Wrestler balances motherhood, medals
Vail, CO Colorado
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil ” Motherhood and medals. Not exactly a common combination in sports.
Kristie Marano doesn’t care.
Marano has won medals at the past eight world wrestling championships, including gold in 2000 and 2003. Nearly all of them have come since she gave birth to Kayla, now 9.
As she heads to her first Pan American Games next week and, she hopes, her first Olympics next summer in Beijing, Marano is certain that being a mom has helped her wrestling. And being a wrestler has helped her as a mother.
“It is a juggling act, really, but it’s cool,” the 28-year-old Marano said. “If anything, I want to be a positive role model to my daughter and to show her nothing is too much of an obstacle in life. If you really want to do something, you can.”
Marano was on the verge of doing what she wanted most in her sport in 2004, but then she failed to make weight at the Olympic trials as the favorite in the 138.75 class.
Instead of competing in Athens, where women’s wrestling was on the schedule for the first time, she served as a training partner and cheerleader for the other Americans, including Sara McMann, who won a silver medal in Marano’s weight class.
She also learned something very valuable from that disappointment.
“I think even though it was heartbreaking, I would not want to do anything else,” Marano said. “So I went as a training partner to Greece and it made me want to push harder and be on the team the next time. It gave me more determination and motivation.
“And it was really cool to be at an Olympic event, even if I was not wrestling, to be able to cheer the girls on who were making history. Just watching it really helped me focus the next (three) years so far.”
Focus is one of Marano’s strengths, says U.S. women’s coach Terry Steiner, who has worked with Marano since 2002. Steiner has seen Marano meet injuries, weight woes, relationship problems ” she’s now a single mom ” and the challenge of combining family and wrestling with a sense of purpose that every elite athlete must possess.
Indeed, Steiner believes the bonds between Marano and her daughter have been strengthened by their involvement in the sport.
“I think she definitely wants an Olympic medal, but I don’t think she’d be doing it if she and Kayla did not like the lifestyle. She enjoys the environment and the environment her daughter is around. She has, like, 20 big sisters.
“I have a daughter of my own and it is the same for her in that atmosphere. If a situation is not good for Kayla, I don’t think Kristie would be doing it. She has to look at everything; she can’t be selfish and just do what she wants.”
What Marano most wants is a balanced life for herself and Kayla. So they enjoy watching movies and ballgames together ” Kayla spends part of the summer in Kristie’s hometown of Albany, N.Y., where her uncles take her to New York Giants’ training camp. Kayla also has played soccer and now is a wrestler, too.
She’s participated in three tournaments, winning in Missouri and placing second in New Mexico with mom as her coach. That was an eye-opener for Marano.
“It was fun, and definitely one of the things you think about is, ‘Wow, this is what my parents did?’ My dad was always in my corner, whether I was in judo or wrestling. And there were times when he told me to do something and I did the opposite.”
Marano laughs at the long-ago memories ” and the more recent ones when she was helping her daughter.
“You see things she’s not doing and it almost made me want to call my dad and say, ‘I’m sorry for all those times I didn’t (listen),’ ” she said.
Steiner describes Marano as one of the most coachable athletes he’s had. Now that she has settled as a heavyweight and doesn’t have to worry about poundage, he believes she will be even more of a factor on international mats.
Including in Rio.
“The cards have been stacked against Kristie so many times, and you can count on her to find a way to come out of it shining,” Steiner said. “I think she definitely adapts to who she is wrestling, what level she is wrestling. Some people get caught in the game plan and style of wrestling and that can hinder them. She is very resilient.
“I think as far as a pure competitor, she is the best I have ever been around, male or female, and her record says that. She competes so well, goes with the flow, is easy to be around and to coach. Kristie just finds a way.”