Marissa Gallegos 1

MIKE SLADE/Special to The Daily Sentinel

Colorado Mesa sophomore Marissa Gallegos, right, is seeded 11th in this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Trials in freestyle wrestling. Gallegos earned a spot in the trials by placing second last week in the Last Chance Qualifier.

Ever since she was a little girl, Marissa Gallegos has been fascinated by the Olympic rings.

She dreamt of making the U.S. Olympic team, but back then, that dream showed her in a leotard on the gymnastics team.

Then, she started competing in judo and thought that might be her path.

Her true path begins Friday, when the redshirt sophomore at Colorado Mesa competes in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, in freestyle wrestling.

“I was a gymnast for a very long time and I always had this dream of going to the Olympics when I was a little kid, and it was in gymnastics at the time,” she said Tuesday before she and CMU wrestling coach Travis Mercado hopped on a plane to Texas. “I was a pretty good gymnast when I was little, and then I started judo, and the dream of going to the Olympics was always there.

“When I transitioned to wrestling, that dream was still there. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to go to the Olympics. The sport may have changed, but it’s still there.”

Gallegos placed second last week in the Last Chance Qualifier, earning her a spot in the trials. She goes in as the No. 11 seed, so she knows she’s a long shot, especially since she’s wrestling with a broken bone in her right hand. She injured the hand three days before the National Collegiate women’s Wrestling Championship earlier this month and still was the national runner-up at 123 pounds.

“I just sort of figure out a strategy of what feels good, what doesn’t feel good and that way I know going into a competition, don’t go for this because it hurts, go here, because that feels good, that’s where my offense feels more effective,” she said about her hand, which is padded and heavily taped for workouts and matches.

The tough schedule CMU wrestled this season, plus competing in the senior nationals in 2019, where she placed sixth at 57 kg, one spot out of the Olympic Trials, gave Gallegos a good sense of the national competition. She got even more confidence last week in the 53-kilogram weight class, leading the championship match until the final 30 seconds.

“Three years ago when I first started here, I had no idea how to get to where I am now,” she said. “That just proves that consistency and hard work really does pay off, whether it’s right away or a few years down the road. For me, I’m still young and this is a great experience and it’s going to prepare me for the next quad.”

A two-time All-American, Gallegos will have to win the tournament this weekend and then win a best-of-three series against Jacarra Winchester, who qualified for the Olympic team during the 2020 Pan Am Qualifier tournament. The odds are against her, but she’s OK with that — she wants to be known as “the girl” ahead of the 2024 Games.

“People know to be careful, too, because I have been someone who’s unseeded and all of a sudden upsets a bunch of people,” she said. “I know people are wary of that, but for me, I just want to go out there and wrestle the best that I can do, leave it all out there and say I had nothing left.”