When Noelle Helmer moved from Alaska to Paonia her senior year, she was set on joining the school's wrestling team.
Helmer, 17, is a senior at Paonia High School.
She wrestled her junior year as a "Runnin' Whaler" at Barrow High School because of its required discipline, and the fact that it was the sport that most resembled her first choice of sports: Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Wrestling in Alaska is a lot different than in Paonia, said Helmer. For one, Alaska offers a co-ed season, which ends in December, and a girls' state tournament in March. She was one of three to compete the entire co-ed season and qualify for the three-team regional tournament. Getting to regionals was easy, she said, since the whole team qualifies at the three-team regional tournament, and she was the only one at 160 pounds.
She then trained for two months for the girls' state tournament, where she faced the only other opponent, a college wrestler, three times before being allowed to take the podium. "Overall I didn't do great, but it was a base and that's where I started," she said.
Her mother, Carla Moxley, teaches math at PHS and is an assistant coach for the boys' basketball team. Helmer said her mom urged her to join the girls' basketball team, a perennially strong program that won a state title in 2010. Helmer also has little experience in basketball. "I'm not really good at either sport," she said, "so which one do I do?"
Wrestling seemed the obvious choice. "I enjoy it," she said. "It gives me more satisfaction to actually wrestle than to play a game."
Paonia is a tough team to walk onto, said Helmer, who took into consideration its state titles in 2012 and 2013, and its competitiveness before attending the first practice in November.
Helmer said she was a nervous wreck for the first day of practice. "For probably a good two weeks it was like that every day," said Helmer at the Dec. 14 Delta Panther Invitational, where she placed sixth. "I was like, 'Please, Lord, help me get through this practice.' "
And that was while most of the varsity wrestlers were still playing football.
Helmer said she had a lot to learn, and felt bad for her wrestling partners for missing a lot of reps while she figured it all out. "It's getting better now," she added.
So far it's been a positive experience, said Helmer. "Nobody has been a pain about it at all."
"She stepped into a tough room and a tough program and a tough region to wrestle in," said head coach Andy Pipher. "She's working hard in the room, never complains. She goes in there and works hard, and that's all you can do. And that's what she does."
"They work a lot harder here (than in Alaska) and that's good," said Helmer. At Barrow, "I wasn't nearly as disciplined as far as technique. But here it's a good workout. A lot of live wrestling. Everybody is committed to it, they're all trying to do their best."
Helmer said her original goal was to make the varsity team at 160, but Paonia's varsity 160-pounder, junior Zach Milner, is ranked second in the state. She would have to wrestle off for the spot, but with regionals less than two months away, "I'm not sure that will happen. Even as much as I'm advancing, probably not."
Helmer also ran cross country this season, where she competed at state, and plans to throw shot put and discus — two sports she has yet to try. She plans to work this summer in Alaska and return to Colorado to study either physical therapy, diet and nutrition or in a human services-related field with a focus on domestic violence counseling. "I want people to be able to live their lives as happily as possible," said Helmer.
For now she has a wrestling season to complete, and she refuses to quit. There will be more losses, and while it's upsetting, Helmer said she's focusing on improving and getting as much out of her coaches as possible. "Some days it's harder than others, depending on how mentally prepared I am for it, or how un-mentally prepared I am ... It's just learning from it that's important when you lose. Instead of dwelling on it and beating yourself up, just try to make it better."blog comments powered by Disqus