BY WIL CREWS
Opelika High School’s female wrestling program hasn’t been around for long, but one of its pupils is shaking up the sport that has long been associated with men.
Heidi Peralta, a 16-year-old sophomore at OHS, has only been wrestling for three years.
“I got interested in wrestling because I heard it was the same as jiu-jitsu, and I was already doing jiu-jitsu before,” she said.
But on Feb. 4 in Thompson, Alabama, she captured the AAU Alabama Youth Wrestling Organization (AYWO) State Championship.
“I won by points,” she said. “I didn’t know I had won it until they were calling out for the awards.”
Peralta wrestled in the 113-pound division, but due to the limited number of female participants, she wrestled girls weighing up to 130 pounds at the state meet.
“They were tougher because in my weight class, it ranged all the way to 130, so I had to wrestle bigger girls than me,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous, but I guess I was excited just about getting to wrestle.”
Peralta had to win two matches to advance to the championship round of the tournament. In her time between matches, Peralta said she scouted her opponents to try and gain a competitive advantage.
“I was watching the match before to see what [my opponent in the championship] did on bottom or on top,” she said.
For her achievements, Peralta earned a special lunchtime announcement at school last week. While she knows the significance of her accomplishment, the quiet-natured high schooler said she didn’t love the extra attention.
“No, [I didn’t like it],” she said. “Not fun.”
While Peralta often dominates on the mat, off it she is just another everyday girl, according to Opelika High School head wrestling coach Tucker Brown.
“Heidi is very quiet and nice and just your everyday girl that you wouldn’t think would be aggressive and dominant on a wrestling mat,” he said.
When she is competing, however, Peralta quite literally gets her game face on.
“As soon as she hits the mat … she wears glasses all day long; … as soon as she takes those glasses off, she will go out there and it’s a different Heidi,” Brown said. “That’s when it gets serious.”
Brown, in his first year as head coach at OHS, said it has been a pleasure watching and coaching Peralta this year. Additionally, he said it’s impressive just how much she has kept up with boys who train alongside her.
“They practice the same as the boys do,” Brown said. “She was held just as accountable as they were, and I had the same expectations for her to keep up.”
Peralta was also recognized with the Governor’s Award for Excellence at the state meet Feb. 4. Brown said when describing Peralta that one trait in particular separates her from her counterparts.
“Grit,” he said. “She just has that fight in her, and at the end of the day, when it comes down to who is going to win in those six minutes of a match, she is going to be the one who is going to take it all because she wants it more than the other girl.”
The sport of female wrestling is still growing at the high school level in Alabama, with about 300 girls competing in AHSAA this past season. Peralta, who said her favorite part of wrestling is her “teammates,” is doing her part to help inspire other girls to get involved and help grow the sport in her home state.
“I have heard other girls come up to me and ask if they can join wrestling,” she said.