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The Life Of A World-Class Female Wrestler

Elena Pirozhkov, toughened in combat with her eight siblings, is representing Team USA in women’s Olympic wrestling, now in its third Games.

(Mitchell Haaseth/NBC)

When did you know you were good enough to be an Olympian?
Maybe a couple years ago. In high school I planned on going to the local community college. When I got an opportunity to move out to the Olympic training center, even the first couple of years there I wasn’t the best, I was just happy to be there, happy to be out of my small town [Greenfield, a city in western Massachusetts].

What was your reaction when you made the team this year?
Some people have been going crazy, some people broke down crying. I was just like, ‘Ok.’ I’ve been number one in my weight class for awhile, so it was really just a weight lifted. I came here, I did what I came here to do and I’m ready to move forward.

What’s your workout routine?
We practice year round, and you can’t train really really hard all year round, so we have different schedules for different time periods. Right now we’re going three times a day. On Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, we wake up at 7 a.m. and do sprints in the morning. Then at 1 pm we have really hard wrestling practice and at 6 pm we have another wrestling practice — hard but shorter. On Tuesday and Thursdays we do drills for an hour and lifting for an hour. On Saturday we play games.

What kind of games?
We play soccer, we play basketball. The wrestling and the lifting and running help us to get into shape. The games get us moving and work on our cardio.

You must eat a ton. What’s your diet?
Usually, I get up and have some fruit or something. Then at breakfast I have a couple variations: always toast, sometimes I’ll have a couple of hard-boiled eggs and some yogurt or sometimes I’ll have an omelet with veggies on it. My lunch is usually some kind of protein. I like to have fish, salad, another piece of bread. Then a little later, I’ll snack on fruit or pretzels. Then I’ll go to practice and after practice I’ll have salad, some sort of protein, rice or some other carbs.

You’re one of nine kids. Did you start wrestling at home just so you could get the TV remote?
Growing up in a family that big, if not wrestling skills you definitely get competition skills. If you’re not bigger you have to be smarter.

Which number in the sibling order are you?
Third. I have an older brother and older sister who kind of beat up on me but I have five younger ones.

I remember seeing wrestlers in high school and college running around in trash bags to drop weight. Do you have to do anything crazy to make weight?
No trash bags, but I do run around in sweats. I know it looks pretty dramatic — I used to have to cut a lot of weight and my wrestling suffered a lot because of it. Now I’ve gotten the weight down naturally so I don’t have to cut as much weight. It is crazy though. You do bundle up, put on as many clothes as you can, restrict your water to make your weight and then rehydrate once you weigh in. Some wrestlers just have to do it more extreme than others.

Are there any sports besides wrestling you want to see when you’re in London?
I haven’t thought about it yet. My whole family’s going to be out there, so I want to spend time with them. If I want to go to another event I have to get everyone else a ticket, so it might be kind of hard.

Stay tuned for more interviews with American Olympians at BuzzFeed Sports.

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