Latisha Alo likes to grapple.
“I just think it’s a lot of fun,” the 11-year-old Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School student said.
Alo wrestles with the Westside Wrestling Club four times a week and the Kauai Police Activities club twice a week. She had been wrestling with Westside for two years and added KPAL to the mix last year.
“My mom said there were more guys who wrestle with KPAL so I could practice more with them,” Alo said. “It doesn’t matter if I wrestle boys or girls. To me, it’s the same.”
Next week, she and her two nieces, Teshya, 9, and Teniya, 8, from O‘ahu, will be competing in the all-woman Body Bar Competition in Colorado Springs, Colo. It’s a national competition for girls in third grade through the collegiate level.
Her Westside wrestling coach Ray “Mack” Piggott said he chose this tournament for her because it will help her develop in the sport.
“I believe if she sticks with it, she has an opportunity to excel in it,” Piggott said.
There are three types of wrestling: free-style, Greco-Roman and American Folkstyle. Because Alo wrestles for Westside and KPAL, she can do all three.
“I’ve been around youth wrestling for a long time and what’s really amazing about Tisha is her adaptability to be taught wrestling,” Piggott said. “She really understands what you teach. She understands the three different styles better than a lot of adults I know.”
Alo does American Folkstyle with KPAL, and at a recent USA wrestling sanctioned tournament on O‘ahu, she wrestled free-style.
“Some people have trouble with the two styles because the rules are different so your strategies are different,” Piggott said.
“It’s amazing how an 11-year-old child does so well at the different styles.”
Alo made her debut with KPAL at the opening night last week.
“She did so well that night,” said her mother, Tina. “She wrestled against this guy from Washington and after the match he said she was the best wrestler he’s ever gone against. Even his coach said she was good.”
That could be due to the fact that, in addition to the two clubs she wrestles for, Alo has been taking private fitness classes from Jack Leonard of the Kauai Gymnastic Academy.
She’d been working on her strength and flexibility, which Leonard said works to Alo’s advantage.
“When you’re more flexible, you could get out of holds better and it’s harder for another athlete to pin you down,” said Leonard, who has been working with Alo since January. “She’s improved greatly. For some of the joint strength exercises, before she couldn’t do any. Now she’s doing 10 sets or more.”
Leonard also said now that Alo has the skills she learned from the clubs and the flexibility and strength she learned from extra training, she is becoming a whole new kind of wrestler.
“She’s starting to be more of an offensive player now instead of a defensive one,” Leonard said.
“Being a girl, everyone has the perception that she can’t compete. But she’s getting respect.”
Leonard decided to give her a wrestling nickname.
“You know how those wrestlers all have some kind of show name?” he said. “She needed an athletic name so I came up with the “Ponytail Fury.” She’s always got her hair pulled back in this long, thick ponytail and she’s very deceiving and quiet in her talents and strengths. So I thought that was best.”
Alo’s portion of the Body Bar Competition is one day, but the tournament itself last several days.
Alo sounds off on:
Wrestler diets: “I don’t diet. I like fruits and vegetables.”
Her favorite snack: “I like Powerbars. They give me lots of energy.”
Favorite wrestler: “Brandon Slay. He came here one time and taught us some moves like shooting and double-leg and single-leg.” (Slay won the gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.)
On her siblings: “I have two brothers and three sisters. I wrestle my younger brother. Mostly I beat him.”
Her most memorable match so far: “I was at a tournament at Farrington High School on O‘ahu. I won one match and lost one. The one I lost was to this girl who was a judo champion. She was really good. I was almost close to beating her.”