By Cortez Cruz Serrato
Often looked at as a masculine sport, Mariaelena Hernandez and Adriana Rojas are both taking wrestling at the college level head-on.
Hernandez is the team’s go-to wrestler in the 125 and 133 weight class while Rojas is competing for more mat time as the season progresses.
Rojas,18, and Hernandez,19, are members of the East Los Angeles College wrestling team. Hernandez is entering her second year with the team while Rojas in entering her first year.
Even in the beginning stages of their wrestling careers, both Hernandez and Rojas never had much apprehension when it was time to wrestle with a male opponent.
“We don’t think about it when we are out there. Our main thought is just to win. Nothing else,” Hernandez said.
“My main focus is not on who I am wrestling, but my main focus is on what I have to do to my opponent in order to win,” Rojas said.
Both Rojas and Hernandez began wrestling at the varsity level their senior year in high school.
Hernandez, who transferred to Downey High School from Bell High School, excelled during her senior year, reaching the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) finals, placing in the top 10 in her weight class.
Rojas, who attended Montebello High School, did not start wrestling until her senior year. She wrestled minimally in competitive bouts in her high school wrestling career.
She took a year off after high school and is now entering her first year as a student and wrestler at ELAC.
ELAC wrestlers Hernandez and Rojas have always stood-out on their wrestling teams.
Both are the only females on their male-dominated high school wrestling teams.
Since the CIF does not have female high school wrestling teams, both had no choice but to compete against the boys if they wanted to wrestle competitively.
Even though Hernandez and Rojas never put much thought in the gender of their opponents both know that their male opponents have a difficult time facing them on the mat.
“The guys who face us have a tough time with it. They don’t want to be the guy who beats up on a girl or on the other hand be the guy who gets beat by a girl,” Rojas said.
Hernandez and Rojas’ main goal since they became involved in wrestling was to do whatever their team needed in order to be successful.
Hernandez even went as far as cutting her hair to prove to her high school coach that she was serious about being on the team.
“The coach told me to cut my hair as a (joke) but I took it seriously because I wanted to show how much being on the team meant to me. From then on my head coach treated me like one of the guys,” Hernandez said.
Rojas had to go through slightly less measures than Hernandez to earn her spot with the guys on her high school team but after she was accepted she was embraced by her teammates and encouraged to reach her full potential.
“I had known the guys on the team when I joined and I enjoyed the fact my teammates would give me pointers and treat me like one of the guys,” Rojas said.
Most people, including Hernandez and Rojas could not understand why they became so consumed and obsessed with wrestling and why they would want to compete in such a physical sport with mostly male competitors.
“I think a lot of people think we’re crazy for wrestling out here with the guys, but it’s so much fun. It is such a great sport and you learn so much from the sport,” Rojas said.
Hernandez and Rojas both credit wrestling in helping them make strides in their personal lives.
“Wrestling has changed me completely. I stopped running with the wrong crowd and began to focus on something positive. It made me a better person and a better daughter,” Hernandez said.
“Wrestling has taught me so much respect and discipline. It has showed me how far hard work and dedication can get you. I now know that if I push myself hard enough I could do anything that I want to do,” Rojas said.
Both wrestlers have also formed a special friendship between them.
They take every opportunity to learn from one another and push each other and help motivate each other when things do not go their way on the mat.
“I joined the team after taking one year off after high school. One of the main reasons I joined is because I heard that the ELAC team had a girl (Hernandez)…We ended up becoming very close friends,” Rojas said.
“All we want to do is help each other out in any way possible and see each other do well,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez and Rojas will both be wrestling at this weekend’s Bakersfield Duals in Bakersfield.