Photo by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
Becka Leathers burst onto the collegiate wrestling scene for Oklahoma City University as a highly touted recruit out of Choctaw, Oklahoma in dominating fashion. Only a freshman, she finished the season with a record of 30-2 and became the 2016 123-pound national champion. At the WCWA Nationals, Leathers put on quite a show, surrendering only four points in five matches. She seemed well on her way to accomplishing her goal of being a four-time national champion.
Her 2016 success continued in March with a runner-up finish at University Nationals just one month after winning her WCWA National championship. The following month Leathers competed in a loaded 58kg bracket at the Olympic Team Trials and even though she failed to place, still came away with some hard fought victories.
In May 2016, without skipping a beat, Leathers claimed a championship at the 2016 Body Bar Women’s National Championships with an impressive performance. In the finals, Leathers defeated returning Cadet World champion, Ronna Heaton, two matches to none in the best of three series. With that victory, she secured a spot on what would have been her third Junior World team.
Her success was not going unnoticed and prior to the Junior World Championships, Leathers traveled to Rio to serve as a training partner for the women’s freestyle Olympic team, specifically for Haley Augello. While there is no denying that her experience in Rio has proven to be very valuable towards her current success, it was not easy and when she returned home from the trip she wasn’t feeling herself. Just days before she was set to depart for France and the Junior World Championships, she found out that she couldn’t compete due to a serious bout with Mono that ultimately kept her on bed rest for more than a month.
The constant training, competing, the illness, and missing the Junior World Championships took a heavy toll on Leathers both mentally as well as physically. After her recovery and as the college season was approaching, she was mentally broken and feeling burnt-out. The struggle continued to mount and Leathers admits she was contemplating quitting the sport that had been such a huge part of her life for so long, a sport that she had worked so hard at and devoted herself to. She knew she needed to make a change.
During the recruiting process as Leathers was wrapping up her high school career and trying to decide where to continue her training, there were only two options in her mind. Continue her education and wrestling career at Oklahoma City University or move to Colorado Springs and train at the Olympic Training Center. Opting to compete for the Stars of OCU and now needing to make a change, the decision seemed simple. In January, Leathers made the move to the OTC.
The move to Colorado Springs proved to be the right decision and since that move Leathers has been on a phenomenal run that includes titles at the Dave Schultz Memorial, University Nationals, U.S. World Team Trials, Pan American Championships, and the Grand Prix of Spain. Her amazing run has seen her climb to ninth in the United World Wrestling women’s rankings and will culminate with a trip to Paris, France this month to represent the United States at the World Championships at 55kg.
Leathers, at just 20 years old and only two years removed from high school, is one of the youngest representatives on what is already a young team. However, she is no stranger to facing international competition having already contested a Cadet World Championships and two Junior World Championships, including earning a bronze medal in 2015.
Even though this will be her first time representing the United States at a Senior-level World Championship, she is not happy with just being there. When asked what would make this trip to Paris, France successful, she refused to put an emphasis on wins and losses as there is no need for additional pressure at this time. Make no mistake about it though, as you can imagine with any competitor as fierce as she is, she’s expecting to bring home a medal.
Less than a year ago Becka Leathers was close to quitting wrestling, the sport she loves and is so much a part of who she is. This sport has taken her around the world, training and competing at such a high level even at such a young age. Lucky for us she did not and in just a few short weeks we will all get to watch as she represents the United States at the World Championships. Watch out world.