KyIra Gibson placed her clasped hands over her tear stricken face as she looked up.
Above her, her proud parents, Monique and George Roland Gibson waved.
Gibson took a deep breath to compose herself and waved back, a smile now etched between the streaks of tears.
Gibson had just done something she never thought possible — win a state medal. It wasn’t in the sport she dreamed of as a little girl or even as a freshman in high school, though.
For the past few seasons, the Ellison senior had been playing volleyball, but was a defensive specialist who sometimes even came off the bench.
On a whim and with the encouragement of a friend, she is now a state medalist, taking third place Saturday in the 185-pound division at the UIL state wrestling meet at the Austin ISD Delco Center.
“I always had the hidden desire to do it, but never had the push to do it,” Gibson said after winning her bronze medal. “When she said she wanted to, I was like ‘If we are going to do it, let’s do it.”
Wrestling, at first, was just a passing fancy. It was something to do while hanging out with her friends and enjoying her senior year.
Still, she made it to the finals of the District 8-5A meet, and although she went down quickly in the championship match the small bit of success caused the fire inside her to begin to burn.
Channeling the athletic prowess she honed on the volleyball court in a new direction, Gibson responded. She took second place in region and made state. Once there, Gibson won a bronze medal.
As it turned out, the desire to succeed was always there; so was the talent.
All she needed to do was believe.
“Hey, what do you weigh?” The man with the 2-inch- thick, slightly scruffy beard that is sprinkled in gray calls out as a small sheepish girl walks down the hall.
“Don’t worry, he’s the wrestling coach,” the teacher next to Ken Soloff says.
Soloff has been coaching wrestling at Shoemaker since its inception. He sees the potential in everyone and wants to give students who never even thought they could be athletes a chance. It does not matter if they weigh 95 pounds or 185.
He doesn’t recruit athletes. He doesn’t pressure anyone to wrestle; he just offers Shoemaker students a simple alternative.
“Anyone can be a champion, if they are dedicated and put the time in,” he says. “That letter jacket is something that is earned. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get it.
“You can’t just get it by coming out,” he adds.
But once they do, his words prove to be prophetic. Three of the five Lady Grey Wolves who have won state wrestling medals — Adrii Perez (95), Chelsea Koenen (119), Dineesha Jones (110) — have weighed less than 119 pounds.
All they needed to do was believe.
Dineesha Jones bites her pock-marked lip as she nervously waits on the medal stand. She busted it on the first day. It is still swollen a bit, but healed.
Jones weighs all of 110 pounds. Before she won her first match at the state meet, she couldn’t even believe she was there, one of the best.
Even though this was her third trip to the state meet, she only thought she might place third at best. Last year, she finished eighth, two spots out of medal contention.
In the semifinals, she was going to have to beat the same girls who beat her at regionals.
The task seemed daunting.
But she studied video, worked on her technique and prepared. She found a weakness, and won.
She went on to wrestle for the state title.
On the stand, she felt a mixture of disappointment and excitement. She lost her chance for a gold-medal match moments ago. The sting of losing still remained as she smiled for the cameras taking her picture.
Still, Jones won a silver medal Saturday, the highest placing of any wrestler at Shoemaker since Emerald Solomon won the state title in 2005. The accomplishment slowly began to sink in as Soloff took video with his phone from behind the red rope and the crowd cheered behind her.
She did what she never thought possible.
And all she needed to do was believe.