By Chris Stansbury
ECU Student Affairs
A little advice from mom can go a long way in life. For East Carolina University sophomore Aleigha Patterson, that valuable advice came when she was a headstrong seventh grader.
“You are going to do great things,” her mom said. “Decide what you want to be, work at it and do it.”
The advice was pretty simple, but Patterson took it to heart and to the mat – the wrestling mat. She’s now the only female competing on ECU’s Club Wrestling Team.
“I was always a rough kid and I liked wrestling,” said the Lenoir native. “I knew wrestling was pretty much done only by boys, but that wasn’t going to stop me from giving it my best shot.”
In 2008, she tried out and made the high school wrestling team. She trailed 10-1 in points going into the third period of her first match, but Patterson never quit. She remembers it vividly.
“I was able to get into a good position and put my opponent in a half nelson and pinned him to win the match,” she recalled.
Even as a girl in a male-dominated sport, Patterson pushed herself to get better. She credits high school coach Josh Woodruff as a key person in making her a better wrestler and a better person. Woodruff was an ally when there wasn’t a long line of people in her corner, she said.
“Some coaches refused to send out a wrestler to face me. I couldn’t believe they actually took a match forfeit rather than having someone wrestle me.”
It was difficult for Patterson’s mom, Hollin Honeycutt, to hear other wrestlers and even other parents call her daughter names and tell her she didn’t belong in wrestling. But it was the physical barrages that pushed her mom over the top.
“It got to the point where my mom stopped going to the matches because it was too much for her to watch. One wrestling competitor actually punched me in the face repeatedly during a match.”
So why continue wrestling? Patterson said she likes the fact that it’s a battle – just two people squaring off face-to-face to see who can walk away on top.
“I wrestled against the boys for four years. I didn’t win every match. In fact, I probably lost more than I won. But I never quit.”
She started her college career at ECU in 2012 and discovered Club Wrestling. The advice of her single mother rang out once again: Find your passion and do it. But there is a big difference between high school and college, especially in wrestling.
“These guys are much bigger, much faster and a whole lot stronger,” Patterson said. “But I still wanted to give it my best shot.”
Trey Wade, president of the club wrestling team, said Patterson’s stubbornness and commitment to succeed is a great combination.
“She is driven by the opposition against her,” said Wade. “When she hits the mat, we don’t treat her like a male or female, she is a wrestler trying to survive, trying to tackle a challenge and trying to succeed in life.”
At ECU, Patterson is able to wrestle against other females in competitive matches. And like many Pirates, she has her sights on lofty goals, both personally and for her university.
“I want to make history by winning nationals while an ECU Pirate. After that, my next goal is to make the Olympic team in 2016 or 2020.”
Patterson will compete in a tournament in Oklahoma this spring and hopefully earn a place at the 2014 nationals in Texas. Until then, she will rely on her perseverance, determination and the continued support and guidance of her coaches and, of course, her mom.
For further information on any of more than 40 club sports sponsored by ECU Campus Recreation & Wellness, contact Justin Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-328-6387.