After wrestling with mental health, Doane’s Cristelle Rodriguez eyes world title

CRETE, Neb. (KLKN) – Doane University wrestler Cristelle Rodriguez has an impressive resume.

The California native is a Cadet World Silver medalist, a two-time California state champion, a two-time national champion and a two-time world team member.

This summer, the sophomore is training to bring back a title from the world championships in Poland, where she’ll compete in August.

But the road to get there wasn’t easy.

Rodriguez fell in love with wrestling when she was just 9. She grew up watching her brother wrestle, anxiously waiting for her turn on the mat. 

“I’d be, like, just sitting there, and so I asked my dad if I could wrestle,” Rodriguez said. “At first he was like, No, like, it’s a guy sport.’”

As Rodriguez got older, there weren’t many opportunities to wrestle against girls, so she trained with the boys. 

“I had to, like, fight to be, like, noticed because this was just, like, a guys sport,” Rodriguez said. 

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Her hard work quickly paid off during her sophomore year of high school, when she won a silver medal at worlds. 

Soon after, the high demand of training and pressure to succeed began to affect her mental health.

“I felt like mentally, I crashed,” she said. “Everyone expected me to win everything I would do. That pressure … was just too much.”

Rodriguez quit wrestling her junior year and was diagnosed with depression.

“I feel like I just lost a love of the sport,” she said

“It felt like I was stuck in my bed. … It was just a really dark place.”

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go to college.

But Rodriguez took a chance on Doane, enrolling and committing to wrestle before stepping foot on campus.

Little did she know how much it would change her life.

“No one really had hope in me,” Rodriguez said.

But then, she said, Doane wrestling coach Dana Vote helped her regain confidence.

“It’s awesome to see her happy,” Vote said. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing … finding a happy place for her, finding where she’s comfortable and doing things that she’s comfortable with.”

SEE ALSO: Playing sports as a kid can benefit mental health, study shows

Doane wrestling gave Rodriguez her life back.

“Coach Vote’s helped me a lot to stay in a good mindset and not go back to, like, depression or anxiety too much,” she said. 

On Saturday, Rodriguez leaves for the USA training center to train with some of the best wrestlers in the country.

“She’s already proven that she’s one of the best in the country, if not in the world right now,” Vote said.

And although Rodriguez still battles with her mental health each day, she said she’s doing well thanks to her community at Doane.

“I’m a lot better and a lot happier,” she said. “It’s like reattaching my heart where the spot fell off. So it’s like patching it in, so it feels a lot better now that I’ve been wrestling again.”

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