Whitney Bonin, a 37-year-old mother of three, wasn’t really a wrestler a year ago when she entered the Alaska USA Wrestling Championships.
She had thoughts of an easy path to grappling glory.
She wound up bruised, battered and beaten.
“My expectation was I would enter, I would weigh in, and I was going to be the only one in my weight class and I was going to be a state champion,” Bonin said.
When the brackets came out, she got a surprise. She wasn’t alone in her weight class. Also entered was Shelby Ottum, a nationally ranked wrestler and member of the powerhouse South High team — the same team Bonin’s son, Ethan, wrestles for.
“He said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re wrestling my teammate and you’re just going to look so silly out there,’ ’’ Bonin said. “She did win, and she was extremely gracious about it. ... I was bruised from head to toe, but I walked away.”
And she came back.
This year, Bonin was among 34 women who, after months of practice and coaching, entered this weekend’s freestyle state tournament at Wasilla’s Menard Center.
They competed in the Alaska Moms on the Mat division, a newly created division that is exactly what it says it is. Alaska moms, on wrestling mats.
One of them is Joy Glynn of Palmer, who had to take instruction from her son and cope with stiff and sore muscles to become a wrestler at age 50.
Glynn has been around the sport for years as a scoring official, and in the last couple of years she has seen a handful of women enter exhibition and open-division matches. At last year’s state meet she decided it would be cool if a bunch of moms became wrestlers in time for this year’s meet.
She shared her idea with Khristy Parker, who also has a son who is a wrestler, and soon they had a Facebook page and a name — Alaska Moms on the Mat (AMOM for short).
Almost immediately they took on a cause — raising money to help send Alaska girls to the USA Wrestling national championships. If along the way they can inspire a few girls to give wrestling a try, all the better.
“Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest-growing college sports,” Parker said. “That’s a huge opportunity for our girls in Alaska. It opens up a lot of doors for them.
“Our hope is to inspire a few more girls to get out there and give it a shot so it will be more of a norm — you’re a wrestler, period. Not ‘You’re a girl wrestler.’ We hope to get there some day. Alaska I think is a little ahead of that curve because we have had established girls high school wrestling for a few years now. Some other states have just added it. So we’re kind of ahead of the curve there, it’s just that it’s very expensive to compete up here in any sport. When you’re trying to get Outside to compete and test yourself, it gets expensive. We’re trying to help ameliorate some of the cost.”
Between the women’s entry fees, a split-the-pot raffle and merchandise sales, AMOM hoped to raise $5,000 at the three-day state tournament in Wasilla. The group’s colorful logo is splashed on hoodies, T-shirts, socks and competitive gear — both singlets and two-piece uniforms.
“We knew all of the moms would not be willing to put a singlet on,” Glynn said of the two-piece uniforms. “That tends to be a limiting factor for girls and for adults.”
Like most of the AMOM competitors, Glynn and Bonin spent the last two months practicing. Glynn worked out two hours a night three times a week with the Mid-Valley Wolves in the Valley, and Bonin worked out with a team of nine moms at Anchorage’s Avalanche Wrestling Association — a group that lost more than 100 pounds during that time, said Bonin, who went from 154 pounds to 136.
Glynn, who wrestled at 149.9 pounds, has lost 25 to 30 pounds, an effort that began right before Christmas and accelerated once practice began.
Her coaches include her son, Jeffrey, a 2018 Palmer High graduate who claimed third place at 180 pounds as a senior at the state high school championships.
The first thing Jeffrey told his mother to do was the duck walk, a move that involves squatting until one knee is on the ground, then sweeping the back leg to the front until you are on that knee, and repeating the motion as you move closer and closer to your opponent.
Duck walking requires balance and agility, and although Glynn had seen her son and others perform it a thousand times, she quickly learned that seeing isn’t doing.
“The first practice, by the end I could do it without falling over,” she said. “The next practice I could do it a little further. And you know how we tell our kids to listen to your coach? Well, it really did help.”
Now Glynn knows how to duck walk, how to hand fight, how to execute single-leg and double-leg takedowns and more.
Along the way, she has developed an entirely new appreciation of the sport and the work it entails.
“I told my son, I’ve seen you wrestling since you were in third grade and I’ve seen these moves. I can help little kids do these moves. But it is totally different when you are doing them yourself,” Glynn said.
“I swear the mat is further away from me than it is for anyone else. Just to kneel down — oh my gosh, how do you all do this? I feel challenged.”
Bonin considers herself athletic and has spent plenty of time churning out miles on a treadmill. None of her previous activities prepared her for the mat, though. She discovered the only way to get in shape for wrestling was to actually wrestle.
“It’s just a different sort of athletic activity,” Bonin said. “You’ve got someone there who’s always fighting against what you’re doing. It’s like running with sand bags attached to your ankles.”
For many of the AMOM competitors, wrestling wasn’t an option when they were youngsters. Bonin and Glynn both said they would have loved a chance to wrestle as kids.
“All in all, it is unlike anything else I’ve ever done, and I grew up playing all sports,” Glynn said. “If only 40 years ago I could have done this.”