At 5’1”, 103 pounds, Cammi LaRosee's body seems custom-made for cheerleading and gymnastics, two sports that the Hahnville High School upcoming senior excelled in when she was younger.
But LaRosee chose a far more aggressive sport to pursue as she grew older -- high school wrestling. And she has been surprisingly successful competing against boys her size.
In November, LaRosee became the first girl in the history of Louisiana to ever finish in first place in a varsity tournament. Now, LaRosee is infatuated with the sport and spends all of her time working out and practicing to become even better.
"When I'm not able to practice, I miss it so bad. It's crazy how much I miss it," she said. "It's like when a family member goes out of town or when a brother or sister goes to camp for a long period of time. You miss them so bad while their gone and for me that's how much I miss wrestling if I'm not able to practice."
LaRosee first got into wrestling in the eighth grade while she was watching basketball tryouts due to a cancelation of her cheerleading practice. One of her friends, Thomas Jones, told her that J.B. Martin was starting a wrestling team and that she should give it a shot.
"My mom used to be a police officer, so I knew some self-defense moves because she made it mandatory that we go to at least a few classes," LaRosee said. "So I told my twin sister, Carey, about it and we just fell into it."
The twins didn't ask their mother, Maureen’s permission before joining the team. She actually didn't find out until two weeks later.
"She was surprised," LaRosee said with a chuckle. "She was a big tomboy too when she was growing up so she understood."
From that point on LaRosee and her twin sister would split their practices by going to cheerleading for the first half and then heading to the mats for wrestling.
"It wasn't that big of a deal because it was all in the same gym, so one half of the gym was cheerleading and the other had mats, so I would just switch up," she said. “I like to stay busy.”
She said her coach, Dan Erwin, told her mother not to buy wrestling gear for the girls because he wanted to see if they would stick it out.
So LaRosee said the rest of her junior high year was spent "testing the waters."
"A lot of guys, when they figure out they are going against girls they are worried because if they beat a girl it's like you beat up on a girl. If you lose to a girl, it's like, ‘Dude, you just got beaten by a girl.’”
Though there was some reluctance from boys who had to compete against her, LaRosee decided to stick with wrestling.
She began wrestling with the JV team during her freshman year at Hahnville and said she absorbed new moves like a sponge.
"Me and my sister would practice with the JV team and then we would go to the varsity practice and soak up as much as possible by taking part in their workouts, which at the time were grueling to me," LaRosee said.
After seeing how much time they were dedicating to wrestling, Erwin told the girls' mother to get them wrestling shoes and kneepads.
"That was a big stepping stone for me," LaRosee said. "But then I was like, ‘Where do I get wrestling shoes?’”
Erwin said that LaRosee’s drive to be the best caught his attention.
“She loves it when she gets told that she cannot do something,” he said. “That comment just pushes her more. She would be competitive finger painting.”
Injuries halt twin’s career
LaRosee's sister, Carey, was also a good wrestler but suffered several injuries during her junior high season by separating her shoulder twice. Then, in her freshman season, she suffered a concussion.
"That was scary for me," LaRosee said. "We are always together and even now we have the same classes together. It was hard to watch her get hurt and watch her struggle to recover."
During her junior season, Carey suffered yet another concussion and was forced to give up the sport.
"Now she has accepted the fact that my mom had to take her out of wrestling," LaRosee said. "It was a big decision on my mom's part because she hated to take her out. We are both so competitive and she wants to wrestle so bad."
Watching her twin suffer also made LaRosee a more hesitant wrestler. She says that she won't finish some dangerous moves because she is scared she will suffer an injury.
"It's good to be cautious and be safe but you're a wrestler and injuries are going to happen," she said. "I've been focusing more on being less hesitant."
First girl in state to win varsity wrestling tourney
LaRosee got the chance to see her first varsity action this past season during her junior year. She started the year at 114 pounds and was wrestling in the 119-pound division. That's the toughest and most competitive division because the wrestlers are strong as well as quick.
"I was doing OK there, but the guys were a lot taller and stronger," LaRosee said. "For years my coach was pushing for me to drop weight so that I could wrestle in a lower division and be able to win."
When the team's 103-pound division wrestler was injured, LaRosee took over the spot. That's when she would make history.
"I was 102 pounds at John Ehret when I won my very first place," she said. "It was such an amazing feeling being the first woman in Louisiana to win at a varsity level. So it was kind of like making history even though no one knew about it."
LaRosee said that Hahnville High School was going to buy and deliver flowers to her the next school day, but Erwin found out about it and had it canceled, saying it would give her a big head.
"He was right," she said. "Even without the flowers I got big headed and I did very poorly at my next meet. It was because I thought I was the bomb now.
"Getting my butt whipped served as a good reminder."
She has to work twice as hard to compete against boys
Since then, LaRosee said she has performed much better at recent meets. She has also gotten used to being in a male-dominated sport because she not only practices two days a week at Hahnville, but also practices three days a week at Rummel High School.
"My first couple of years I was very apprehensive when approaching any of the guys. It was very nerve-racking just being around there," she said. "Now, I got to know a lot of the guys and I have made good friends with people from everywhere.
"They all respect me."
That goes for LaRosee's male teammates, who she said she now knows better than their girlfriends.
"The guys don't walk in anymore like, ‘She's just a girl,’" she said. "They respect me as a wrestler and the guys on my team have become like my brothers."
Her coach agrees.
“I don’t think of her as a girl wrestling...she is just another wrestler on the team,” Erwin said. “In order to compete against the boys she has to work twice as hard just to keep up with the strength factor and she has to be twice as sharp with her technique because of the strength factor.”
Keeping body in wrestling shape is tough
But there is one drawback to wrestling at a certain weight class. LaRosee said that her body should not be at 103 pounds naturally and that when wrestling she has 10 percent body fat, far too low for a female athlete.
"I have to be really careful about what I eat. After my big win I went to Acme Oyster House with my mom and gained eight pounds the next day," LaRosee said.
LaRosee works out about three hours a day and said that she has begun eating baby food while exercising because of its low sodium content.
“The baby food was portioned and I ate throughout the day at least seven times with plenty of water and I took vitamins,” LaRosee. “I have been advised that 103 pounds is a medically-safe weight to be at to compete against a boy.
“I am very careful.”
And that's the part of wrestling that shocks her friends.
"When they see me work out they're like, ‘Oh my God, are you insane? You're going to kill yourself,'" LaRosee said. "But I tell them I have to work out to keep up with the guys. They don't like the fact that I have a strict diet during the season."
But her friends do enjoy one part about wrestling.
"They love it because they see that I'm wrestling against boys and it blows their mind," she said.
Qualifying for Nationals
Because of her tournament win, LaRosee has been invited to compete in the Women’s Nationals, which will be held in Fargo, N.D. from July 15-17.
“My dream is to compete against other girls nationally at 112 pounds,” she said.
To get ready for Nationals, LaRosee is hoping to travel to Plainview, Texas for a wrestling camp that will take place June 16-18.
“The purpose of attending wrestling camp is to enhance skills and techniques, lifelong values such as commitment, communication, leadership, teamwork and accountability, and to prepare for Nationals,” she said. “I hope to represent our parish and state well.”
Anyone interested in helping sponsor LaRosee’s camp or Nationals’ trip may make checks payable to River Parish Wrestling. The checks can be mailed to 119 Ivy Lane, Luling or you may call (985) 210-8898 and leave a message to have your donation picked up.
You may also contact wrestling coach Dan Erwin at Hahnville High School at (985) 758-7537 or firstname.lastname@example.org.