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Afsoon Roshanzamir blazed trail for women’s wrestlers

Iranian-born wrestler was first U.S. athlete to win World medal in women’s freestyle

By Gary Abbott Women’s wrestling has come a long

way since the early years of the sport in the United States and around the world. In the late 1980s, a group of pioneer

women followed their passion and blazed the trail for future generations. Among those early stars of American women’s wrestling, Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston was involved in a number of firsts for our sport. She competed on the first U.S.

Women’s World Team in 1989. She won the first World medal for U.S. women with her bronze medal at 1989 World Championships. She was one of the first women to offi-

cially compete for an NCAA wrestling team at UC-Davis. She was the first women to officiate an NCAA wrestling match. But for a girl who was born in Iran, just becoming a wrestler at all was an achievement in itself. Afsoon Roshanzamir was the only child

of Manu Roshanzamir, an Iranian wrestler who taught her a passion for the sport. In Iran, women do not wrestle, nor are they included in as spectators at the events. Wrestling is considered one of the nation- al sports in the country. Afsoon was able to see more of the

world as a small child, when her father went to Germany and Austria to study for two advanced college degrees. Manu competed in numerous international wrestling events for Iran while he lived in Europe. The family moved back to Iran after

Manu completed his studies in 1979, just a few months before the Iranian Revolution and the era of the Iran/Iraq War. The family lived there for five tough years through 1984, when they were able

32 USA Wrestler

Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston was one of the early pioneers in women’s freestyle wrestling in the United States. Larry Slater photo.

to leave Iran for political asylum and move to Northern California in the United States. Afsoon was 11 years old at the time.

While she was growing up, when they

were in Europe and Iran, Manu taught Afsoon how to wrestle. “I grew up watching my dad wrestle. I

was an only child. He would have wanted a son to teach how to wrestle. He said that he would teach me. We would move the furniture out of the living room and wrestle, and he would let me beat him. My mom would referee. It was great fun. It was something I could connect with my father about. My dad never in his wildest dreams thought I would pursue it serious- ly as an athlete,” said Afsoon. When she was going into San Jose Independence High School as a fresh- man, she got reacquainted with the sport. “I wanted to be an All-American girl,

and at that time, it was to be a cheer- leader. During wrestling season, the cheerleaders helped do stats for other sports, and, of course, I chose to help wrestling. After the first few months of watching, I said that I knew how to do the technique. I had this feeling that I wanted to do it,” she said. Afsoon went to the varsity wrestling

coach, David Chaid, who ran one of the most respected programs in California. His son Dan became an NCAA champion and national freestyle champion. It is also the school which later developed NCAA champion and Olympian Eric Guerrero. Coach Chaid said he could not stop her from trying out, but he wanted to speak with her parents. “The wrestling coach was surprised

when my dad said that it was always one of his dreams that his child would wrestle, and that he was 100 percent behind it. So then, the coach said I had to try out. I was at 98 pounds, and I earned that spot. I beat the other boy at the weight and ended up wrestling on my high school freshman team,” she said. Her desire to wrestle also was part of growing up an American teen. “What made me want to go out for wrestling was that growing up in Iran, I had no freedom or rights as a woman. Moving to the United States, to a country with endless possibilities, wrestling for me was a great opportunity. There was nobody who could tell me no. It was something I wanted to do as a girl and I was allowed to do it here,” she said. Coach Chaid became one of Afsoon’s

biggest supporters after she proved to him that she belonged. “He was so supportive after the first

year. Independence was a powerhouse in wrestling. He was initially shocked at hav- ing a girl try out. Coach always said that he did not cut anybody, that they cut themselves. The early practices each year were so hard, so intense. It was a battle of how strong your mind is, not your body. He would end up with the toughest of the tough. I wasn’t there to prove anything. I loved it so much and Continued on page 38

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