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Adeline Gray: Wrestling Champion and Advocate for Girls in Sports

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She has won three world titles, has competed on six world teams, has brought home three gold and two bronze medals, and is the reigning female wresting champion in the world in her weight class. Adeline Gray is a true inspiration and hero who has remained undefeated for two and a half years. At just 25 years of age, this wrestling phenomenon is truly making a name for herself, and she’s also poised to make U.S. Olympic history.

Fresh off a win against Victoria Francis at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Iowa City on April 10, 2016, Adeline easily transitions between unbridled enthusiasm and unwavering dedication as she contemplates her spot on the United States Olympic Team this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a dream she has held since she was a young girl. “It was amazing,” she smiled. “I had dreamed about this for a long time. I worked hard for it and knew I deserved it. There was definitely an overwhelming flood of emotions when I realized what I had just accomplished.”

With such accomplishment comes a story of hard work, grit and determination. Adeline’s is quite the page-turner.

Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, to George Gray, a Denver police officer, and Donna Gray, who works for Old Western Paint, a family business, Adeline is the oldest of four girls. Her sisters are Geneva, 23; Gabriella, 21; and Isabella, 19.

Starting Young
Adeline emphasized she was “bred for athletics” from a young age, and by the time she was six years old she was already exhibiting incredible soccer prowess. But her athletic abilities didn’t stop on the field.

“Growing up, sports became the focus of our lives,” noted Adeline. “Our family’s schedule was set around our practices and games.”

Adeline admitted that her participation in sports was the perfect outlet for her high-energy presence. “I had a lot of energy as a kid–I still do–and being involved in sports helped me to focus, align that energy and helped me to study better,” she noted. “My parents were urged to have me screened for ADHD, but they did not because they didn’t want to medicate me. I learned how to handle it myself and wrestling was a huge part of that.”

Before first grade, Adeline was introduced to wrestling, and her parents welcomed it just as openly as any other endeavor. “My dad was one of seven boys, and he ended up with four girls,” laughed Adeline, noting that her parents never flinched when it came to her desire to explore wrestling as a sport. Adeline quickly adapted to the sport and is grateful for being introduced to it at such a young age. “Being exposed to it early on gave me a good understanding of the sport,” she said. “It also provided good leadership for me. I loved it from the beginning. I think it’s a good idea to start young and learn the basics, play games, and just have fun with it.” As her talent and passion for the sport grew, Adeline learned to appreciate the harmonious balance of talent and technique it requires. “Wrestling is part fight and part dance,” she explained. “I realized I was good at it and could pursue it.”

Mastering the Sport
Adeline took up wrestling under the guidance of her uncle, Paul Delmonico, a coach at Bear Creek Junior Wrestling. Her father also assisted with coaching. Before she had even lost all of her baby teeth, Adeline was in love with the sport. She and her cousin, Arenet, Paul Delmonico’s daughter, were the only girls in the program. Adeline’s sister, Geneva, joined them a couple of years later. Adeline learned to wrestle by practicing against boys. When she began participating in tournaments, only a few girls would be competing, but she really didn’t recall much distinction between the girls and the boys at that point. “All I remember is my mom wanting me to wear pink hair bows so they would know I was a girl,” she laughed. When women’s wrestling was added as an Olympic sport in 2004, Adeline was even more inspired. “I thought, ‘Wow! I could do this!’”

Because of her training with boys, Adeline successfully made the transition to the high school boys’ wrestling team. Adeline began her high school career at Bear Creek High as a freshman and then moved to Chatfield High School for her sophomore and junior years. When she won the Junior World Title at 17, she moved to the Olympic development program at Northern Michigan University. Ultimately, she returned to Denver and graduated from Bear Creek in 2009.

Setting Her Sights
Zoning in on her goals, Adeline was on full throttle, winning at all levels. By 2008 she was second in the U.S. World Team Trials and declared the Junior World Champion. From there her wrestling résumé grew exponentially, and it became evident her name would soon be in lights as she continued to dominate the sport and made the Senior World Team in 2009, her final year of high school. She won the University World title in 2012 and the Senior World titles in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

After she graduated from high school, Adeline moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where she realized she has always been more than just a girl who wrestled; she is an athlete in every sense of the word. “In high school, I was good at the sport and I was treated as an athlete,” she noted. “My parents were also a huge support system for me. I knew that I wasn’t good just for a girl, but for an athlete.”

Adeline refers to Iris Smith, 2005 World Champion, who watched her wrestle one time, making Adeline realize that one can be 100 percent feminine yet still be strong. “When I met Iris, she was tall and beautiful, yet she had such a strong presence. That really made me realize I could be both a girl and strong. That meeting with her planted the dream,” recalled Adeline. Ten years later, Adeline, 19 at the time, competed against Iris, then 36, and beat her, winning the World Championship title that year. “That was a total Cinderella story,” beamed Adeline.

Laser Focus on Gold
A typical day for Adeline at the training center includes several hours of working out along with time for eating, sleeping and attending meetings. Adeline also completed her business degree from DeVry University in February while simultaneously juggling her athletic career. One of her guilty relaxation pleasures is watching Netflix in bed. She also travels regularly and participates in roughly eight competitions a year.

She’s now focusing full throttle on her spot in the Olympics this summer. Is she nervous at all? “I am a lights and camera girl,” she noted. “I love that pressure with all eyes on you.” She won’t be alone, however, as her family will continue to support her, and to that end they are hosting a fundraiser to make it possible for all of them to attend the games in August. A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist with this endeavor; the link for it is on her Facebook page. Additionally, Adeline and her team of family and friends are selling T-shirts emblazoned with “Gray to Gold” to help raise travel expenses.

Away from the intensity of practice and competition, Adeline enjoys spending time with her family, whether at their cabin at Grand Lake, dining out or just having friends over at her parents’ home in Denver, playing cards and laughing the night away. She also likes to spend time with her boyfriend, U.S. Army Capt. Damaris Sanders. “I go home about twice a month,” she said. “Mom has great food, and I also enjoy going to various festivals and events around town with my sisters. We really love the LoDo Bites festival.”

Confident and fulfilled in her own space, Adeline is determined to become the first female freestyle wrestling gold medalist in the U.S. Beyond the spotlight of the Olympics, Adeline is not sure what the future holds, but she does know that she will always advocate for young girls, encouraging them to pursue their dreams, no matter how big they are.

“My biggest regret is that I didn’t dream this sooner,” she reflected. “I’d like to be a positive role model for girls in sports to encourage them to go after what they want and take advantage of any opportunities that come their way.” HLM

Be sure to keep pace with Adeline on Twitter @adelinegray and on Instagram, adelinegray12.

photos by lightbox images | makeup by elysia izquierdo