The road to Rio: Music and meditation help prepare woman wrestler for the Olympic Qualifiers

By Nicole Sedivy

Just 25 seconds before the women’s freestyle finals were about to begin, Sarah Hildebrant was still pacing around the mat in her red Team USA singlet, with “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC blasting through the headphones that covered her messy French braids. Her adrenaline was rushing. She felt the rage.

Hildebrandt, the two-time Pan American Championships gold medalist, said to herself, “You’re the best. You just step on the mat and put on a show.”

Last year she already earned a berth at the Olympic Qualifiers April 9-10 in Iowa City, Iowa.

But she still wanted to beat Katherine Fulp-Allen, at 53 kg/116.5 lbs, at the Dave Schultz Memorial International.

The previous night, Hildebrandt, 22, played video games late into the evening and called everyone in her family back home in Indiana. She wanted to connect with them before she wrestled the next day at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado –her home since June.

Trying not to stress, she went to bed at 11:30 p.m., and set her alarm for 5 a.m. Wrestling on very little sleep isn’t ideal, but it works for her.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?” Hildebrandt said.

That morning, she took it easy. She left herself an hour after breakfast to simply sit and meditate for 20 minutes.

Hildebrandt roamed around the gym. She spoke and laughed with several other wrestlers in the bleachers while eating some potato chips.

Woman wrestler Sarah Hildebrandt
Sarah Hildebrandt socializes before her match. (Erin Barney/MEDILL)

But when Hildebrandt stepped on the mat for warmups, she switched to warrior mode.

“It’s not peaceful anymore,” Hildebrandt said. “That comes with a combative sport like that, and I eat that up.”

She is a “goer” and “a ball of energy,” said her coach, Brad Harper, who missed the Dave Schultz tournament because of a meet with his Penn High School wrestlers – including her brother, Drew, an Indiana state champion.

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But when Harper is present, she feeds off of his positive energy.

“He’s consistently like loud, loud, loud, and I just love that,” Hildebrandt said.

She took one final swig of water. Her red Team USA shirt hit the floor. Her black Nike wrestling shoes stepped into the circle. It was show time.

Though she lost the gold medal match 4-2, she is still on the road to Rio. She just needs to wrestle the match of her life at the Qualifiers in April.

“I’m not afraid to tell people I can make this team,” Hildebrandt said. “Whereas, a year or two ago, I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I might do it.’ But now I’m like ‘I’mma make it.’”

Photo at top: Hildebrandt (on top) takes an early lead. (Erin Barney/MEDILL)