Photos from Silhouette Photo Archives
By: Adriana Skaljin
Cassandra Rufenach is a fourth-year biology student and wrestler for the McMaster wrestling team. Rufenach started wrestling in the 11th grade for half a season, and played a full season in her final year of high school.
Her decision to start wrestling was inspired by her love for taekwondo, which led to a desire to do something that shared the same level of physical contact. She loved her experience on the high school wrestling team, and continued her career at McMaster for the past four years.
“There was a big transition going from high school to university-level wrestling,” explained Rufenach. “At McMaster, we started to learn the sport [beyond] having fun, so I had to relearn everything I knew.”
“I started [late into high school] because I didn’t know that women were allowed to be on the wrestling team,” said Rufenach on her experience going into a male-dominated sport. “I remember being told that it was a boy’s sport, but I joined anyways because I was already [participating in] fighting sports.”
Rufenach accounts for the physicality of wrestling as the reason why it is male-dominated. This is reflected in McMaster’s roster size, with the men’s team approximately double the size of the women’s.
“The sport [requires a high level of] physicality and is a tough and aggressive sport,” explained Rufenach. “Whenever I tell anyone that I am on the wrestling team, they are surprised because of my size and the fact that I don’t fit the [wrestling stereotype].”
— McMaster Athletics (@McMasterSports) January 15, 2019
This disparity is not just limited to wrestling, despite the fact that many women show interest in athletics. Rufenach notes that there is still more progress that needs to be made .
“We need to bring [more] awareness to women in sports and show that girls are just as capable as guys,” said Rufenach. “We need to make [female athletics] more apparent [in society] and provide equal highlights for both sexes.”
Despite her acknowledgement that wrestling is a male-dominated sport, she commends her team on being inclusive and equal between the male and female wrestlers.
“The male wrestlers on the [McMaster] team are good at being welcoming to us females and there is no exclusion,” said Rufenach. “There are physical differences between the women and the men, and the guys take that into account and wrestle us more tactically [in practice].”
“Everyone has their own individual areas of improvement,” said Rufenach on the team’s dynamic. “As a whole, our closeness helps [to unify us by the fact] that it is our sport.”
When asked about her individual areas of improvement, Rufenach explained how last year she was able to crack the standings unlike the year prior. She owes her new found success to her personal motivation tactics.
“I tell myself to stay calm [before a match] and remain focused,” said Rufenach. “Each match is a learning experience. It should not matter if you win or lose. You need to focus on wrestling your best and at a level that you will be proud of.”
Rufenach provided advice to any woman considering a start in wrestling.
“It’s going to be hard work; you need to be aware that hard work pays off,” she said. “Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it is considered a male-dominated sport. It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter.”
It is evident that with passion, perseverance and acceptance, female wrestlers such as Cassandra Rufenach have the ability to participate in the sports they love. It is important to move past the male-normativity that is placed against sports, such as wrestling, and strive to recognize female athletics.