Katherine Shai is a freestyle wrestler, business owner, wife, mom, female athlete and mom-athlete advocate. She is a 7x National Team Member for Team USA and a 2020 Olympic Hopeful training out of Denver, CO. We checked in with her to learn more about her Olympic Dreams, how she balances motherhood and professional athletics, and how she has cultivated a strong support system.
Where is home?
Half Moon Bay, California is where I was raised. I now call Denver, Colorado home.
What is your main sport?
How did you get into Freestyle Wrestling?
My dad went to the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games in Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling. He started coaching women in the late 1980’s. My sister and I were always around the sport and took it up in elementary school. We started competing wearing water shoes and gymnastic leotards, as our mother was unsure if we would stay in the sport. Luckily, we stuck with it and combined have almost 15 years on the National Team!
What drives you to do what you do?
I value the challenge that training and competition bring. Wrestling is so individual, and it’s exciting to see when the little things and the extra work you put in reap big rewards, but it can be scary putting it all on the line to MAYBE see the result you desire. I returned to competition after 2.5 years away from the mat and after having my son in 2017 because I felt a deep desire to feel and experience the challenge once again.
Do you compete for a team or a sponsor?
I am incredible lucky to have so many supporters. Wrestling is a sport where you need a village, maybe even a city of supporters! Mine are: DCO MMA Fitness, Titan Mercury Wrestling Club, Northern Colorado Wrestling Club, and Cliff Keen Athletic.
Greatest personal accomplishment in your sport or in your life?
Raising my son is the most incredible experience and honor. It outweighs any athletic accomplishment! Quite honestly, just putting myself back into competition form after so long off the mat, and figuring out how to do it with my little one was a huge accomplishment. I’m proud that I’m here, I’ve done it, and that my son has been growing up seeing his mom train hard and always problem solve how to make it work with a family.
What is your profession if not your sport?
I train full-time, but when I wasn’t competing, I started my educational business, LuchaFIT. It’s still my side gig, where I have written about my experiences as a Team USA freestyle wrestler for other aspiring female wrestlers. I do events, clinics, online mindset coaching, and have sponsored the Colorado Girls Wrestling Championship for the last two years. I love being an advocate for more girls joining the sport. After the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I will ramp the business back up as my full time gig.
Favorite place you have competed?
I loved competing in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was the University Worlds, I competed on the world team with my sister and my father coached us. My mom came to watch and we made an entire trip out of it. I won gold and my sister won silver. It was not only a beautiful, memorable location, but our teammates, our coaching staff, the incredible host country, the food, and competing alongside my sister at world championships made the entire trip incredible. It’s a trip we still reminisce about.
Favorite non-sport related hobby?
I love cooking! I cook a lot from scratch, and my husband and I have enjoyed taking on little cooking adventures! It’s helpful to enjoy working in the kitchen, since I have to eat well as a professional athlete in a weight class sport. I feel pretty confident that I can make a decently authentic recipe from almost any culture in the world. I still have a lot to learn but i think my husband would say I’m the best cook he knows.
What are your goals for the future?
To win Olympic Gold, and then create an awesome platform for female wrestlers, to help create more options for wrestlers to have serious income to be able to compete longer and support their families.
Photo: Tony Rotundo
Who is a person or athlete that you look up to and why?
I look up to my husband. He has helped me grow in more ways than I can explain. We have tackled my return to competition as a team, and we have been able to create an incredible partnership. He keeps me honest, and has helped see me through some really challenging moments. It’s been hard, but the bond we have created has made the journey so worth it.
Do you have any habits, routines, or superstitions?
My meditation and spiritual practices are very important to me. It helps me stay grounded so I can (try) to be really fluid and flexible when things don’t go as planned. Life is about change, and it takes practice to be open to change.
My mantra is believe in your ability to manifest what you want your world to look like, and then move in that direction. The universe is powerful and will bring you all the good things you desire.
Piece of wisdom you have learned over the years and would like to pass on?
I wrote an entire article on LuchaFIT about the lessons I learned leaving and then returning to the sport. One lesson was to never shy away from your ultimate goal. I have been vocal about my goals since returning to the sport, and in return I have created an amazing team of people who are excited to help me achieve my Olympic Champion dreams. I also would have never anticipated how sharing my dreams with others has inspired them to dream big in their own lives.
How has wrestling evolved since you began competing to now?
There are so many more opportunities for wrestlers in terms of support and sponsorship. Companies are seeing the potential marketability of wrestlers and female wrestlers. Female athletics in general are pushing harder for more opportunities, equal pay, and better standards for maternity leave/care. It’s an exciting time to be an athlete. It’s also incredible to see the number of girls joining wrestling teams in high school or younger.
How did you hear about Honey Stinger?
I’ve known about Honey Stinger for a long time! There are a lot of cycling races that have come through Colorado Springs. I would see the Honey Stinger booths at events while living in Colorado Springs and training at the Olympic Training Center. It was exciting to see a small sports nutrition company so gung-ho about supporting athletes, and I wanted the same for wrestlers!
How do you use Honey Stinger during training and competition?
I travel around Denver in order to get my training in. I am on the go often, and need products that can come with me and be quick energy before or after a workout. I also love the organic energy chews and gels. At competitions they are a life saver. As a freestyle wrestler, it can be challenging to eat in between matches, and we have to mange our weight for the 2nd day of weigh ins. The gels and chews give me energy without any harshness on my stomach and I can feel strong and energized throughout the day. I also love that they have Vitamin C, too!
Do you test your race day outfit and gear ahead of time?
I tend to wear my wrestling singlet in practice before I compete. It happens, but I don’t like wearing gear for the first time at a competition. Everything should be familiar to you and your body on the day of competition. There are already so many unknowns and factors you can’t control; your gear should be one you can!
Favorite Honey Stinger products and flavors?
The Organic Caramel Waffles, so GOOD! It’s like a dessert treat in the middle of a hard training day. I also can’t wait to try the Salted Caramel Gluten Free Waffles. My nutritionist has had me eliminate white flours and gluten products, so it makes choices more limited, but thankfully Honey Stinger has the options! I also love the Organic Wildflower Honey. It’s part of my daily regimen!
Photo: Liora K Dudar
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