We all knew she was good, but 17-year-old Kennedy Blades made a statement as to just how good she is over the course of the last two weeks. The postponement of the Summer Olympics impacted the athletes of our community in a multitude of ways, but for Blades, it opened up an opportunity for her to begin her Senior-level career with a bang. Blades was three months too young to wrestle at the Olympic Team Trials in 2020; however, the Trials were postponed due to COVID-19. Once Blades learned that the Trials had been pushed back an entire year and that she would be eligible to compete, she knew she would have to win the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifying Event, to pursue her goal of being the youngest Olympic wrestler ever for the United States. Blades raised eyebrows at the Last Chance Qualifier with dominant wins over veteran Hannah Gladden, Skylar Grote, and another young star, Kylie Welker. This set the stage for her Olympic Team Trials run. Leading up to the event, questions circulated among wrestling Twitter who tried to determine if Blades had made a significant jump and could be a contender at 68kgs. She quickly answered this question for all of us with a 10-0 victory over Rachel Watters, a 5-0 shutout over U23 World bronze medalist Alexandria Glaude, and a dominant 11-1 win over past Senior world team member, Forrest Molinari. After winning the Challenge Tournament bracket, Blades only fell in the best-of-three series to World Champion Tamyra Mensah-Stock.
Prior to the Last Chance Olympic Trials Qualifier, Blades had an impressive list of domestic and international accolades, including three Fargo titles, two Pan American championships, two Klippan Open Championships, and a spot on the 2019 Cadet World team. Although these are achievements few accomplish, the jump from Cadet World team member to Senior Olympic Team Trials finals in two years is nearly incomprehensible.
Here’s what the young superstar, Kennedy Blades, had to say about her Senior level debut, training, and mindset leading up to the two crucial events:
Blades began the interview by saying that this process showed her that, “God’s timing is perfect”. In addition to the Trials postponement, even making the competition available to her, Kennedy Blades also tested positive for COVID-19 in February. Once she got over her sickness, she felt relieved that she did not have to worry about testing positive leading up to the Last Chance Qualifier or Olympic Trials. Blades said, “Just having that extra pressure off of me, that I could lose the chance to compete at the last minute, helped me to be able to focus on other things”.
The last two months, the Illinois native completed her training at home with her long-time coach Israel (Izzy) Martinez. She said, “It was a really tough decision whether to stay at Wyoming Seminary to prepare for the tournament or to go home, but in the end, I decided because of the Covid restrictions at my high school, I would be able to have more freedom with my training at home”. She went on to explain that Izzy put her through two workouts a day. One would focus on technique, while the other was mostly conditioning. Blades elaborated by saying, “Izzy wanted to push me past my limits. No Senior level athlete wants to lose to a high schooler, so he knew they wouldn’t be holding back against me. He only put me with boys who would also go all out, because they didn’t want to lose to me, so that I would be prepared for the pressure the Senior level women put on and I was”.
I asked Blades the question we have all been wondering, “What took you to the next level?” Now, if you know Kennedy, you know that the two things she does not lack are modesty and height. With a big grin, she explained that after making the move from Illinois to Wyoming Seminary, she had to learn how to manage her time and hold herself accountable. “I had to remove all of my distractions, stay on top of my diet, and manage my time on my own. It really helped me mature a lot and I think that maturity is what prepared me to compete against the older competition.” She went on to explain in further detail, “I have made some changes, but I’ve known I was as good as the best Senior level girls since the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I just wasn’t old enough to be allowed to compete against them yet.”
We jumped forward to discussing the Olympic Team Trials. Blades explained that she had to be mentally tough in every situation and remind herself that she belonged there, “Everytime I stepped on the mat I told myself ‘I’m a Champ. I’m supposed to be here.'” She said that it’s important to remember, “When it comes to competition, age is just a number and it doesn’t matter once you step on the mat. There were people who were shocked I scored on Tamyra, but I knew not to be timid because I was there for a reason.”
I proceeded to ask, “How did it feel when your second match with Tamyra was over?” Blades replied, “You know, I immediately felt so disappointed and sad, but when I looked up and saw Tamyra crying, I couldn’t help but hug her. I know what it feels like to have all of your hard work pay off and I saw that she was getting to feel that and was happy for her. Once I got away from everyone, it hit me again, but I knew I put on a show for these people.”
At just 17, Blades has years for her career to expand and develop, So what’s next for her? She said, “I have a huge target on my back now, so I’m just going to keep trying to make world teams. I guess since I only lost to Tamyra, I’m on the Senior national team and that’s pretty cool.” She concluded our discussion by saying, “If I can, I just want to say thank you to my coaches, partners, and family. They were right by my side the entire time.” On behalf of the wrestling community, I think it is safe to say that we all look forward to having Kennedy’s Junior (Because she still has three years of Junior eligibility), U23, and Senior careers unfold.