Junior National champ Hattendorf has overcome personal losses to continue Olympic dream at OTC

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Updated: August 16, 2022

Photo: Skylar Hattendorf (top) turned Amitria McKack’s takedown attempt into her own points as the native of New Hampshire dominated her Missouri opponent for the 138-pound Junior National women’s title in Fargo. (John Johnson photo)

By Mike Finn

Marla Hattendorf still remembers when her only child and daughter, Skylar, appeared on TV as a five-year-old competing in a judo tournament.

“They asked her if she had ever done this before,” recalled Marla. “She said, ‘No, it’s my first tournament and I want to go to the Olympics.”

 Nearly 13 years later, the sport has changed but this 2022 Junior National champ in women’s freestyle wrestling still has that same dream.

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“I just want to win the Olympics in wrestling,” said Skylar, who lives with her mother in Hookset, N.H., but who represented the state of Massachusetts when she won by technical fall over Amitria McKack of Missouri at 138 pounds in last month’s Junior/16U Nationals in Fargo, N.D.

And Hattendorf, who turns 18 on Sept. 10, truly believes that could happen as she prepares to move to Colorado Springs, Colo., as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center. Several other Junior wrestlers, competing in the FargoDome, will be making a similar move, including 132-pound champ Janida Garcia of California.

“It’s about experiences and I’m grateful for the opportunity to train with the Senior athletes and (U.S. National Team) coach Terry Steiner,” said Hattendorf, a native of Los Angeles, who moved with her family to the East Coast as a young judo competitor looking for good coaching.

That was also about the time she was introduced to wrestling.

“They didn’t have any jiu-jitsu out there so I started wrestling and fell in love with wrestling,” said Hattendorf, who certainly has built a name in the sport after winning a Super 32 championship last fall and earning a U17 World silver medal in 2019.

“Between 2018 and 2019, everything was going so well,” recalled Marla.

Marla Hattendorf (left) and her late husband, Charles, knew their daughter Skylar had Olympic dreams at a young age. 

But then the Hattendorfs were forced to deal with a family tragedy, the passing of Skylar’s father, Charles, who died of heart failure in 2019 shortly before he turned 47.

While Marla said she was a typical mother supporting her daughter’s dream, she said it was her husband who took those dreams to a different level.

“He was a super smart and intelligent guy, who knew what needed to happen,” recalled Marla. “And Skylar had that tenacity and loves to win. That fuels her fire.”

But neither Skylar nor Marla allowed the loss of Charles to derail Skylar’s wrestling.

“He would not have wanted it that way and he would have been very angry at me,” Marla said. “He knew she was going to make it big and it was her dream and it was never about him.”

This also happened about the time the pandemic shut everything down, including the first invitation to become an OTC resident. But Marla believes that pandemic also helped her and Skylar deal with their personal pain.

 “She took the time she needed and the pandemic kind of helped because there was no wrestling at that time,” Marla recalled. “It might have been a different story if it was go, go, go with wrestling. The pandemic gave us some time to reflect and decide what we’re going to do.”

Once wrestling returned, Skylar earned an opportunity to compete in FloWrestling’s “Who’s No. 1” event in October of 2020.

Unfortunately, Hattendorf tore her ACL and meniscus in a match with Kylie Welker; forcing Skylar to stay off the mat for a year.

“It was pretty bad,” Skylar recalled. “It was my first real injury and I wanted to take time with it. I didn’t have a time frame, but I didn’t want it to happen again. It made me so hungry. I just wanted to get back on the mat. I love the sport so much and took every opportunity that I could, whether it was coaching and helping other girls.”

Skylar, a high school graduate who has been home-schooled since her sophomore year, welcomes her latest opportunity, but admits it will be hard without her mother.

“All of our family is on the West Coast so I’m hoping she will move with me,” smiled Skylar.

Marla said she will miss Skylar on a daily basis but believes her daughter has been prepared for this newest challenge.

“My husband taught her how to make allies, make connections, whether it was through social media or through training camps,” Marla said. “She didn’t have your more traditional middle and high school activities. She didn’t go out with friends in high school when she started to home school in the middle of her sophomore year. Her social was judo and wrestling.

“She’s very good about being around people who make her better. She’s not a perfect teenager and I’ve learned that if she wants to get where she wants to go, she’s going to be around the right people.

“Some people will say she did not get a typical high school experience, but she was willing to make those sacrifices and we were willing to make them for her. There is absolutely no regret, especially when she gets on that Olympic podium.”

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