Khanija Avery has friends who still see her as just another 11 year old 5th grader, but the Chattooga Indians Youth Wrestling Club saw something much more powerful in her. Now, Donell Bradley, Head Coach of the Team Georgia Girl’s National Wrestling Team, has added, “I am sooooo proud of this girl.” Bradley, along with other members of the coaching staff, took a special group of female wrestlers to the national event hosted by USA Wrestling and Avery was one of the more inexperienced athletes looking to showcase her skills.
National wrestling tournaments like the USA Folkstyle Nationals can be a source of great anxiety for the most seasoned wrestlers. Preparation, weight management, and the travel itself all become additional areas of concern. For young, first-time travelers, just being away from parents can completely derail weeks and months of work. Khanija Avery began doing personal training with a local expert on youth conditioning and strength training, Chris Thompson, back in November of 2015. Thompson is responsible for incredible physical performances from his clients which includes multiple State Champion wrestlers from this season alone. Thompson’s training techniques includes many drills that are specific to the sport of wrestling and so Avery found herself surrounded by wrestlers who also trained with Thompson. Never shying away from a challenge, Avery threw herself into the routine with all the guys. Her strength was immediately apparent as her male counterparts were shocked that an 11 year old girl could keep up with them and, in many cases, surpass them in work out drills. The more Avery was exposed to the wrestling portions of the training regime, the more she became fascinated and the more the coaching staff realized what a diamond in the rough they had uncovered. Head Coach Jake Burdick and Thompson soon began trying to encourage Avery’s mom, Nakia Woods, to register Khanija for the upcoming wrestling season. Avery soon hit the mat on a regular basis and also brought along her two younger sisters. The Indians boasted one of the strongest girl’s wrestling programs anywhere in the south and Avery was thrown into top level competition. As her skills and strength continued to progress, Thompson introduced the idea of cutting to the next lower weight class. Avery and her mother worked as a team and Khanija adjusted her daily nutrition and dropped 8 pounds in 6 days. Her dedication and commitment didn’t go unnoticed.
Each week, competing against boys who were older and bigger, Avery began to garner the attention of wrestling coaches with the Girl’s National Team. Her performance at the Girl’s State Championship sealed the deal. Winning her age division wasn’t enough and Avery competed also in the Middle School Division where her competition was all 14 year old 8th graders. Avery held her own and, even in the face of defeat, her strength of body and heart won over the entire audience. Donell Bradley stepped in and recruited Avery to join the National Team and the Indians joined in to help make the trip possible.
Departing on Friday, Avery traveled by team van to Oklahoma City University where the team had a day of warm ups before making weight on Saturday night and facing the very best female athletes from the United States on Easter Sunday. While the rest of her family was hunting eggs and sharing a family meal, Khanija went 3-2 on the mat, losing to the eventual champion and 3rd place finisher. She won her final match by pin and took the podium as the number 5 ranked female wrestler in the nation in her weight class. Avery battled through an injured shoulder and Coach Bradley added, “This girl went into her last match like a beast and fought through to win making her an All-American!”
Avery looks to continue the school year at Leroy Massey Elementary School as an ordinary student by day, and a nationally ranked wrestling superstar by night.