Wrestling is a physical sport, dominated by a unique combination of raw strength and practiced skill. These athletes, spend hundreds of hours channeling their passion towards perfecting their physiques, memorizing the right movements and focusing their will towards a sole objective: Winning.
For one Hood River Valley High School athlete, this focus has been consistent throughout her career. Her love for the sport grew in time, and the competitive fire in her heart propelled her to new heights across several aspects of her life. Her performance on the mat is inspiring; she battles each meet with a discipline and determination that only a champion could. She seeks the state title come Feb. 23, and has the experience to aim so high. She is Grace Miller.
“I started club wrestling when I was in elementary school, because my brother was doing it and my dad was coaching,” said Grace. “It didn’t get serious until I got to high school and started wrestling other girls rather than guys. At that point, I wanted to do better and win all the time.”
Lucky for Grace, she did just that. From her freshman year on, Grace began to dominate in her weight divisions, climbing the state rankings by piling victories one after another. She boasts an incredible 116-19 career record as of this article’s publication, with her senior season near perfect at 38-1. Grace won the district championship meet two weeks prior, a victory that ensures her qualification for the state meet. She’s familiar with the state meet, having qualified the past three years and finished second each time. There’s a new sense to Grace this year, however: An aura of hardened will that won’t be denied.
“Being state champion is what I’m determined to be this year,” said Grace. “Each year I’ve wanted it, but this year I think it’s something I can achieve. I’m not changing anything, just going to the practices and giving it 120 percent every day, like we talk about. I want to be the best I can be at state.”
The 2018-2019 season is the first season Hood River Valley High School’s Girls Wrestling team was recognized as an official sponsored sport by OSAA, though they have been able to compete for years prior to that.
Grace has vast experience in wrestling beyond high school, including traveling across borders, like she did when wrestling in Canada. The sport has become a part of her, ingrained its discipline into different aspects of her life; wrestling has changed Grace for the better.
“I think wrestling has helped shape her into who she is today,” said Lynn Miller, a wrestling coach at HRVHS and Grace’s father. “I don’t make her do her homework or study for tests or get up early in the morning — she’s self-motivated. Her drive to want to do better, I think wrestling has taught her that.”
Grace and Lynn have a relationship many athletes can relate to: The parent-coach and child-athlete relationship. It can be a fine line to walk for both parties; how to balance being a stern coach that offers constructive criticism to their athletes while also not focusing on your own child, and being able to communicate with the coach without feeling like you’re talking back to your parent. For some, this situation can sour the original relationship, ending in the athlete quitting the sport or the parent giving up coaching. It can also have the opposite effect, where both athlete and coach, child and parent, embrace the unique experience they share and become closer because of it. Grace and Lynn fall into the latter, for the most part.
“I think we have a better relationship thanks to wrestling since we can bond over it,” said Grace. “There are challenges though, sometimes in practice I’ll get bothered by him and want my space, but he’s my coach and I can’t just push him away.”
“For me, a challenge is that wrestling is a hard sport,” said Lynn. “It’s grueling and it will push you. There are times where Grace will be ready to quit, but she comes back the next day ready for more. I think going through those times together has made us close; we’re pretty tight.”
With her dad by her side, teammates at her back and years of victories under her belt, it seems nothing can stop Grace Miller this year. She’ll face the best wrestlers at state, girls who rival her career record, who have wrestled their entire lives. There will be no giveaways to be had, not that Grace is expecting any. She’s quite confident, as are those around her.
“Grace sets goals and puts in the work to accomplish them,” said Trent Kroll, Eagles wrestling coach and athletic director at HRVHS. “I know she will give 120 percent in each match.”
“I think this year she’s more focused,” said Lynn. “She does not want to lose. You need to have a mindset, and that’s all hers is.”
Beyond the state meet, however, lies uncertainty. Grace approaches her graduation in the spring, and like any senior has given thought to college. While she has yet to decide what path best suites her, she is sure of one thing: wrestling will remain a part of her.
“I’m definitely thinking about wrestling in college,” said Grace. “I haven’t decided yet what path is right for me, but I know I want to coach later in life. I’ll stay involved in wrestling when I’m older.”
For now, state is all that looms before Grace. All the rest of her life finds its way to the backburner; this is the peak of her wrestling career, all that her athletic endeavors have led to. Thousands of hours of reps, sets, practice, matches and reflection, all to reach this point.
With her simple mindset and the fierce determination that courses through her veins, Grace will enter the state meet ready to ascend to victory.