When Julie Gonzalez was just a junior in high school, she made one of the best decisions of her life.
After previously competing in the color guard and track and field, Gonzalez decided to give wrestling a try. Not only did a successful wrestling career immediately follow, but she is often seen as one of the biggest trailblazers for girls wrestling in Vallejo. On Saturday, the city finally gets to pay its respects as Gonzalez is inducted into the Vallejo Sports Hall of Fame.
"Never thought I would make the Vallejo Hall of Fame when I first started wrestling," Gonzalez said, with a laugh. "Nope, never. I was just doing it for fun and to be with my friends."
Gonzalez was one of the first to impress longtime Vallejo High wrestling coach and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, Mike Minahen. Gonzalez said she learned a lot from Minahen.
"He was always telling me 'You're not going to make it, you're not going to make it' when I wrestled in practice," Gonzalez said. "He was a big motivator and when I look at my life today I sometimes think I'm the female version of Minahen."
Gonzalez graduated from Vallejo High in 1996, but her wrestling career was just beginning. Gonzalez always preferred to wrestle Freestyle, as opposed to the more traditional Folkstyle method used in high school.
"There was always a saying that summer wrestling makes
winter champions so I started wrestling Freestyle a lot in the summer," Gonzalez said. "I think I enjoyed Freestyle more because I had more success and more wins in it, but also because it always took me a long time to learn a move in wrestling. I became really good at throwing and doing an arm spin and I used that a lot to my advantage in Freestyle."
Wrestling Freestyle in the 100- to 105-pound weight division, Gonzalez was the 1996 Freestyle State Champion. She was also the 1999 University Nationals Champion and the 2001 Dave Schultz Memorial Open Champion.
The wrestler would attend San Francisco State beginning in 2000, but would not wrestle for the college.
Instead the grappler competed everywhere else, as she placed second in three U.S. Senior Nationals, third in the Fila Junior Nationals and Lady Klippan Open in Sweeden and fourth in the Manitoba Open in Canada.
Gonzalez said her accomplishment she is most proud of is being a three-year member of the U.S. National Team. She was also a coach for the team from 2002 to 2007 and 2010 to 2012.
"Anytime I made the national team was probably the highlight of my career," the 34-year-old Gonzalez said. "To get there you have to do something like make the top seven or eight at the trials. Each time I was on the team I'd say to myself, 'Wow, I'm really up here.' "
These days Gonzalez is a physical education teacher and girls athletic director at Overfelt High School in San Jose. Recently she was at the girls state championship when she reflected back on her life and how different girls wrestling is now than it was when she first started.
"It's crazy, when I was wrestling we would literally hunt for other girls to wrestle with," Gonzalez said. "Now there are multiple, multiple competitions, especially in Vallejo. The level of wrestling in Vallejo was been great lately with the number of great wrestlers coming out of that area this year. There must be something in the water there."
Or, maybe, quite possibly the city had just the right person to make the sport influential.
Note: Tickets for the Vallejo Sports Hall of Fame are $40 per person, $25 for anyone under the age of 17. RSVP by mailing a check to GVRD, 395 Amador St., Vallejo, CA. 94590 in person or by registering at wwwgvrd.org. All proceeds benefit GVRD youth sports.
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