Girls wrestler. State champ. National champ. Proud Native American. Olympian?

Girls wrestler. State champ. National champ. Proud Native American. Olympian?

Minnesota’s most respected high school wrestler began her professional life the way dozens of other 6-year-old girls do: as a dancer.

It quickly became clear that dancing was not for Skylar Little Soldier. She wasn’t having fun and neither were her family members.

Soon after, younger brother Taylon attended a novice youth wrestling camp. Skylar went with me.

“I loved it. I wanted to be there right away,” Skylar said. “I like the idea of ​​having to work hard. And I didn’t think it was good that my little brother would be successful in sport before me.”

Her time as a dancer ended there. “I was fine with that,” her father, Nathan Little Soldier, said with a laugh. “I didn’t really like dancing.”

The change began a wrestling odyssey that has taken a blonde, blue-eyed Native American girl, a source of pride for the three affiliated tribes of central North Dakota (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara), through the epicenter of international women’s wrestling in Japan to a historic gathering at the Xcel Energy Center, to where the US raises Olympians in Colorado, and to Argentina to wrestle for their country.

A 16-year-old junior at Hastings, at 145 pounds, she is ranked No. 1 in Minnesota and the No. 9 female wrestler in the country on the pound-for-pound rankings compiled by That’s ninth in the nation overall, regardless of weight class.

She formulates her goal simply:

“I want to be at the Olympics one day.”

The gaming dream

For so many young athletes, the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of athletic achievement, a lustrous object so bright it casts a shadow over other worthy aspirations.

Often the dream fades as life moves on, but not for Little Soldier. As she progressed in the world of wrestling, the vision of the Olympics she carries became clear to those around her.

“When she was 8 and said she wanted to be in the Olympics, we kind of rolled our eyes and told her it was a good dream,” said her father, who has a wrestling background. “What percentage actually goes to college? Then she started winning tournaments. About two years ago their goal became legitimate.”

Little’s Soldier’s international experience dates back to seventh grade when she traveled to Japan for a camp that opened her eyes to the dedication it takes to succeed in world wrestling. “They are the best [female wrestlers] in the world,” she said. “They go out and work so hard and they just grind. It showed me how much I have to do.”

Achievements have increased:

Twice a 16-and-under champion at the USA Nationals, both times at 127 pounds.

Runner-up among juniors at the national championships last summer.

A place on Team USA for the Pan Am Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

And the plum she’s particularly proud of: The 132-pound championship at Minnesota’s first-ever girls high school state championships at the Xcel Energy Center this past March.

“That was great. The first-ever girls’ national tournament, with the finals right next to the boys,” Little Soldier said. “I pointed to my father in the stands. He has a big picture of it in his office.”

“It was the coolest thing to witness,” said Nathan, whose office is at Flint Hills Resources’ Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount. “The girls were right there with the boys and got just as much recognition.”

A trainer in the picture

Girls’ wrestling is gaining ground, but it’s still in its infancy. For Kevin Black, a former Wisconsin All-America wrestler and founder of the Victory School of Wrestling in his hometown of River Falls, Wisconsin, it has created a wide track record for teaching.

He no longer owns the wrestling school, but he still invests a lot of his time there as a coach and mentor. He is known for his work with female wrestlers. Three of his wrestlers were 2022 Minnesota State High School League state champions: Forest Lake’s Aspen Blasko (107 pounds), Stillwater’s Audrey Rogotzke (120), and Little Soldier, his rising superstar.

“I’ve known Skylar since she came here as a sixth year girl,” Black said. “You could tell right away that she had what it took to be successful.”

She has a strong support system with deep family roots, Black observed, and is an important role model when it comes to her father and his work ethic.

“And she’s committed to doing the little things you have to do to be successful,” Black said. “It’s not just about hard work. All good wrestlers work hard. You see certain athletes who are willing to do the little things it takes, like get to training 20 minutes early to focus and get their minds right. Many wrestlers do this before games. Skylar does it before every workout.”

She trains every day before the sun comes up.

“It was something that came from me,” her father said. “I go to work at 4:30 in the morning. Sometimes her [Skylar and Taylon] needed a little push to get up. Skylar is doing it alone now.”

It’s also about their physical abilities. She has just the right mix, Black said: “She has good body awareness and flexibility. And she is very strong.”

But above all, immaterial values ​​characterize Little Soldier.

“I call it the ‘sports gene,'” Black said. “It’s an element that all the best wrestlers have that cannot be taught. She just knows how to compete.”

Attorney, role model

Little Soldier is proud to be a Native American. This feeling will be returned to her.

“She brings a lot of pride to her tribe,” said her father, who grew up in central North Dakota. “They have supported her in some of her ventures, both in the country and abroad.”

She makes four or five trips each year to the Fort Berthold Reservation, where she is treated like a recurring hero.

“A lot of people ask me why I started wrestling because there aren’t very many girls who wrestle,” she said. “They don’t understand, but they’re proud that I represent the tribe. And a lot of girls and younger wrestlers look up to me.”

Nathan puffs up his chest from hearing others speak in muffled voices when they see Skylar in person.

“We go to a tournament and people point and say, ‘This is Little Soldier.’ It’s kind of cool that they all want to meet her,” he said.

Bigger and bigger

Little Soldier said she’s “not one of those kids who were good straight away,” but her arc has steadily risen.

Last fall, she spent more than a month at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. One of her biggest rivals and the wrestler ahead of her nationally at 127 pounds, Washington’s Shelby Moore was her roommate. They have gone from intense rivals to close friends.

All the training added mass – but not fat – to her body.

“She was a lot taller when she came home,” her father said. “She looked so muscular, like she was 160 pounds.”

Not quite. She now wrestles at 145 pounds and is adapting from her high school wrestling method, folkstyle, to the freestyle wrestling used in international competitions.

“It’s hard to do both,” Black said. “Folkstyle wrestling is more about controlling your opponent. Freestyle is very different. Points are scored in a different way. A lot of Americans have trouble making the transition.”

Little Soldier is confident that she can make these and any other changes necessary to reach her Olympic goal.

“I’m pretty humble and motivated to work hard,” she said.

“I’ll do what I have to do.”

Want to know more about Skylar Little Soldier? Watch this film by Victoria Zeyen:

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