
Wrestling coach Patrick Boulware agrees that Estrada is different.
“She’s very quick, she’s very smart, she knows what she’s doing prior to the match even starting,” Boulware said.
As her ponytail suggests, there’s more that separates Estrada from the average wrestler than just skill.
“I do like how I’m the only girl [on the team] and I set standards and inspire people to join the sport.”
Estrada is one of just two girls in all of South Carolina to be nationally ranked, thanks in part to a 15-0 start on the season, all against male competition.
“She’s making a statement as if any other wrestler would,” Boulware said. “The only thing is that she’s got a little more to lose as a girl in a man’s sport. It’s really exciting to see that and be a part of that.”
Some of those wins, though, have been the kind that Estrada didn’t want: forfeits.
“Sometimes they just wouldn’t wrestle me because I’m a girl or something like that,” Estrada said. “It’s weird.”
For a young woman who wants nothing more than to be judged for what she can do on the mat, those forfeit victories don’t feel much different than a loss.
“The first time it happened, it just kind of threw me off because I thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with wrestling a girl,” Estrada said. “I didn’t think that anyone thought it was weird.”
“When that first match happened and the other team forfeited and I knew they had somebody there, it just aggravates you a little bit,” Boulware said.
That’s why Estrada cherishes time with her teammates, who have always seen her as a wrestler first and a girl second.
“She pushes me and I try to push her as hard as I can and try to do what I can to make her better,” Levy said. “She definitely makes me better.”
With her teammates behind her, Estrada just needs more people in front of her.