2018 Rising Star: Sally Roberts

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Sally Roberts knows first-hand that sports can be a powerful positive force.

“I was a terrific failure,” Roberts said. “Growing up, I was in and out of challenging circumstances. I got arrested so often that the detention officer said, ‘Find something to do or you’re going to jail.’”

Her saving grace was wrestling, which helped Roberts harness her excessive energy, overcome anxiety and rebuild her confidence.

Now Roberts is imparting the same benefits to young women through Wrestle Like A Girl, a nonprofit organization that empowers and educates girls through teaching technical wrestling skills. Roberts champions high school and collegiate initiatives that support women athletes and boot camps that combine instruction in combat sports with self-development skills. She is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Youth Sports Development Working Group, a committee member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and a speaker with Athletes for Hope.

In high school, Roberts found her strength through wrestling and began to excel. She spent eight years as a resident of the Olympic Training Center and was a three-time national champion and two-time world bronze medalist. But in 2008, she lost in the finals of the Olympic trials.

Though she was named an alternate, “I fell into a depression,” she said. “I knew I had to change my physical and mental space. I wanted to do something really challenging that would help me gain perspective.”

The answer was the U.S. Army. Roberts, who had earned a degree in psychology from UCCS, joined a psychological operations team in 2010 and was deployed to Afghanistan.

“I talked to Afghan women one on one and realized how much I had to be grateful for,” she said.

Her service also reawakened her love of wrestling, and she distinguished herself in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

“As I transitioned out of the military and being an elite athlete, nothing really spoke to me about what I wanted to do, which was to help girls,” Roberts said. “So I built my own organization. We started peeling back the onion of what we wanted to tell girls that we may only see once or twice in their lifetimes. We talk about what self-confidence looks like, resiliency from setbacks and controlling anxiety. Going beyond that, we have a conversation about the unique things girls in sports face.

“We’re not just teaching girls how to wrestle but how to become leaders.”

— Jeanne Davant

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be a powerful woman who serves others justly — and with kindness.