Wrestler Sarah Hildebrandt Shares Her Journey To Discovering Her “Why”

by Sarah Hildebrandt

Sarah Hildebrandt celebrates at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games on August 8, 2019 in Lima, Peru.



What's Your Why presented by DeVry highlights athlete’s individual motivations that drive them to pursue greatness on their journey to achieve their Olympic & Paralympic dreams.


When I first started wrestling, the only thing that drove me to the sport was that it looked fun. So fun, that I paid no mind to the fact that no other girls participated in it. I watched my brothers become so wonderfully consumed by the sport and their love for it just naturally spread through our family. Eventually, watching wasn’t enough. I wanted to try.

And so, I joined the boy’s wrestling team.

There are many ways to stumble upon a new adventure. If you are lucky, it is because you’re looking to try something that you might enjoy. That is the simple, extremely shortened version of my story. I mention it because it brings a nostalgic smile to my face, picturing 11-year-old me blissfully unaware of pretty much everything. The purity of beginning something for the fun of it. In something that would go on to become my profession, it is a small comfort knowing that its foundation takes its roots like that. Of course, there came a time when I decided that I didn’t just want this to be fun. I wanted to see how far I could take it. I wanted to test myself against the best. I wanted to become the best. 

I want to be candid with you— at the beginning of my professional career, when someone would ask me why I wrestled for a living, I told them, “Because I want to be the best.” But when I would say it, I would notice the answer felt wrong to me. Almost like they weren’t my words. Not even my idea, just what was expected of me. Surely if I was going to dedicate all this time and effort, my result should be wanting to be the best, right? I went on believing this was why I wrestled, despite feeling doubt every time the words poured out of my mouth. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say your dreams should scare you. I didn’t doubt why I was doing it. I doubted that I could even do it. Exhale. Yes, that sounds right, let’s go with that.

For a long time, I felt lost in the wrestling world, in everyday life, in my own mind. I loved wrestling, and I wanted to succeed at the highest level, but I felt empty. I could not answer my own “why” honestly, and I gave an incomplete answer to others. Why was I doing this? 

I eventually started convincing myself that I no doubt showed up daily because I needed to pave the way for the young women after me. I really took to this because it gave me a feeling of worth. I wasn’t just doing this for myself, it was for others. What I was doing was making the world a better place. This helped to quiet the demons in my head that insisted I were acting purely through ego. This “why” seemed a better fit but still, each time I said it, I could feel guilt pinch at my throat, like an attempt to keep me from saying something that wasn’t the full truth. I knew deep down that although I truly want to create more opportunities for women in sport and life, there was something else I wasn’t seeing that would explain why I was choosing to dedicate my whole life to wrestling. 

When you start to really devote yourself to a craft, I think we often start with the intention to learn, perhaps even with the hope to master. You see your craft not only as something you do, but also as a teacher. Obviously, this is demonstrated in ways of technique, and as you go along you start to see it is a teacher of life as well. Perseverance, effort, confidence, gratitude, accountability…the list is endless. All things, I’m sure, we’ve experienced through our own endeavors. For a very long time, I only saw wrestling as a teacher. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful and valuable way to view most things, but there was something more there.

There came a point where I started to look at wrestling as a mirror. Not just a mirror of my wrestling, but a mirror of myself. Wrestling wasn’t only teaching me what all of those qualities I mentioned above meant, it was reflecting how I processed them and set them to my own beat. Wrestling emulates everything. Your craft, if you allow it, will show everything. It took me so long to see that wrestling was helping me create my own way of life. I began to see wrestling transform from literal combat, to a full representation of my ideologies. This seems like a simple connection, but it was one I did not truly recognize for quite some time. Even now, I fear I have difficulty adequately explaining. I found that my pursuit for greatness in wrestling was guiding me to learn more of who I am, where I can be better, and what that will take. Not even in regards to wrestling, truly in sole curiosity of my being. I felt a complete transformation of my mind, body, and soul, as results took a backseat to my own personal journey.

Wrestling is my teacher, my tool, my mirror. 

There is a quote by Shannon Lee, from her book, Be Water My Friend, that much more eloquently encapsulates my thoughts on why I wrestle. She is explaining her thoughts on the quote, “True mastery is service.” She says, “What that means to me is that energy imparted and expressed through someone’s mastery is in and of itself an act of service because it lifts us up and inspires us to what is possible in life. You shine your own light, and there’s more light, in total, for everyone.”

I love that. I love that the pursuit of dreams and mastery has the ability to lift everything around us. Not just in sport, not just through inspiration, but in humanness. It’s who we are and what we bring to each moment. It is creation. 

Maybe our dreams don’t have to scare us. Maybe I challenge the ever-popular sayings that advocate for this. Maybe it isn’t scary. Maybe it is a coalescence—a union of dreams and reality, that bring you closer to the second you are in. It isn’t scary, it is freeing, as you can feel the past and future loosening its grip that would otherwise drag you down.

My dreams don’t scare me, they bring me home. The more I work towards them, the more I uncover who I am as a human, the more light I can bring to this planet. 

I do wrestle because I want to be the best. I also wrestle because it creates a bigger and better platform for the women after me. But I wrestle because wrestling is not just my sport or my profession. It is my philosophy. It is a physical demonstration of my truths and principals. It has taught me lessons that have formed me. It checks me through challenges. Most importantly, it reflects back to me the authenticity of my approach to life. With this, I don’t just give purpose to my wrestling, but to anything I do. I’m not only here to become a great wrestler, but through that I can become a great human, and maybe…hopefully, leave the world a little better than when I entered it.

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