Photos: There was plenty of buzz between Penn State (left) and Iowa...
Making of a Superhero
Mensah-Stock learned to balance her power and her sweetness to become a World champ and ‘21 Olympian
Photos Above: Shortly after Tamyra Mensah-Stock turned and beat Kennedy Blades a second time at the 2021 Olympic Trials at 68 kilos, the World champ hugged her 17-year-old opponent. (Justin Hoch photo)
By Mike Finn
In addition to her roles as World champion and 2021 Olympian for Team USA, Tamyra Mensah-Stock is a big fan of Anime, the Japanese animation series where certain characteristics turn the cartoon characters into superheroes.
Perhaps one of those characters should be called Tamyra because this 28-year-old native of Katy, Texas, admits her philosophy of life and the sport would be perfect for Anime … and she could also be the female version of one of Anime’s top characters.
“There are some people who always call me an Anime character because that is something I grew up with,” laughed Mensah-Stock. “Watching Dragon Ball Z, I idolized Goku. He is a top-notched superhero, the strongest in the world. His wife has to bring him down to earth. Being a goofball, he’s super lovable and easy to talk to; so loving. But at the same time, he’s a powerful force of nature that has to save the world again and again.
“And then there is Lucy from One Piece (series), who is a raw talent who doesn’t care what people think. He loves trying to get people to join in and have fun with him. He doesn’t take life too serious even though he has the greatest mission in the world.”
Mensah-Stock also mentioned she has been a fan of the Powerpuff Girls, an American animated television series that focus on three young girls with superpowers.
“Bubbles is the blue character I really relate to,” Tamrya said. “She’s fun-loving and kind of a cry baby who loves silly, silly things, but is a force to be reckoned with her sisters.”
When it comes to amateur wrestling, Mensah-Stock’s characteristics are certainly similar to these cartoon characters because few athletes in this sport are as dominant on the mat while being so lovable off the mat.
And that was never more true than at the 2021 Olympic Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, where she dominated Kennedy Blades, 12-4 and 8-1, at 68 kilograms, but easily cried after she earned her first trip to the Olympic Games that are fittingly being held this summer in Tokyo for this lover of Japanese art.
“It’s like (making the 2021 team) was already written,” said Mensah-Stock, who will join a talented group of USA women’s freestylers in Tokyo this August in which four of the six Americans — including Mensah-Stock — have won World championships.
But as tough as she looks on the mat, Tamyra melts fans’ hearts with her big smile and eye glasses, which she put on during the interview after the finals to be able to see where her family was sitting in the arena. It’s as if she might be the female version of Superman/Clark Kent.
“I’ve always thought of myself as an alter ego,” she said. “I do have a change in personality. Whatever the case may be, something comes out once I step on the mat. It took me a few years to actually figure it out because I always wanted to be nice on the mat. I didn’t want to be mean.
“I had to learn it was OK to be this powerful force to be reckoned with on the mat. But I could also allow myself to be the sweetheart I’ve always wanted to be. While it’s important to take care of business on the mat, I don’t have to be an overbearing force of nature all the time.”
Among the people who have reminded her of her wrestling potential is USA national coach Terry Steiner and her husband Jacob Stock, whom she married in 2016.
“He’s always been my biggest supporter, who says I have the most potential but adds he has seen me take it easy on someone,” Tamyra said. “He’ll say, ‘You have to go out there and dominate and take care of business. After the match, then you can go hug (the opponent).’
“He’s in my ear every day and telling me I can do this; that ‘you are such a powerful and dominating woman. Showcase God’s grace and show people what you have.’ All this positivity has been around me. It’s still a struggle but I’ve gotten better since the beginning of my wrestling career.”
“She’s always been a bit of an oxymoron,” smiled Jacob. “She’s very much a walking paradox where she’s ready to go at any time, but at her time. She’s got a huge heart and does things for the right reason.”
Jacob added, “it’s been a trip” to see Tamyra mature over the past few years.
“She’s still her same old self and can be a bit goofy, but when it comes to the way she does her profession, she means business,” he said. “She gets this tunnel vision and focuses on the task at hand and pushes everything else to the side. Before she might have gotten a little more distracted.”
