Aaron Lavinsky photographs high school wrestlers in his series, “Off The Mat.”

These Female High School Wrestlers Are As Tough As They Come

These Female High School Wrestlers Are As Tough As They Come

Behold
The Photo Blog
March 9 2015 12:06 PM

These Female High School Wrestlers Are As Tough As They Come

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Mylinh Phan, a Mount Tahoma High School sophomore, between matches. Phan took second in the tournament to advance into regionals in her weight class.

Aaron Lavinsky

On a rainy and windy February day last year, Aaron Lavinsky was sent by Aberdeen, Washington’s the Daily World to cover a girls’ wrestling tournament at Hoquiam High School.

“There wasn’t much else going on I could shoot that day, so I turned the eight-hour day into more than covering just the two or three local wrestlers that were there. I got permission from the school to set up a studio, so I just did it, not knowing what I’d get,” he said.

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Celeste Wise, a senior at Stadium High School, laughs while having her photo taken after a match. Wise placed third in her weight class.

Aaron Lavinsky

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Alexis Miranda, a senior from Aberdeen High School, is pictured between matches. She placed second overall in her weight class.

Aaron Lavinsky

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Akaiyasia Sumandig, a Mount Tahoma High School sophomore. Sumandig took second in the tournament to advance into regionals in her weight class.

Aaron Lavinsky

Lavinsky wandered the event without a camera, looking for subjects that intrigued him—the girl with the swollen eye, or the powerhouse who stood less than 5 feet tall, or the wrestler with a bloody nose wearing pink headgear—before asking them to sit for photographs. He worked quickly, so as not to take them away from their coaches or teammates for too long. 

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At first, the entire set-up—a male photographer in his mid-20s asking teenage girls for a one-on-one portrait session at a fairly low-key sports event—seemed a bit strange. “I got some weird looks from wrestlers and coaches. I explained that I wanted to do something different that showed the essence of the sport,” he said.

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Left: Caitlynn Julian, an Elma High School junior, between matches. Right: Blanca Aguila, a Spanish foreign exchange student studying at Aberdeen High School, ices her eye after a match.

Aaron Lavinsky

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Anh Lam, a Mount Tahoma High School sophomore.

Aaron Lavinsky

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Ariana Brown, an Elma High School senior, between matches. Brown placed sixth in her weight class at the tournament.

Aaron Lavinsky

Once athletes at the event figured out the intent behind the series, they started lining up to have their photos taken. Eventually, Lavinsky had to turn some away. He ended up taking portraits of nearly 20 wrestlers, which the World’s editors ran as a special feature. Taken together, the photographs in his series “Off the Mat” are a celebration of girls thriving in an undoubtedly tough sport.

“It’s brutal. They go through the same moves that boys do,” he said. 

For Lavinsky, now a photojournalist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, portrait series like this one have become something of a personal specialty. The awkwardness he experienced at times while creating “Off the Mat,” he said, helped toughen him up and inspired him to be braver about pursuing these types of projects. 

“Portraits were something I wasn’t good at when I got to Washington, and I’m still learning. I feel like forcing yourself into these situations makes you a better shooter.”  

You can follow Lavinksy on Twitter and Instagram.

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Lexi Thompson, a Yelm High School freshman, before a match. Thompson placed fourth in her class at the tournament.

Aaron Lavinsky

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Megan Johnson, a senior from Tumwater, was the champion in her weight class.

Aaron Lavinsky

Jordan G. Teicher is the associate editor of Slates Behold blog. Follow him on Twitter.