Colorado’s Hinojosa ‘trusted the process’ after a tough start to wrestling

Updated: January 25, 2024

Photo: Amaya Hinojosa made her family and the state of Colorado proud when she won a 15U Pan Am title.

By Bill X. Barron

Amaya Hinojosa, the current 15U Girls Pan American 58-kilogram champion proclaims, “Wrestling is my life. Wrestling has taught me discipline. That means never missing practice, doing extra drills and strength training and keeping myself accountable.” 

Although her first sport was ballet, Amaya decided to try wrestling because “I watched my little brother at practice and it looked fun.” 

Initially, the sport did not come without difficulty. She was just seven years old in a room full of boys, so she quit after the first month. 

“It was hard being the only girl and my dad was the coach,” she said, but added, “Dad (Chris) helped by reframing any match, win or lose, as a win because you learned what you can do better.”

Around that same time, she watched the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, where her current role model, Helen Maroulis, became America’s first Olympic wrestling gold medalist.

This story appeared in the January issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe.

Competing in the 53-kilogram finals in Brazil, Maroulis faced Japan’s Saori Yoshida, a wrestler considered unbeatable as a three-time Olympic champion who had also won 13 World gold medals. 

Strategically, Maroulis controlled the pace to earn a well-deserved 4-1 victory. Amaya said Maroulis’ unlikely victory was her first realization that any wrestler could beat any opponent on a given day. 

In the fifth grade, Amaya began to imagine a future in the sport, when she entered boys’ tournaments.

“It lit a fire under me,” Amaya said. “With my dad as coach, we became much closer as we entered tournaments every weekend.”  

“When we began the RMN Events, it was a real grind, but it exposed me to competition outside my state and the awards are always amazing,” Amaya recalled. “I loved the opportunity to travel.” 

In 2018-19 alone, Amaya wrestled in 10 RMN finals and came away with seven championships. 

In her developing years, RMN’s high-caliber multi-state competition prepared Amaya for the national stage as a 2020 Western States gold medalist, followed by USA Wrestling titles at the 2021 Brian Keck Memorial and 2022 14U Girls Folkstyle Nationals. 

“A journey” is how Amaya describes her participation in the sport. All the while she was attaining national honors, she was also rapidly progressing to the next level.

Club and school coaches essential to her development are Greg Burton, Avelino Mota, Jacobi Jones, Duane Goldman, James Fernandez and her dad.

Amaya Hinojosa won the Vista Ridge Alpha Female Tournament in Colorado Spring at 115 pounds in 2023 with the help of his nearside cradle.

On the outside, Amaya trains at Goldman’s Wrestling Academy of the Rockies (WAR). A former four-time NCAA finalist for Iowa and later a successful coach at Indiana, Duane Goldman helps her prepare to succeed nationally and internationally by teaching her how to break down film and how to study her opponents.

In August 2023, she won the 15U Pan American Trials at the U.S. Air Force Academy, qualifying her for the UWW Pan Am Championships this past November in Panama City.

The Pan Am Games opened a whole new world for Amaya. During an interview with a local KKTV affiliate, she said, “Just seeing all the different countries and hearing all the dialects and seeing all the unusual ways that they wrestle and all the different styles. It was great.”

In Panama, Hinojosa first faced Brazil’s Yasim Neper Oliveria Santos, whom her father and coach Chris described as “very tough with Russian ties looking to throw us.” Amaya scored on two outside singles in the first period, then earned two more takedowns to prevail 8-4.

Daliana Cartagena Casiano of Puerto Rico, her Pan Am semifinal opponent, represented what Amaya has learned about international wrestling.

“They are very strong,” she said. “Rather than focus on taking shots, they work more upper body. I had to wrestle my own match, not theirs. I did not want to let them get too comfortable. I made them compete where I was most comfortable.”

However, Amaya’s hard-fought 6-5 victory over Casiano came with a cost as she suffered a significant shoulder injury. Regardless, her journey to the gold was not to be denied. 

In the Pan Am Finals, Amaya whitewashed Ecuador’s Camila Chasipanta Sandoval 8-0 before her foe injury defaulted at 1:06. 

“My mindset in the final was different,” Amaya said. “I just wanted to get it over.” 

Unfortunately, it turned out that she had a torn labrum, meaning she will miss her sophomore high school season and will have surgery this January. Despite this setback, Amaya can be seen matside alongside her dad, coaching and motivating her high school girl teammates.

“After my career is over, I would love to return to my high school as a girls coach,” she said. “I want to serve as a role model and be able to share my knowledge of the sport.”

As a high school freshman on her dad’s Widefield team in Colorado Springs, Hinojosa won the city’s Metro championship on her way to compiling a 30-1 season record. Heading into the Colorado High School Girls Championships, she was the CHSAA top seed at 115 pounds. 

Though it was her first state meet, Amaya was not intimidated, pinning her initial three opponents in the first period. She vanquished Poudre’s Pearl Morris in 20 seconds, Anaiah Guajardo-Zarate of Grand Junction Central in 1:41, and the No. 4-seed Chatfield’s Hannah Rocklin at the 1:53 mark. 

In the 2023 State finals at 115 pounds, she faced one who would become a familiar championship opponent, Discovery Canyon’s Mia Hargrove. During the season, Hinojosa prevailed 5-2 in the Vista Ridge Tournament finals and 4-0 over Hargrove for the Metro League title. 

Just the same, Amaya found the finals to be “nerve-wracking,” as thousands were in stands for the final round of the state event, where the girls’ championship was held concurrently with four levels of boys’ title matches. Ultimately, Hargrove turned the tables to earn first place with a 4-0 decision.

“Wrestling has taught me to be humble and never look past any opponent,” she said. “Anyone can beat you anytime, especially if you have a target on your back. Improvement takes time and commitment. It took me years to get where I am now. But when success comes, I know I am that much more deserving because I have worked for it.”

“Our family is made for wrestling,” said her father Chris. “I wrestled in high school (as a four-year varsity starter) and my wife Leticia wrestled in Texas and Colorado. In fact, she and I met through wrestling.”

“Family participation gives me the support I need to succeed and at the same time, they hold me accountable for my wrestling and my academics,” Amaya added. “My mom takes me to practice and everywhere else. Dad never forces me to wrestle; he just helps me refine my technique.”

One whose name in Spanish means “a place of great significance,” Amaya is mature beyond her years in her quest to establish her own compelling legacy. 

“Trust the process,” cites Amaya. “Honestly, you may not see immediate results, but if you continue to compete, you will make gains.

“It is difficult to go on the mat where everyone can see every mistake you make and judge your moves. All eyes are on you. In wrestling, you cannot hide behind anyone. No one sees the extra work you put in. At practice, everyone is intent on beating each other up. 

“That is why I love the mental challenge of being a wrestler. Wrestling gives me motivation for school and keeps me eligible so I can continue to pursue the sport I love.”