SportsTown Awards: 'The sky's the limit with women's wrestling'
SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - For years, wrestling culture pinned girls outside the boundary line, delegated duties like holding clipboards and water bottles.
That was Malea Palahniuk's role as a freshmen at Thurston High School.
But as a sophomore, she swapped the stat sheet for a singlet.
"They look at you like you couldn't do this,” said Palahniuk, “and sometimes you're treated like you can't do that."
It’s not an easy move for someone who already carved out a nice career on the soccer field.
"You could feel the judgment in the room a little bit," she said, "but I just fed off of it, it drove me to keep going."
Malea stumbled out of the gates, spraining her knee and ankle.
The injury sidelined her for most of the season.
"I've had injuries before. they come and they go, but you can't let them stop you,” said Palahniuk.
With only a month to prep, she won the state title.
As a junior, she defended that title while leading the Colts girls team to a second championship
"I think it's crazy, and I like to think back before as a mat girl, I would have never thought I’d wrestle, ever in my life," she said.
And Palahniuk isn't just wrestling, she's winning, ranking 12th in her weight class nationally among high school girls.
Helping her along the way is her high school coach Mike Simons.
Simons is a coach who recognized a movement, and now has the largest girls team in the state: 22 athletes at year's end.
But few have brighter futures than Malea.
“Maybe we'll see her wrestling in the Olympics someday,” said Simons. “I think the sky's the limit with women's wrestling and somebody's got to be there. Why not her?”
“I work for it, I've earned it and I keep pushing,” said Palahniuk. “I know I'm not done."
Malea Palahniuk is one of four finalist for the “Athlete with Heart” award at the SportsTown Awards May 31.