Some injuries end careers. Others pave the way for incredible comeback efforts.
Having finished third place in CIF State Wrestling Girls Championships the previous year, recovering from a dislocated shoulder that required an emergency-room visit, Alex Hedrick of Bella Vista High School took the mat at the 2015 state finals with her eyes on the top spot. The physical agony of dislocating that shoulder again, in the middle of the title match, would be emotionally devastating for some athletes.
Hedrick lost by injury default but gained a more glass-half-full outlook. And she’s an example of perseverance, regrouping and coming back for more.
“I was a little upset but I was losing anyway,” Hedrick said with an indifferent tone. “I just wanted it (her shoulder) back in.”
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Nursing a different injury to the same shoulder sustained last month after being rammed against a wall, Hedrick traveled to Oklahoma City on March 24-25 for another round of action, the Girls Folkstyle National Championships.
She came home with a silver medal and a black eye. Hedrick, wrestling for Team California, finished second in the 122-pound weight class to defending champion Gracie Figueroa, also of Team California.
Success and injuries are nothing new to Hedrick who held spots on the girls and boys varsity wrestling teams at Bella Vista. She underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage after the second shoulder dislocation. Wrestling is with her in every form, right on down to that tender wing.
“I had to wear this terrible immobilizer for six weeks in the summer, when it was really hot and uncomfortable, and I only kept it on because I really wanted my shoulder to be OK for wrestling,” Hedrick said.
After being sidelined for nine months, Hedrick returned with a bang. She won the CIF State girls title in 2016 and repeating as a senior at 121 pounds this season in February in Visalia. Hedrick said she felt a lot of pressure leading into her title match against Alyssa Aceval of Corona High School, against whom Hedrick won the previous year’s championship. After taking the four previous rounds with two pins and two unanimous decisions, Hedrick beat Aceval by 3-2 decision for the title.
That pressure, Hedrick said, does not come from parents or outside forces. It comes from her own passion for the sport.
A Fair Oaks native, Hedrick started wrestling competitively in the sixth grade at Andrew Carnegie Middle School. She started wrestling boys, the only option at the time, and she prefers boys’ competition. Boys are faster and stronger, so what better way to accelerate the wrestling learning curve?
“In high school, I actually had a tough time transitioning going to girls tournaments,” Hedrick said. “I didn’t really like it at first, because I wasn’t used to it. During the high school season I really only wrestle girls for state and to qualify for state.”
Though the season and her high school career have ended, Hedrick’s journey continues. She engages in offseason training, which includes running and weight-lifting six days a week. Currently in the process of touring colleges, rigorous training will be necessary for Hedrick as she aspires to achieve her ultimate wresting dream: making the 2020 or 2024 Olympic team.
“I’d like to make world teams and win international tournaments,” Hedrick said. “Right now, I’m not there yet, but I think after wrestling in college and I get some more experience and some good workout partners, I think I can do it.”
Her dad, Pete, serves as the girls and assistant boys wrestling coach at Bella Vista and is a history teacher at Orangevale Open. Pete wrestled at BYU and has been coaching on and off since he graduated in 1996. Alex’s interest stemmed from play wrestling with her dad as a kid.
“I tried to talk her out of it,” Pete said. “I remembered some injuries I had and thought, ‘Eh, why don’t you stick with soccer?’ She was persistent.”
Hedrick played soccer for eight years and enjoyed it, but she was more captivated by wrestling.
“Alex is not the most naturally gifted athlete ever,” Pete said. “The head coach of wrestling makes fun of her because she can’t throw a ball. She just is not naturally athletic, but she works harder than anybody in our program.”
Her hard work shows not just in competition but in her recovery after shoulder surgery. Pete said Alex’s physical therapist called her the “perfect patient,” and that she followed her rehab routines religiously.
“She was so scared that her shoulder wouldn’t heal right. She did everything,” Pete said.
Off the mat, Hedrick carries a 3.8 GPA. She attends a seminary before school and wakes up at 5:45 a.m. on school days. But it’s not all studies and workouts. Hedrick is a die-hard Weird Al fan, and she has seen the comedian seven times in concert.
But what especially inspires her is competition. Whether it be co-ed wrestling or injury rehab, Hedrick’s career to this point has been a showcase in discipline and preparation, physically and mentally.