Leya Deickman in action for Ferrum (Photo/Courtesy of Leya Deickman)
Before I knew much about wrestling, I would spend most of the dual looking in the stands in awe of the spectator's reactions. By far, my favorite reactions always came from the wrestling moms - there was Mrs. Shirey who would hide on the side of the bleachers, only peeking at the score on the Jumbotron, but never at the actual match, or Mrs. Dessino, who never blinked while her son wrestled (this is a true skill, I've tried it). I can't forget Mrs. Roosa, who had no problem letting her son know she was in his corner and what he needed to do to win (she was always right). These women were somehow able to bear the emotions, the pressure and the pain that their sons felt each time they took to the mat.
Until I met Leya Deickman, wrestling moms were the not-to-be-messed-with wrestling fans, completely dedicated to the sport and their athlete, but Leya gave new meaning to the term "wrestling mom." Leya Deickman, a Texas native, was introduced to the sport of wrestling her sophomore year by her very persistent high school conditioning coach, Marco Chavez. Despite never hearing of women's wrestling, Leya, a seasoned volleyball player, was determined to give the sport a shot (no pun intended). She worked hard both on and off the mat, eager to learn, but fell short at regionals, getting cradled in just 12 seconds of her first match. Despite her lack of success on the mat, her love for the sport was in full bloom and she knew she would come back next season even stronger. However, soon after her first wrestling season ended, Leya became pregnant. During that same time, she was informed her parents were being restationed across the country, to North Carolina. It seemed as though this new wrestler was going to hang up her wrestling shoes for good.
After finishing her sophomore year of high school in Texas, the very pregnant Leya moved to North Carolina to be with her parents, "You know being pregnant takes such a toll on your body mentally and physically. Although it was an incredibly transformative experience, it was super scary being so young. I got weird stares and judgments. I wasn't liked among my peers for coming from a new school pregnant and having one of the highest GPAs, which stirred the class rankings. It was very lonely." Despite her new circumstances, Leya was determined to continue her hard work in the classroom and it paid off; she quickly earned one of the highest GPAs in her grade at Hoke County High.
At 17 years old and after a very difficult labor, Leya was forced to have a C-section which kept her from returning to school for nine weeks! Determined not to fall behind, and with the support of her dedicated teachers, Leya maintained her GPA and surpassed those of her peers. As though that wasn't impressive enough, this new mother took full responsibility for her son Kendall Jr. While Leya's mother watched Kendall during the school hours, upon Leya's return from the classroom, Leya transformed from full-time student to full-time mother as soon as she stepped in the door.
After taking just a few months off from sports, it was in the fall of her Senior year at Hoke High that Leya expressed an interest in wrestling again; but with no sanctioned girls team, her only option was to join the boy's team. Now balancing her responsibilities as a mother, her academics, volleyball, the Math team and National Honor Society, Leya once again added wrestling to her resume. "I had my fair share of matches making boys cry, but I wrestled at 160 for the most part, so biologically, I was at a disadvantage. Coach always tried to convince me to drop to 138, but that wasn't happening." Leya seemed to work with what she had, embracing every obstacle and even rising to seek new challenges, so it came as no surprise when Ferrum College recruited her with just two years of wrestling experience under her belt.
Upon graduating high school third in her class in June of 2016, this wrestling mom was aiming for success once again both on and off the mat and she was not going to allow difficult circumstances to hold her back. Instead, she used her son and the responsibilities she held as a mother, to propel her forward. Leya can now admit looking back, she felt as though she had something to prove. She wanted to show the world that she could and she would achieve what she set out to do--and she did just that.
Even as a smaller college, Ferrum offered family housing, and with the assistance of Kendall's father, Leya received the support she needed to establish herself in college in the classroom and the wrestling room while still being a loving and responsible parent to her beautiful son. For this overachiever, it wasn't enough; she added the role of President of Save the Next Girl and eventually became an RA. It seemed as though everyone rallied behind Leya and Kendall--girls on the wrestling team, students and even professors and coaches offered to help with Kendall, giving meaning to the cliche, "it takes a village to raise a child."
Kendall at a Ferrum wrestling practice (Photo/Courtesy of Leya Deickman)
Leya made every single moment count, "In between classes and during breaks, I would go to the library and do homework. That way, I could focus on being a student during the day, an athlete in the evening, and a mom at night." She gave every role 100% effort and continued to embrace every challenge with grace and gratitude. The coach who recruited Leya to join the women's wrestling team eventually left and the assistant coach of the men's team, Ryan Riggs, stepped in to fulfill the role, but it seemed as though practices were more demanding physically and mentally, which pushed the team to its brink. In true wrestlers fashion, these women didn't run from the challenge but used it to create a team, a family and this family went through it all together. In Leya's time at Ferrum, the coaching staff changed three times, but with each new coach, Leya learned more about herself and more about wrestling. It was the ability to adapt and persevere that led Leya to form such a strong positive mentality. Despite falling short in the blood rounds her senior year at Nationals, Leya became the program's first Academic All-American in 2018. Ferrum quickly took notice of this multi-talented student and mother; upon graduation, Leya was asked to take a position at the school and served as a graduate assistant for the women's wrestling team.
It seems this wrestling mom just wasn't finished with the sport of wrestling. In fact, Covid and the pandemic left her team in a very odd predicament. The squad was unable to secure enough athletes to compete, so Leya was asked to step in and compete once again. Now balancing a full-time job, being a mother to a 5-year-old and earning a master's degree, Leya committed to one more season. She fared well during the regular season with a few significant victories, and when it came time for Nationals, she was ready to earn the closure she had been hoping for. With a first-round win by pin over Amara Devericks from Gannon, Leya was fired up. She faced the 2nd seed in her 2nd round match and lost 3-0, followed by two more close bouts that led to her final farewell to collegiate wrestling.
Leya and Kendall after receiving her second Master's Degree (Photo/Courtesy of Leya Deickman)
"There is a plan in everything that happens even if it doesn't make sense. Therefore just feel the fear, embrace it, and then keep going. There's always a purpose on the other side. I want anyone who has the slightest bit of doubt to see my story and instantly feel like they can do whatever they set out to be," Leya may not have accomplished her wrestling goals, but I'm sure I'm not alone in realizing just how much she overcame. She now holds two Master's degrees from Ferrum, has a six-year-old son who believes, "wrestling is for girls," and is planning on one day becoming a Dean of Students--which I no doubt, know she will accomplish. This wrestler was fearless in the pursuit of greatness, allowing nothing to come between her and the life she imagined for her small family. Leya, like most wrestlers, is an Overcomer who was just built differently.