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LaGrange wrestler making history

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was a history-making wrestling season for LaGrange High’s Gabriela Martinez.

Martinez enjoyed a memorable freshman campaign that included an individual victory in the county championship and ended with an appearance in the Class AAAA state sectional.

Martinez, who wrestled at the 106-pound weight class, became the first female wrestler from Troup County to participate in the state sectional, much to the delight of her mother and number one fan, Bianca Martinez.

“She’s a trailblazer,” Bianca Martinez said. “That kind of embarrasses her. She doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, but she is. She has made history for this school, history for this county, and for wrestling. It’s a big deal because she is female, and she is Latino. So to do the things she does, we’re proud of her.”

Gabriela Martinez, who also participates in cross country and soccer at LaGrange High, was a student at Gardner Newman Middle School when she was recruited by coach Aaron Woody to join the wrestling team.

“They said if you want to wrestle sign up, so I thought I’d try it,” said Martinez, whose older brother Julian Santiago is a senior wrestler at LaGrange High.

Most of Martinez’s matches over the years have been against males, and that was the case when she walked onto the mat as a competitor for the first time.

“I was really nervous, but once you start wrestling, you can’t think about it,” she said. “You just start doing it.”

Bianca Martinez was 100 percent supportive of her daughter’s decision to participate in a male-dominated sport.

“Honestly, it didn’t bother me,” she said. “I was always proud of her since day one. My dad on the other hand, he doesn’t like it. It makes him very nervous, even after her doing it for four years. She has an aunt that can’t even watch. She doesn’t even like watching the guys do it. She cheers for afar. I’m a mom of three boys and a baby girl. She has three older brothers who helped toughen her up. I’m not worried. I’m always proud of anything she goes after.”

Gabriela Martinez excelled in middle school, and she made the transition to high-school wrestling for the 2019-2020 season.

Martinez got plenty of opportunities to compete during the season, and one of her top moments came in the county championship when she earned a victory during a hard-fought match against an opponent from Callaway High.

Martinez’s win helped her team beat Callaway 41-40, and LaGrange also outlasted Troup 43-30 to secure the county title.

Martinez later qualified for the state sectional where she faced off with some of the top female wrestlers in the state and finished sixth.

“It was really fun being a part of high-school wrestling,” Martinez said.

When a new season rolls around, Gabriela Martinez and her brother Julian Santiago will be teammates once again.

Julian Santiago was a fixture in the lineup last season, and he’ll no doubt be a key figure for the team during his senior season while also providing support for his younger sister.

“Julian, he’s helped me a lot,” Martinez said.

Another one of her brothers, Diego Martinez, also wrestled at LaGrange High before graduating two years ago. Ramon Martinez, Diego’s twin brother, gave wrestling a try but found it wasn’t for him.

One valuable lesson Gabriela Martinez has learned over the years is the importance of entering a match with a focused mind, and to not let outside distractions impact her performance on the mat.

The mental aspect of wrestling, Martinez said is “easily as important as the physical part. Your brain has to be ready for a meet, and even in practice. You have to have everything out of your mind, and just focus. You can’t think about what you’re going to do, because you don’t know what the other person is going to do. Your brain has to be clear so you can react.”

The 2020-2021 school year will be another busy one for Martinez who will once again compete in three sports, including wrestling.

Martinez’s hope is to encourage other girls at LaGrange High to try their hand at wrestling, just as she did five years ago.

“They’re afraid to try, but they don’t know (if they’ll like it) unless they do try,” she said.

GABRIELA MARTINEZ FACTS

WHO: Sophomore wrestler at LaGrange High who qualified for the Class AAAA state sectional as a freshman

FAMILY: Mother (Bianca); father (Ever); brothers (Julian, Diego and Ramon)

OTHER SPORTS: Cross Country and soccer

ACTIVITIES: Involved in FFA, Service Club, Foreign Language Club and Student Council