SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Deanna Rix Betterman was planning on retiring from wrestling after the 2016 Olympics. But that doesn’t make the International Olympic Committee’s recent decision to drop the sport (effective in 2020) any easier to handle.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of the oldest sports in the Olympics, and it’s such a demanding sport. To consider taking out wrestling is crazy.”
Betterman, who wrestled for Marshwood High School before graduating in 2005, was shocked when she heard last month’s announcement from the IOC, but believes there is a chance the sport’s place in the Games can be saved.
“We’re confident it will come back,” Betterman said. “They gave the sport a bunch of stipulations to make the sport more appealing to viewers. There will be a lot of rule changes if it comes back, but it’s sounding good from what I’m hearing.”
As of right now, wrestling is still on the docket for the 2016 games in Rio De Janeiro and that’s where Betterman’s focus is. She currently lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., and trains at the USOC Training Center.
Matt Rix, the longtime Marshwood coach and Deanna’s father, said the IOC’s decision hit close to home.
“It’s been their dream forever,” Rix said. “It’d be too bad if it actually happened. In some countries, the only medals they’ve won are in wrestling. Those other countries might boycott the Olympics altogether. It’d be a mess if wrestling went away.”
The IOC is scheduled to take a final vote on the matter in September, but even if the sport fails to stave off elimination, there is the option of reinstatement down the road. Either way, Rix said the IOC is in for a fight.
“They picked the wrong sport to mess with,” he said.
Deanna’s goal of competing in the 2012 London Games was put on hold when she and her husband, fellow Olympic wrestling hopeful Joe Betterman, announced they were expecting their first child in January of that year. Their son, Mason, was born in September. Despite not being able to fulfill her goal of wrestling in the Olympics in 2012, Deanna said becoming a mother was just as physically and mentally demanding.
“You don’t realize how much work it is,” Betterman said. “I’m nursing as well, so I have to pump in the locker room, and some of the girls joke with me when I’m in there.”
The IOC’s decision makes the Bettermans’ wrestling future even more cloudy, as Joe had aspired to compete beyond 2016.
“He was hoping to make a career out of it,” she said. “We also dreamed of Mason wrestling too. There will still be the world championships, but the dream is the Olympics. You don’t hear kids saying I want to be a world gold medalist. The ultimate goal is the Olympics.”
In high school, Deanna won 100 career wrestling matches, all against boys, and was almost the first girl to win a boys state high school championship, losing with four seconds to go in double overtime.
Just a couple of weeks after Mason was born was all the time Deanna needed to get back to working out, and she was back on the mat two months after that. She said the sleep deprivation that every new parent experiences hasn’t been that bad.
“He’s actually a really good baby,” Betterman said. “He sleeps a lot, so we got lucky. It’s cool to see the new things he can do. He’s at a fun stage.”
The Bettermans are now training for next month’s U.S. Nationals in Las Vegas.
“It’s been a lot of work, but we work on a good schedule,” Deanna said. “We bring Mason to practice with us, so that’s a little tough. When he was younger he’d sleep through practice, but that’s a little harder now.”
Matt Rix said he’s looking forward to watching Deanna and Joe compete in Las Vegas, and to spend time with his new grandson.
“I’ll be on babysitting duty,” he said with a laugh.