Kinora Hayes found an unexpected sense of family through wrestling.
Hayes, a 2021 graduate of Ridgefield High School, was first introduced to wrestling around the age of 6 when she tried “peewee” wrestling with her older sister in their hometown of Kelso.
Although Hayes didn’t continue the following year, her love for the sport continued.
When eighth grade rolled around, she found out her school had a female wrestling team.
“I was lucky that my middle school team had quite a few girls on it,” Hayes said. “I know a lot of middle school girls don’t get that.”
The summer before Hayes’ freshman year, her family moved to Ridgefield which meant new friends and a new wrestling team. This time, there were only three female teammates, roughly half the size of her eighth-grade team.
Hayes would share a mat with the male wrestlers, but those of the same gender would only wrestle each other.
She became a better wrestler because of her teammates, Hayes said.
“There’s just something about almost killing yourself every day with the same people over and over, that it just makes you bond,” she said.
Hayes finished her high school career in what she describes as a “short, weird season.” The Ridgefield Spudders competed in six meets over the course of about a month.
She missed wrestling during the COVID-19 pandemic, so to stay in shape, she started attending private lessons.
In June, Hayes, who is in the 170 pound division, made the second team for the 2A Greater St. Helens League girls wrestling all-league team.
Hayes said she didn’t find gendered stereotypes a setback in the sport, rather she had to overcome the mental challenge posed by losing matches.
“The part that gets me the most is when I feel like I’m going to disappoint my coaches, when they thought I should have done better,” Hayes said.
Even when Hayes lost a match, female wrestlers from other schools would encourage her.
“At the end of the day, you hear about somebody winning their matches and it makes you happy for them,” she said. “You hear about somebody having a tough loss and you comfort them.”
She said her favorite part of being on the wrestling team was playing games during winter break practices.
One game included two teams, one ball made of rope and two goals. The ball couldn’t touch the ground or the other team would get possession of it. Wrestling moves were allowed while tackling was not.
“We would sweat more during the games than we normally do in conditioning,” Hayes said.
Hayes will attend Hiram College in Ohio starting this month to wrestle on the women’s team and study biomedicine.
Hayes thanked her mother who helped her through the college recruiting process and her Spudder coaches Kim Simmons, Sean Shultz, Baylee Wright, Brooklyn Wurm-Wertz and Nate Willams.