Back when she was in Middle School, ninth grader Aneri Patel and her family watched the movie Dangal, an Indian film based on the true story of two sisters who wrestled for the national team.
Aneri had been active in gymnastics and track and field, but she had wanted to try a contact sport. With the movie fresh in mind, the thought hit her: She could wrestle.
She approached her civics teacher, Christopher Hardin, who also coached wrestling. He told her that while wrestling is a co-ed sport, Woodward had never had female wrestlers before. Aneri spoke to friends and gathered other interested girls. They started wrestling in eighth grade and then continued as freshmen in the Upper School this year.
In February, Aneri was the only freshman to place in the top eight in her weight class at the All-Classification Girls State Wrestling Championships. She and fellow freshmen Sophie Zents and Sophia Sangha were the first girls from Woodward to ever wrestle in the state tournament.
While Aneri worried initially that boys might not welcome the new team members, she said they were friendly and supportive. “Wrestling is a hard sport,” she said. “The team gets really close, supporting each other through intense practices.”
War Eagle Watch talked with Aneri about what it’s like to be female in a male-dominated sport and what she sees ahead for her future.
Q: What do you like about wrestling?
I enjoy the payoff of working hard that comes with wrestling and winning. The coaches instill a sort of strength in us, that no matter what, we never give up. This can be applied everywhere.
Q: What accomplishments are you proud of in wrestling?
I am proud that I was the first female wrestler from Woodward to place at a tournament. In eighth grade, I placed third at a smaller tournament. I’m also proud of making it into the top eight at the girls state tournament and being the last freshman left. There was another “girls state” under USA wrestling at which I placed third.
Q: What is it like to be a female in a male-dominated sport and to be among the first female wrestlers at WA?
I think it is a little shocking to people when they ask what sport I do, especially since I am a small girl. But overall, it’s not too much different. We practice with the guys, and have guys and girls tournaments. The only thing that might be different is that when there are girls-only tournaments, they are a little smaller because the program is still growing.
Q: What are your interests outside of wrestling?
I am very interested in math and science. I currently take all honors classes including honors biology and GAT, which are my favorite classes. I've also been on the debate team since Middle School, and I placed fourth in the state as a speaker this year.
Q: What are your post-Woodward plans?
I want to pursue a career in the medical field, but I’m not really sure what specific type yet. Beyond college and medical school, I hope to become fluent in Spanish and learn many other languages. I also want to set up homeless shelters in India to assist with the growing homeless population and try to give the children there somewhat of a similar educational opportunity to what we have been given here.