We begin our interview with confirmation of a few data points. I ask her to spell her name for me, and to confirm her year in school. She’s a Freshman at the time of our interview in early May. So I ask her what that’s been like— “Ya know, being a Freshman?” She looks at me, deadpan, and says, “I’m an underclassman. Expectations are low.” Boy, I thought, are ‘they’ in for a surprise!
Life is pretty straightforward for Sophie Bowers, VCHS Class of ’25 – she wants to win, but this is no idle daydream or mere wishful thinking. She happily trades a couple dozen hours each week in the wrestling room and weight room doing squats, deadlifts, and bench presses in exchange for the victories she’s won and the ones she still seeks. There is no low bar here, either. I hand her the figurative magic wand and ask her about her big, audacious goal and after a moment of reflection, she drops it on the table: “I want to go to the Olympics.”
It’s a great answer, of course, because— after all— who doesn’t love it when someone approaches their ambition with that kind of confidence? But I like it for another reason. I think, a better reason. She had the magic wand, but didn’t ask for it to grant her Olympic Gold. She just asked it to get her there. “Put me in, Coach. I’ll do the rest.” All she ever wanted was a chance. Sophie Bowers has been wrestling since she was eight years old, and there isn’t much she hasn’t yet won. I certainly wouldn’t bet against her, magic wand or not.
The thing I love about talking with student-athletes is how intertwined their capabilities on and off their particular field of battle become. In this issue, we’ve seen it with Madison and her bowling, with Christian and his pole vaulting, with Owen and his wrestling, Riely and her discus and shot, and here again, with Sophie and her wrestling. It really is something to see the development of confidence, precision control, humility, gratitude and more, and Sophie certainly exhibits all of that. In the 113 pound class, she is the dominant female freestyle wrestler in the Midwest, and she made an appearance at the IHSA Boys’ State Wrestling Tournament this year as a freshman. For those of you keeping score at home, that is almost unheard of. She is one of only five girls to ever qualify for this tournament. Think about that. Out of the thousands of wrestlers who have had their tickets punched at qualifying sectionals all over the state, going back more than 70 years, only five were girls, and Sophie was one of them. This year, that puts her among the top 16 Class 1A wrestlers at 113 pounds in the entire state. And, apart from Sophie, all of them were boys.
Sophie is a Sophomore this fall, and is beginning to think about college and life beyond high school. Her hope is to find a spot at the University of Iowa on their women’s wrestling team, but hasn’t yet sorted out what she wants to study. But she has time, and loads of support for her ambitions. Of Vandalia, she says she has been in awe of the support from the community, but really loves the excitement she sees for the sport in younger girls. Excitement for her sport. Her younger sister is even taking an interest now. For Sophie, the big takeaway has been the reflective life lesson staring back at her whenever she considers her achievements— “Anything is possible.” Her commitment to wrestling has really been a commitment to herself, to her possibilities, and to her ability to navigate life’s obstacles no matter how stubborn.