Sophomore freestyle wrestler Melissa Apodaca is no stranger to hardship.
Growing up in foster care, Apodaca had to grow up a fighter and has only gotten stronger from there.
In middle school, Apodaca said she played all the sports she could just to stay away from any home situation. She never thought she would pursue wrestling, but her natural talents gave her the confidence to compete.
“I saw wrestling and it was all boys, but I wasn’t afraid of taking a beating from them,” Apodaca said. “So, I went out there and was just naturally pounding on everyone.”
As the first one in her family to graduate from high school, Apodaca did not have very lofty dreams for her future and never saw herself as a potential Olympic athlete.
“I never really thought I would stick with wrestling, or graduate high school for that matter,” Apodaca said.
When she was a junior in high school, Apodaca was adopted and her grades skyrocketed. She continued to excel in wrestling, made Junior Nationals and received an offer to train at the USOEC in Marquette.
“Throughout my whole life, I didn’t fit in anywhere,” Apodaca said. “I walked into the USOEC and I was like, ‘Wow, I kind of fit in here.’ I was doing well against the older girls so I decided to give it a go.”
Coming to NMU and training while getting an education was a big step for Apodaca. College was a world unknown to her, but much like wrestling, she decided to give it a try.
“I thought if I was able to graduate high school then I would try a year at college and here I am with a 4.0 GPA,” Apodaca said. “I really think God used wrestling as a way to get me here.”
This year, Apodaca placed second in the Senior National tournament and through that, has qualified for the Olympic Trials that will take place in April.
“My first goal in life was to pass ninth grade, just to be better than my sisters,” Apodaca said. “My current goal is to use the talents that God has given me to shine through me and be a witness for him to everybody, and to help people who doubt.”
Apodaca said she spends a lot of time with the high school men’s team and helps them with their technique. She is not sure, however what her future holds as far as training goes.
“I might go to Iowa to train under Dan Gable,” Apodaca said.
Apodaca not only wants to use her talents to be a witness to God, but she also wants to use her status as Olympic athlete to promote her cause.
“I started a change ribbon when I was 21 to promote awareness for child abuse,” Apodaca said. “I think me being an Olympian or Olympic champion would really get that ribbon out there and make people more aware about child abuse.”
The change ribbon is a combination of the childhood abuse, rape and poverty ribbons. It’s called “change” because Apodaca was able to change her destiny.
Apodaca said if kids are more aware they, too, can change their destiny.