Madison Huemmer played all kinds of sports growing up, but it wasn’t until she reached high school that she discovered her true passion - on the wrestling mat.
Huemmer, a senior at La Jolla High School, is one of the area’s few female competitors in the traditionally male sport of wrestling, and she is also one of the best in the nation. Last month, she competed in the USA Wrestling Girls Folkstyle National Championships in Okalahoma City and placed eighth among 14 wrestlers in the 146-pound weight class.
By placing in the top eight in her class, Huemmer earned the title of All-American.
“The competition is so much better at the national level,” Huemmer said. “It was really tough, but it was a lot of fun, too.”
Placing at nationals was a big deal for Huemmer, who has wrestled on La Jolla’s boys’ team for four years and has achieved excellent results in girls’ meets outside of that.
Huemmer’s success does not come completely out of nowhere, though. In girls high school meets, she finished first in her weight class at the Ramona Invitational during both her junior and senior seasons, and she won the Oceanside Invitational this season. She placed sixth at the CIF Southern Regionals this winter, and was third at the USA Wrestling state tournament.
Huemmer came to the sport of wrestling in a rather roundabout manner. She had played plenty of other sports growing up - everything from field hockey to basketball - but didn’t find anything that she particularly fell in love with.
She had designs on playing basketball in high school and was even asked to participate in a high-level camp intended to groom varsity players before her freshman year. But basketball proved too genteel for her, and there wasn’t enough opportunity for her to let her aggression out.
A meeting with a vice principal at the school who happened to be involved with the wrestling program steered her toward the mat, and she quickly came to love her new sport.
“I thought maybe I should play a more aggressive sport,” Huemmer said with a laugh. “There was one guy who was nice to me that day, and I thought, ‘Oh, I like this‚ It was really fun, and I got the biggest surprise of my life.’ ”
Huemmer wasn’t immediately accepted, though. She said she showed up to watch practice the first day wearing a long skirt, a dressy shirt and nice shoes, and got some strange looks from her future teammates. Later, during her first week with the team, she remembered some of the male members of the Vikings’ team telling her she couldn’t wear perfume into the wrestling room.
“They had had some female wrestlers come out for the team and quit, and they had another girl who was really good but ended up transferring,” Huemmer recalled. “So it was kind of difficult for them to let me into their manly world, I guess.”
After a short adjustment period, Huemmer began to grow on her teammates and soon after came acceptance. She said a handful of other girls had come out for the wrestling team in years past, and many had quit without even putting in a full season. She said she felt the male wrestlers pegged her for another quitter, and it became her goal to avoid falling into that category. She wanted to make believers out of her teammates and coaches as much as she wanted to believe in herself.
“I liked some parts of wrestling, but it was more of me not wanting to be a quitter,” Huemmer said. “Some people were kind of sexist toward me and didn’t think I should be wrestling, so it was kind of like I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of quitting the team.
“Now, the kids on the team are amazing and so much nicer, and my coaches are totally into it.”
Huemmer became such an integral part of La Jolla’s team over the last four years that she began to recruit other girls to join the team. Some of them have achieved a similar level of success. She said she thinks the road will be easier for those athletes than the one she traveled as the program’s only female wrestler. Huemmer’s immediate plans are to continue competing in freestyle wrestling, and in the fall she will attend UC Santa Cruz, which does not have a women’s wrestling program. Still, she hopes to be an assistant coach or volunteer at a high school in the area and continue to work on her moves with the intention of competing as an individual in regional and national events.
“I’ve played almost every sport imaginable throughout my life, and wrestling is definitely my favorite,” Huemmer said.