COLUMBIA — The floor of the Hearnes Center is a long way from Michigan.
Kerri Justice stepped onto that floor as one of the only female competitors at Saturday’s Show-Me State Games youth wrestling competition. She was competing at the games for the first time, along with her twin brother, Jake. Both are 12 years old, but they compete in different weight classes.
While Jake has been wrestling for five years, Kerri picked up the sport only a year ago. The family's move to Oakville three years ago from Michigan helped spur the change.
"We lived on a lake in Michigan," their father, Steve Justice, said. "We ice skated at least two to three times a week and every weekend. She was taking private lessons two to three times a week."
Moving to Missouri presented a change of scenery that led to a change in sports.
“We’re not on the water, so there was no practicing at home so to speak,” Steve Justice said. “It just wasn’t the same kind of program. The skating is so big out there. The ice-skating programs, the hockey programs in Michigan are huge.”
After trying to continue with ice skating in Missouri, Kerri decided to move on. She tried volleyball but, according to Steve Justice, that “wasn’t something that struck her as her favorite thing to do.”
That’s when their mother had an idea.
“I think my wife was probably the big instigator in getting her on the mat and convincing me that it was something we should push her to try if she was willing to,” Steve Justice said.
“I loved going to Jake’s tournaments so I thought it’d be kind of fun,” Kerri said.
As a coach of the twins’ club wrestling team, Steve Justice was hesitant about having Kerri join in.
“I did not grow up with girls wrestling,” he said. “It’s bad enough if your son is competing and slugging it out but when your daughter is out there its almost like ... yeesh. But I kind of put my gender-neutral blinders on and tell her just to wrestle.”
Gaining acceptance from her male teammates took some time.
“At first, they would avoid her like the plague,” Steve Justice said.
“I was thinking what, do they still believe in cooties or something?” Kerri said.
“I was kind of defensive for her,” Jake said. “I didn’t really want guys making fun of her cause I believe she could probably beat most of them.”
Eventually, the guys got used to her. Because of their different weight classes, Jake and Kerri have never had to compete against each other outside of practice. Each sibling does enjoy watching the other.
“It’s fun to see what she’s learning and to see different ways of how she’s wrestling,” Jake said.
“It’s definitely competitive,” Kerri said. “It’s also gratifying seeing how we can compare our moves.”
As a female participating in a sport dominated by males, Kerri wants to represent girls in the best way possible.
“I feel like I definitely have to stand out most of the time and try my hardest,” she said.