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by Kelly Kusumoto 18 May 2020

“You can’t teach heart.”

My coach used to say this a lot, and it’s among some of my favorite quotes. It essentially means that you can’t teach someone to love or desire something. Desire is something that can only come from within.

If you happen to have a lot of passion for something, let’s say in this case it’s wrestling, it is difficult to imagine someone not enjoying that thing. Your whole life circles around this sport. You stay in shape, you diet, you practice, sacrifice your social life, and whatever else it might take just so you can win. Becoming a champion… that’s the dream right? And at the highest level you want to become an Olympic champion.

I was introduced to the sport in my teens. Even when I became more involved in wrestling I was reluctant to compete, but I did it because that was a requirement for being on the team. If I wanted to stay and learn how to wrestle I had to go to tournaments. So I did, and I did ok. But the competition aspect of wrestling wasn’t what I fell in love in.

By the end of my senior year in 2008 I was a State Champion for High School Girls’ Wrestling at 132lbs. My coach was ecstatic. He really saw me going places. They had just allowed women’s wrestling into the Olympics in 2004 and my coach could see me making it to that level. I was happy that he praised me as much as he did during that time, but going to the Olympics was something that really hadn’t even crossed my mind.

I entertained the idea a little bit and decided it might be worth trying. After high school I went to Kentucky to wrestle at University of the Cumberlands. At the time it was said to have the best program for women’s wrestling. But to make a long story short, it wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel that the program was meeting my needs and I was extremely homesick for California. I was the first person on that team to quit. I came back home after just one semester with a tail between my legs. I felt lost and guilt-ridden with the fact that I had been unable to meet the expectations of the people around me.

If I could go back and tell that younger version a piece of advice it would be this: you did the right thing. Not everyone cares about being an Olympic champion, and that’s ok. Some people feel called to that goal, but if you don’t feel that calling it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. The training lifestyle wasn’t for me. The coaching didn’t feel right to me. I was destined to do something different, I just didn’t know what it was at the time.

I share this story because it’s not a narrative that gets told very often. When an athlete puts in so much time and energy in becoming the best that they could be, why wouldn’t they want to reach the highest level possible? But I personally believe that the beauty of sports is in what it teaches you about yourself. Not everyone needs to be an Olympian to grow into their full potential.

Don’t get me wrong, deciding to become an Olympic Champion is no easy feat. You will face many obstacles, internal and external. It is a worthy and difficult goal. I pray that the reward you seek is worth the sacrifice. But there is more than one mountain to climb in this adventure called life. It’s ok if you feel called to conquer other goals.

I still love to wrestle and I stay involved in the wrestling community as much as my time allows. I love to coach and watch the next generation of kids grow through the sport. It’s one of the most gratifying things that I do and I am thankful to the students who have allowed me to come into their life as their coach. It is healing for me too because I aim to be the coach that I would have wanted when I was learning to wrestle. And as a coach I would have told my younger self, if you don’t have a desire to go for the Olympics don’t do it. It’s your life. Do what is right for you. 

Kelly Kusumoto

An artist at heart, Kelly is a San Jose based entrepreneur with a passion for wrestling. Starting wrestling as a sophomore, Kelly became a Girls' State Champion her Senior year in 2008. Her love for the sport has led her to create Distant Klash, an apparel brand to represent wrestling with fun comic-inspired visuals. Today Kelly is a one-on-one coach and is constantly creating new artwork for her fans.

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