Jacob, like Tamyra, was also a good prep wrestler at Morton Ranch High School in this community which sits 30 miles to the west of Houston. And Tamyra admitted one of the bigger reasons for choosing Wayland Baptist University — where she won two WCWA national championships for the Pioneers — was because Jacob had already made the decision to wrestle and attend the school in Plainview, Texas.
“He was someone on the wrestling team I admired,” she said. “He was this tall handsome guy, who I didn’t think would ever want to talk to me. He was my super crush. When I found out he had signed with Wayland, I also signed … and we started dating our junior year of college.”
Tamrya also attended Wayland with her fraternal twin sister Tarkiya, who introduced Tamyra to the sport in high school when their mother Shonda demanded the girls, “do something with themselves,’ ” said Tamyra, who also competed in track as a high school athlete. “She’d say, ‘An idle mind is a playground for the devil.’
“My sister didn’t want to compete in a regular sport so a friend suggested wrestling. (Tarkiya) was intrigued and went to a practice her freshman year and said she wanted to (wrestle). Our sophomore year was when we both got serious and she asked me to go to practice with her at 6 a.m., baiting me to be on the team.
“So I went and said, ‘I’m not doing this. This is disgusting. You’re sweating all over other people. Eventually they convinced me to put my wrestling shoes on … and I still hated it. I wanted to quit immediately. And they had the audacity to bump me up two weight classes. But surprisingly, I pinned a state qualifier. I loved it after that.”
Tamyra, like her sister, eventually earned two state championships, but not everything was going well for her during that time, especially on Jan. 1, 2009 when her father, Prince, died in a car crash while traveling home to Louisiana after watching one of her high school tournaments. A native of Ghana, her father would tell Tamyra about his rough days growing up in Africa.
“He would always tell me stories about how he and his brothers would fight. He was my biggest supporter that I could hear in the stands screaming. That is why I go by Mensah-Stock,” she said. “I want him to still be with me. I want people to know my father was at the beginning and he is still carrying me through.”
Tamyra and Jacob eventually made the move to Colorado Springs, where Jacob serves as a case manager for people coming out of prison while she trains full-time in wrestling. She certainly has been one of the USA’s best women wrestlers in the past five years, winning a bronze medal at the 2018 World Championships. And in 2019, she became the first woman to win three Yarygin Grand Prix titles in Russia.
But not every moment has been great Tamyra, including in 2016 when she also earned a spot on that Olympic squad, but didn’t get to get to Rio when she was unable to qualify the weight for Team USA.
She also lost a lot of good people in her life.
“My best friend from college, Jerry Davis, died in a car crash coming from a mission two months before those Olympic Trials,” she recalled. “My grandfather had died the year before and my uncle also had died from cancer. These people were so supportive of my dream.
“Because of that, I could not stop wrestling after what happened in 2016 because they never wanted me to stop. I’m not a quitter.”
She also had the help of Jacob.
“When you lose a handful of people, it makes you realize we only have a bit of time here (on earth),” Jacob said. “We don’t know how long that will be and need to take advantage of every sun up and sun down.”
Tamyra admits she is a crier, even at the happiest times in her life like when she qualified for the 2021 Games; primarily because she thinks of those she has lost.
“I have lost a lot of people in my life, I say to them, ‘I did it for you,’ when I have won,” she said as her voice breaks with sadness.
Tamyra hopes to keep wrestling until 2024, when she also hopes to coach women’s college wrestling on the Division I level in her home state. And she also is contemplating a professional (WWE) wrestling career in her future.
But, she also would like to become a mother and create a home. For now, it’s just her and Jacob and their two shih tzu terriers Otis and Lula.
“The fact that I have to leave my husband and dogs has been tough,” she said. “My coaches tell me I can have a baby and continue wrestling. I don’t want to do that. I want all my attention to be on a little one’s life. I want to show (my kids) that you can have your dream, then focus on creating the future of the world.”
That is where the cartoon comparisons end for Tamyra. She is the real thing when it comes to a wrestling superhero.