Adeline Gray with the gold medal at the 2019 World Championships (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
Adeline Gray grew up like many female wrestlers from her era.
Fighting for acceptance and respect. And trying to prove she belonged.
She battled the usual stigmas of trying to excel while wrestling on a team full of boys in Denver, Colorado.
Many of her first opponents were boys, but she embraced the challenge and enjoyed her share of success.
And once she started wrestling against people of her own gender, Gray continued her quest to help women gain more notoriety and attention in a male-dominated sport.
That quest continued halfway around the world when Gray made history on Thursday night in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
For the fifth time in her legendary career, Gray captured a gold medal at the World Championships when she won the 76-kilogram title in women's wrestling.
She became the first American wrestler in any style to capture five world titles, surpassing the record of four titles she had shared with John Smith, Jordan Burroughs and Tricia Saunders.
It's an incredible accomplishment that needs to be recognized and celebrated. Winning a world title in wrestling is extremely difficult in any style.
Adeline Gray (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Yes, she's a female wrestler. But Adeline Gray deserves just as much respect as anyone who has worn a red, white and blue singlet. The quality of wrestling on the Senior level for women is top-notch now.
Gray has made major contributions to the sport in so many ways.
She was one of the leaders in the fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics in 2013. She was a great ambassador and spokesperson for the sport during that tumultuous time. She played an important role as women's wrestling became a key part of keeping the sport in the Olympics.
Gray has continued to lead the charge as women's wrestling has experienced significance growth in the U.S., especially in recent years. She's impacted and inspired countless young girls who are now wrestling.
She has helped legitimize the sport as the number of participants have skyrocketed in this country.
Gray will be one of the first to tell you she can be stubborn at times, but that's part of what makes her so successful.
Terry Steiner talks to Adeline Gray at the 2016 Olympic Games (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
She has her own unique way of approaching the sport and it works for her. And she has worked well with U.S. Coach Terry Steiner in finding a training plan that works best for her.
The hard-charging, intense Iowa Hawkeye style of wrestling that Steiner prefers doesn't necessarily work for Gray, but they've come up with a program that works best for her.
Gray also has evolved considerably as a wrestler. Earlier in her career, she was lethal with the arm bar that her father taught her. She then developed a leg lace that is virtually unstoppable when she locks it up.
Once she takes you down, the match could be over in a matter of seconds with her ability to turn an opponent.
Gray also has developed an effective offense to go with her rock-solid defense. She's a complete wrestler who can overpower opponents. She's a tough matchup in the heavyweight class.
She's also mentally tough and doesn't become rattled, even if she falls behind. She proved that when she won her second world title in 2014.
When the bright lights go on, Gray is as good as anyone on the planet.
She has an uncanny ability to stay calm, composed and focused even when the stakes are highest.
In the eight World Championships she has entered, she has won five gold medals, two bronze medals and finished fifth.
It was the two toughest setbacks of her career that ultimately led to her high level of success.
Ten years ago, Gray was an 18-year-old on the verge of winning her first world medal on the Senior level. She nearly recorded a fall during a dominant first period against a wrestler from Nigeria, but then lost the next two periods and finished fifth.
Helen Maroulis and Adeline Gray with their gold medals at the 2015 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
It was a devastating and emotional loss, but Gray came back more determined than ever. She won three world titles in 2012, 2014 and 2015 while also winning world bronze medals in 2011 and 2013.
She was ranked No. 1 and favored to win the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio before being upset in the quarterfinals and falling short of the medal podium.
Gray didn't say anything about it at the time, but she had been wrestling with an injured shoulder that eventually required surgery.
Being the great champion that she is, Gray didn't want to go out that way. She came back with a vengeance.
She made the commitment for another four-year Olympic cycle during a time she was thinking about starting a family of her own.
She missed the 2017 season after having surgery, but came back strong to win world titles in 2018 and 2019.
It was awesome seeing her parents, George and Donna, standing and cheering in the stands in Kazakhstan after their daughter won gold Thursday. Adeline is part of a close-knit family and I know their support has played a huge role in her success.
Now the 28-year-old Gray turns her focus to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
That's the main reason she came back for another Olympic cycle.
To have another shot at adding one final golden achievement to her Hall of Fame career. It's the final piece of the puzzle.
Gray knows what she needs to do. She's confident in her abilities and believes in what she's doing. And she's obviously still wrestling at a high level.
She will be more driven, motivated and determined than ever after what happened in 2016.
I know one thing for certain.
I wouldn't bet against Adeline Gray when the wrestlers take the mat next year in Tokyo.
She is one of the greatest champions in American wrestling history.
And she will be on a mission to land a spot on the top step of the medal podium at the 2020 Olympic Games.
It would be a fitting finish to a fabulous career.
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.