The night before her first match at the 16U Nationals on Sunday in Fargo, N.D., Valarie Solorio was feeling somewhat overwhelmed with anxiety.
Having already cut 8 pounds from her normal walk-around weight of 103 pounds, she still needed to shed one more pound in order to make the 94-pound weight limit.
Solorio, a rising sophomore wrestler at Mosley, had spent the previous day-and-a-half depriving herself of all food and water while spending copious amounts of time in a sauna trying to sweat off more weight.
She even filled up four bottles with spit, the rationale being that one bottle of water is 16 ounces so every bottle filled with spit accounts for one more pound lost. Solorio even went so far as to cut four inches of her hair to try get that much closer to 94 pounds.
Still a pound shy of making weight, Solorio called her father for support.
"I sat on the phone with him for an hour just crying like, 'dad, I don't think I can do this,'" she said. "I was so nervous I was not gonna make weight and I'd have to compete in the 100-pound division and would be even smaller than normal since I'd already cut so much weight."
The decision to have Solorio, who won a district title in the 106-pound division wrestling against boys for Arnold as a freshman, to compete at 94 pounds in Fargo was made to maximize her chances of winning instead of facing girls who cut more weight to get to 100 pounds than she does.
Solorio ultimately agreed with the decision, though she was never quite so unsure of the choice as she was when she was trying to cut that last pound.
"My dad was like, 'you really don't have to do it, but if you can make this weight class you've got a really good shot at winning it,'" she said. "I was like 'I'll do it, I'll just figure it out somehow.'"
The solution ended up being Vaseline, which Solorio rubbed over her body before sitting in the sauna again and wiping the sweat with a credit card to ensure it was expelled from her body.
"I did that until I almost passed out," Solorio said.
Ultimately she made the weight, and approximately 12 hours later she stepped onto the mat for her first match at the country's most prestigious amateur wrestling event, where future Division I champions and Olympic medalists have triumphed before going on to greater glory and fame.
Solorio said she didn't feel physically compromised by the weight cut, though she wasn't exactly a picture of comfort either.
"I was so nervous. I felt like I was going to poop my pants," she said. "I was just trying to calm my nerves. I don't wrestle as well when I'm nervous, so you just have to push everything to the back of your head and think clearly. That's always the hardest part for me."
Her performance certainly didn't portray a wrestler who was unsure of herself, as Solorio took a dominant 10-0 technical fall victory. Her next two wins came over decorated junior wrestlers, a Pan American games champion and a state champion, to advance to the final.
In her last match, with a national championship on the line, Solorio fell behind 2-0 when her opponent scored an early takedown in the first period. Solorio answered with a takedown of her own to level the match. She then stuffed a second takedown attempt and took her opponent's back to claim the lead, ultimately going on to take a 6-3 win.
It was a great display of composure and poise after falling behind early, though Solorio said she felt far from serene in the moment.
"There was no sort of calm. I am not in any kind of calm when that happens," she said. "I was like, 'oh my God, she could be the one to beat me.' I just quickly have to shake that off and in my head, what I like to tell myself is, 'you are Valarie Solorio, you are Valarie Solorio.' She scored the first two points, OK, so you just have to go score the next eight."
It wasn't eight in a row, but six out of the last seven points was enough to make Solorio a national champion, the first time any wrestler from Bay County has ever won at Fargo. The significance certainly wasn't lost on Solorio in the immediate aftermath.
"I just jumped up and started crying like 'oh my God, I actually did it,'" she said. "I can't believe I did it and I was just crying. I couldn't stop crying for like 30 minutes. I was walking around doing interviews and talking to coaches while bawling my eyes out. I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. It didn't even feel real for about a day."
On her return to Bay County she was received by her friends and teammates at the Gulf Coast Grappling Academy, where she trains with her coaches Wesley Lumpkin and Calvin Williams, as something of a conquering hero.
Solorio said getting to share her victory with the coaches who trained her and the teammates who helped sharpen her skills was a special feeling.
"I love that gym with a passion. It's like my second home," she said. "I'm literally there more than I am at home. I see my coaches and teammates more than my own family. Everyone in that gym is like a perfectly-bonded family member to me. They're like my brothers and sisters. My wrestling partners know me better than almost anybody.
"To come home to my wrestling family and have them celebrate me was really amazing. I loved it. I love that I have a team as close as I do that will do stuff like that for me. I really hope everyone who does their sport and succeeds has people who love and support them as much as they love and support me. It's the best feeling in the entire world."
Solorio spends most of her evenings in the gym, coaching a 14U wrestling class at 5 p.m. before training in jiu-jitsu at 6 p.m. and wrestling at 7 p.m., then going home and watching film of herself to critique her performance and of other wrestlers in her division to scout potential opponents.
It's a major time and energy commitment, though Solorio said that's what it takes to be great in the sport of wrestling. Besides that, there's simply no place she'd rather be than on a wrestling mat.
"For me it's my safe space," Solorio said. "It's a way for me to get away from everyone and everything around me in the world," she said. "Everything goes away when I'm wrestling. It's my escape. I love doing it because if I'm having an awful day wrestling does not care. At the end of the day it's still the same shot, the same sprawl, the same headlock, the same everything.
"What I really love about the sport is it's just me and one other person there. It's not me and a team. I can't blame my loss on the quarterback not making the right pass or the receiver not catching the ball. It's just me, so if I lose it's only because I didn't work hard enough or didn't do this correctly or that correctly or maybe the other person put in more work than I did. That's why I love one-on-one sports like wrestling, when you lose you only have yourself to blame."
Next year Solorio hopes to return from Fargo with an even bigger prize to celebrate: a junior division (18U) championship in the 100-pound division. She went 1-2 this year in the junior division, an understandable result given the weight cut to get to 94 pounds as well as the competition being older, more experienced wrestlers.
Solorio, who is 5-foot-1, said the plan is to spend the next year adding strength and bulk to better be able to compete in Fargo against girls who walk around at 115-120 pounds before cutting to 100.
Given her success in her first trip to Fargo, there's no reason to think that Solorio can't add a junior title to her collection in the future. Between now and then, she said she hopes to win a state championship – the FHSAA will sanction girls wrestling next season for the first time – and another national victory at the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, N.C.
"I want to challenge the best and see how I stack up," Solorio said. "I feel that if I do all the work and train the way I need to train there's no reason I shouldn't win a state championship. Honestly, I don't believe anything is impossible as long as I train and work the way I know how to do and wrestle the way I know how to wrestle. I think anything is possible."
Solorio doesn't stop at state and junior competitions when discussing her wrestling ambitions. The vision extends far beyond, to Division I championships and ultimately, the Olympic Games.
"I do dream that big and hopefully I can make all my dreams come true," she said. "I hope to be an Olympic qualifier and an Olympic champion one day. I hope to be a college national champion one day. But right now my goal is primarily to get to wrestle for the college of my choice."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Valarie Solorio 'dreaming big' after historic Fargo victory