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wanted it so badly that quitting was no option. I earned his respect, not just as a girl, but as a wrestler. He became like my second father,” said Afsoon.

She set goals for herself which she was able to achieve. First was to win a match against a boy, which she quickly achieved. Second was to make the varsity team, which she did as a junior. The next goal was to compete in the new sport of women’s wrestling.

“In 1989, coach Lee Allen put on an event where women could try out for the World Championships and my high school coach heard about. My high school coach, my father and I went to the event so I could compete. It snowballed into an interna- tional wrestling career, something we never thought would be possible,” she said.

Afsoon made that first U.S. World Team in the summer after her junior year in high school, the first U.S. women’s team to compete at a World Championships. Competing at 47 kg, Afsoon Roshanzamir won a World bronze medal, the first American woman to win a World medal. She was part of a his- toric event in American women’s wrestling, and she had found her place in the sport.

As a freshman at UC-Davis, Afsoon went out for the wrestling team and was on its official roster. She competed in a few tour- naments at the lightest weight, 119 pounds, even though she weighed only about 105 at the time. “I was one of the first females on a men’s college team. I even almost won one match. By my sophomore year, USA Wrestling was giving stipends to its women wrestlers, and I accepted it and could not be on the team’s roster because of NCAA rules. I did continue to train with the men’s team. The coaches and my teammates were very supportive,” she said. While she was in college, Afsoon wanted to make some money to support her career, and she became a referee, work- ing high school events in the community. That led her to another milestone, as the first woman to referee an NCAA match. “One night, UC Davis had a dual meet. I was there to watch my teammates, but the official did not show up. The coach asked me if I had my official’s stuff with me. I did not, but I lived across from the gym. It took me five minutes to go home and grab my gear. I officiated the dual meet,” she said. Afsoon had a great start to her career, winning a World silver medal in 1990, giving her two World medals in a row. She con- tinued competing at a high level for over a decade. “When Tricia Saunders dropped down to my weight, she knocked me off of the World Team. My other major obstacle was my graduate school program. In 1995, I moved to Arizona and started on my physical therapy masters program. It was good for wrestling. Art Martori picked me up for Sunkist, and I had Tricia and coach Joe Corso to work out with. But my main focus was the master’s program,” she said. Looking back, Afsoon wonders if she had completely focused on wrestling, just how good she would have become. “What if I put physical therapy on hold and focused just on wrestling? Back then, we didn’t have the opportunity they have now. Today, I would have put physical therapy on hold. At that time, I had to support myself and my future. I made the choice to get into that grad program and pursue my career,” she said. Afsoon retired in early 2000. Like many of her peers, she was hopeful that women’s wrestling would become an Olympic sport in 2000, but it did not happen. She married her husband, Byron Johnston, in 1998, and they decided to buy a home and start a family. She had her first son in 2001. She did stay involved by serving on some USA Wrestling committees and represented the athletes as a member of the Board of Directors through 2003.

38 USA Wrestler

“Tricia encouraged me to serve on the Board. We needed women who had gone through the process, retired and had a broader perspective. With my personality, I’ve always loved being in leadership. It was a good way to stay involved. Wrestling gave me so much, and it was my way of giving back. But with my career and with multiple kids, I lost touch with the sport I love,” she said.

In 2002, the IOC announced that women’s wrestling had been added to the 2004 Olympic Games. Two years later, the first women wrestlers competed in the Olympics in Athens, Greece. “For me, it was bittersweet, but more on the sweet side. When the Olympics were going on, I was nine months pregnant with my daughter. I remember staying up late, with Patricia Miranda’s match on TV. Every time I wrestled her, I beat her. To watch an opponent I beat going for a medal, I remember crying. I couldn’t tell if they were tears of joy, or of pain and sorrow. A few weeks later, when my daughter Sami was born, I called her my Olympic gold medal. It just wasn’t my time. I was so glad that it was one of the girls I knew who had that chance. Looking back, it was tears of joy for me,” she said. Afsoon’s business career took off. She started as a physical therapist working with patients. Then she was named director of one clinic, and was ultimately promoted to director of all the clin- ics run by her company. Her next promotion was as director of the outpatient division, reporting only to the company president. At the same time, her husband Byron moved up to become president of his commercial insurance company. Things were going very well for the Johnston family. “I went as far as I could go with my company. It was a fantas- tic career. One day, I looked at my three kids, who had a nanny. It hit me. I wanted to raise my own kids. I went to my husband and told him I wanted to stay home and raise our kids. He said if that is what I wanted, he’d support it. It took a year for me to train somebody and transition out of my job,” she said. She is now the proud mother of three active and athletic chil- dren. Son Aiden (11), daughter Samira (9) and daughter Layla (7) all play a variety of sports.

Afsoon and Byron spend their weekends bringing the kids to

different sports activities. All are very competitive, just like their parents. Afsoon has exposed them all to wrestling, but will let them decide if they want to pursue it. This year, USA Wrestling held a reunion for the pioneers of women’s wrestling during the U.S. Open, and Afsoon was able to spend the weekend with her friends from the early years. National Coach Terry Steiner invited them all to get more involved with the program.

Afsoon was able to get involved in two National Team tours this season, joining the women’s team at the Battle At the Falls in Niagara Falls, Canada, and also with the U.S. team which competed in Poland this summer.

“It was surreal. I felt like I had to keep pinching myself. At one point, wrestling was my only identity. Stepping away for 10 years, I lost that identity. It was like finding myself again. It had- n’t died, it was like a flame that had gone down. Then it came back full force, like we poured gasoline on it. This was my thing. Every piece of the puzzle came together. I am a wife, a mother and a wrestler. It completed me,” she said. If there is a place for her, Afsoon Roshanzamir Johnston

wants to continue to be active with the women’s program mov- ing forward.

“I am back with multiple roles. With my physical therapy, I can provide medical support. I can coach. I can be a workout part- ner if needed. I was amazed how far the technique has come along with our women. In Poland, I got to know the girls individ- ually. I saw myself as a mother figure for them. How cool is it to give something back?” she said.

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