Sydnee Kimber is no stranger to reaching the top of a podium.
The Sitka-born-and-raised standout wrestler has dominated the sport for nearly decade, capturing eight titles in the last nine years since her freshman year at Mt. Edgecumbe high school in 2014.
She capped off a stellar collegiate career on March 4 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by capturing her fourth straight national title at 191 pounds for McKendree University (Illinois).
“Obviously it was a big accomplishment,” Kimber said. “I’m one of five or six women to do it, so to have my name up with those other very accomplished college athletes is pretty nice.”
She won four straight Alaska state high school titles at three different weight classes from 2014 to 2017, including going undefeated all four years and being named Most Outstanding Girls Wrestler as a sophomore and senior.
Her final prep season was the first year ASAA began awarding team titles for girls wrestling at the state tournament, and Kimber was able to help all of her teammates become champions. The Braves finished first by a wide margin with 193 points. North Pole was the next closest team with 78 points.
After having her championship streak snapped as a college freshman, she started another as a sophomore and would finish her illustrious college career with 103 wins and just five losses, all but one of which came in her first year.
“Excellence is something that I’ve always strived for myself,” Kimber said. “My parents and all my head coaches who pushed me knew that I was good at wrestling and willing to put in the work to keep myself at a high level.”
Fortunately for her, the year the COVID-19 pandemic caused the world to come to a standstill, the NCAA women’s national tournament was held and concluded the week before almost everything everywhere was shut down. It also allowed an extra season for her to wrestle, giving her a chance for four straight titles despite the hiccup as a freshman.
Wrestling is a casual sport for some and taken seriously by others. But for Kimber, it’s a way of life that she’s been committed to for the vast majority of her life.
“I don’t call it a sport. I call it more of a lifestyle,” she said. “You have to dedicate everything you got to it. You can’t just be half in and half out. It’s paid off being able to win state four times in Alaska and then come to college and do it too.”
She remembers first hitting the mat at the age of three and hasn’t stopped ever since. Her dad, Michael Kimber, was a high school coach so she was a regular at his practices.
“He got me into it and put me into the little kids clubs,” she said.
While her father ignited the spark, it was her own relentless pursuit of greatness that fanned the flames of the forge that would produce one of the most accomplished athletes in state history.
“Wrestling keeps me sane,” Kimber said. “I’ll go a little crazy if I don’t get to on a wrestling mat and beat people up for a little bit.”
Even though she essentially grew up on wrestling mats, Kimber said that she didn’t have many female role models to look up to in the sport during that time. That’s a big reason why she takes tremendous pride in providing that example for the younger generation of female wrestlers.
“That’s a big part of what I do,” she said. “Growing up women’s wrestling wasn’t very big ... It is very cool knowing that especially from Alaska that those little girls can actually make it in the states. You don’t have to be stuck in Alaska forever.”
One Alaskan girls wrestler whose career accomplishments are comparable to her own is Soldotna’s Michaela Hutchison, who won three national titles at Oklahoma City University from 2009-2012. Hutchison became the first girl to win a high school state title in a boys tournament in 2006 and still has the most all-time wins for an Alaskan wrestler at 142.
Kimber enjoys giving back to the youth female wrestling community whenever possible. She came up to watch a little bit of this past winter’s state tournament and gave out some college recruitment information and advice to aspiring college student-athletes.
Gold medal goals and Olympic aspirations
Even when her school-sanctioned seasons end, Kimber never stops grinding on the mat or competing on the national circuit.
“Everyone always asks me at school ‘So your season is done?,’ and I’m like ‘Nope the season is just getting started,’” she said.
The 22-year-old graduate student intends to stay on as an assistant coach at McKendree as she prepares for the Olympic Trials that are set to take place next spring for a chance to represent Team USA at the 2024 Olympics in Paris next summer.
“Olympics are on the table for next year,” Kimber said. “Olympics and world teams are obviously always a goal.”
In two weeks, she will be competing for the U23 world team trials in Spokane, Washington, and a few weeks after that she’ll be competing in the U.S. Open for a spot on the world team as well.
As far as her plans for life after wrestling, she earned her undergraduate degree in exercise science and is currently working on her master of science in athletic training.