5x National Women's Team Wrestler Opens Up about Body Image & Being an Athlete

Posted: Sep 07 2017

Hey SparkFire Girls,

It's Katherine Shai here again, with Part 1 of my three part story on the SparkFire Ignitor blog sharing my personal story about the body image challenges I worked through in my early years as a high school athlete starting in the sport of wrestling; the learnings I gained of how every body is designed for unique power, strength and ability; and the confidence I developed when I realized & embraced my true strengths (not really weaknesses at all!). As a female athlete who loves her sport, her body and her self, I hope this honest insight into my journey to embrace it all. Here we go....

Beauty is in Eye of the Beholder quote by Salma Hayak

I have always admired the strong, muscular, athletic body types of women -- women who look tough and powerful. These are women we may traditionally label as 'athletes.'

My mom's favorite game to play with strangers is "guess what sport my daughter does". They never seem to guess correctly. I used to be frustrated by that. I used to be frustrated by the reaction of "you don’t look like a wrestler... at all!" Today, I use these responses as a brilliant opportunity to educate others on the amazing diversity of females in sport -- specifically females in a combat sport.  

When I was in 6th grade, I was told there was a 'problem' if a girl’s calves were the same size as her thighs. I didn't even know that was something to acknowledge let alone ponder. I had girls in my gym class asking me if I was anorexic. I was shocked. I am a cross-country runner and a WRESTLER! Don't I look like an athlete? Strong? Powerful? I realized I had been typecast as not just the skinny girl, but the girl who was 'too skinny'.  

Wrestle Like A Girl empowerment for young female athletes

We become very aware of our body types at a young age. Typically, our peers revel in pointing out differences in each other. I loved that I had a very different sport path than your average female middle schooler. My family has been involved with wrestling my whole life. My father was a wrestler in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. My mother has been a huge women’s wrestling advocate, and my sister competed from 9 years old into her late 20s. There was a reoccurring trend relating to how I felt about my body - I didn't look (or fit the part) of an athlete. 

I took it on myself to try and make changes. I would do pushups, forearm curls, and sit ups in my room before bed. I also begged the powers that be for body changes. Needless to say, crying and pleading didn’t do much. I saw changes and I got stronger. But I did nothing that would make significant changes to a young girl’s body like puberty can. That was quite far off into the future for me, and it certainly did not look like the same puberty that affected my female peers.  

I knew my goals where much greater than I let on. They were much greater than the typical image of a female athlete. I had amazing support that continued to ground me. When the tears came, I hid my worry about how I would look to my peers in a wrestling uniform telling them “I’m just nervous.”

This was just the beginning of a very long and arduous journey towards self-discovery and accepting my body type.  Join me here again on the blog next week as I share more about the journey, including how I started to see that every body is designed for unique power, strength and gifted ability.

SparkFire Active body positive girls running on beach

Be The Spark!

Katherine Shai

5x National Wrestling Team Member, U.S. Olympic Alternate, Founder of LuchaFIT and Board Member at Wrestle Like A Girl

Katherine Shai Olympic Women's Wrestler of LuchaFITLuchaFIT logo female athlete empowerment


  • Posted by Patricia on September 09, 2017

    You continue to amaze me with your many talents! In this forum – you will touch SO many!!! So proud of you!

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