Rayanna Carlon learns what effort can do
Wahkiakum High School student Rayanna Carlon is the first girl to represent the Mules at the state wrestling tournament. It's been a great year for the senior, who also got to compete with the volleyball team at state and was selected as this year's homecoming queen.
This has been a year of firsts for Rayanna Carlon.
This year, she will be the first person in her family to finish high school. She will be the first person to go to college. She is the first person in her family to make a varsity team and earn academic and athletic scholarships to compete in a college sport.
And now she's the very first girl to represent the Wahkiakum Mules at the state wrestling tournament.
She's doing all of this while working 20 hours a week at Arby's. Right now, she's taking eight classes, including a leadership class which has gotten her involved in planning the Veteran's Assembly, a toy drive, and more.
"I know it's crazy for a senior to want to do all of this," Carlon said, "but I've been breaking boundaries for the past four years when it comes to my family. I've set so many goals and it's not just one and done. I just want to keep on going. I've gained a lot of experience. I know my own limits, and I know what I need to get done and what I need to prioritize over what I may want to do."
Her family has been supportive. They are shocked, but even more importantly, they are pleased. According to Carlon, no one thought she would get this far in wrestling.
Carlon is sharing a lesson with everyone that may be watching. Not with words, but with actions.
"You can do what you set your mind to, if you work hard enough, if you make the effort," she said.
Carlon, who transferred to Wahkiakum High School her sophomore year, made the varsity volleyball team for the first time this fall.
"This was the one year I was vital to the team," she said. "I felt a lot of the stress that the girls had been facing in previous years. I bonded with the team when it came to close, tough games. It was amazing to go to state with a team I had become a part of."
Another highlight: She was Homecoming Queen.
It's been a good year.
Three years ago, Crystal Davis, a steadfast volunteer coach for the Mules wrestling program, campaigned to have a bigger girls team. Carlon was one of several girls she approached and asked to join the team.
"We decided to try it for a year," Carlon said of the group that signed on. "The love of the sport brought me back. It is an individual sport, but the camaraderie you build as a team and as a wrestler is probably the most amazing experience I've had in high school so far. I wouldn't give it up for anything."
If anything, Carlon would have started much sooner.
"If I had known it was this much fun," she said. "If I had known I would fall in love with it."
Last year she made the trip to the state wrestling tournament as an alternate. She got to see the spectacle, but she did not get to taste the fear or the elation. She vowed then to return as a competitor.
So this year, starting in August, she focused on reaching her goal weight. She lost 47 pounds.
"I put in extra hours with Coach Frankie Mendez during winter break," Carlon said. "I did daily doubles. I would work out three hours a day at my own gym, go to work, go to practice, go home and do homework and eat, then hang out with my family. I'd do it all over again the next day. I did that for two weeks of winter break, every day."
She learned that she was capable of much more than she thought possible. Wrestling brought that big lesson home.
"You are the end result of what you do," Carlon said. "Your coaches can give you the tools and push you, but they can't do it for you. It taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. There are no limits for me. It may take weeks, an hour, a month, a year, but it eventually pays off if you put in the work."
And when you get your hand raised on a mat, she said, it's a phenomenal feeling, whether it's in front of five people or a thousand.
It feels good because you earned that.
For boys, the state wrestling tournament has several divisions based on school classification and weight class. For the girls? Just the weight class. Class 2B wrestlers will grapple wrestlers from Class 3A schools. All that matters is that they've earned the right to be there.
Carlon had three matches. She got pinned in the first match by Marlin Gonzalez of Federal Way. In the second round, she pinned Leticia Garcia of Nooksack. Finally, she lost to Reyna Huecias of Mabton, 11-0.
She didn't place, but she met her goal, to compete in the state tournament. She made her way into the top 12 female wrestlers in her weight class to boot.
Right: Wrestlers get safety pins for pins. Carlon treasures the pin she picked up in Tacoma. She pinned Leticia Garcia of Nooksack in the second round of the state tournament.
That's amazing. But do you want to know what really moves her?
The five girls in the youth wrestling program who congratulated her after regionals. The five girls who said they were proud of her.
"That is far bigger than I thought it would be," Carlon said, wiping tears away.
Next week, she will sign with Warner Pacific, who has offered her an academic and a wrestling scholarship. She plans to study physical therapy or join the pre-veterinary program.
She's met the team, and a former WP wrestler has offered her an internship at his veterinary clinic if she wants it.
There will always be more challenges. For starters, Carlon, who learned to wrestle folk style, will have to learn to wrestle freestyle.
That's how they do it in college.
With her determination, mat or no mat, her hand is raised in victory.