CONCORD – Heaven Fitch has never known barriers.
Not even when she was 6 years old. And tiny. And the only girl in a house with three boys.
She just didn’t see so-called limitations.
So after a few years of attending two of her brothers’ wrestling practices and tournaments as a spectator, young Fitch had had enough.
“I nagged my parents, basically, because I wanted to do what (my brothers) did,” Fitch recalled. “They didn’t want me to wrestle. I’m pretty sure it was because they didn’t want me to get hurt. But I would just be like, ‘Well, if they can do it, then I should be able to do it.’”
Eventually, Ryan Fitch, a former wrestler, and his wife, Stacey, succumbed to the nagging and let their little girl take to the mat.
Turns out, she could do what her brothers – or any other wrestlers – could do. And eight years later, she’s doing it better than most.
Now, a freshman at Jay M. Robinson High School, Fitch recently won the South Piedmont 3A Conference championship for the 106-pound division. She has an impressive record of 31-4 and, heading into this week’s 3A Midwest regional meet at Morehead High School, Fitch was expected to have a favorable seeding and be among a small group of grapplers projected to earn a coveted berth in the Class 3A state meet.
None of the aforementioned accomplishments is minor for a ninth-grader, especially for a girl competing in a sport dominated by boys.
Then again, Fitch is unfazed by things she isn’t supposed to do.
“I just go out there and compete,” she said, “and one of the things I like the most about wrestling is winning. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s exciting.”
Small but mighty
In some ways, one can understand why many at Jay M. Robinson have trouble believing that one of the toughest members of the student body, pound for pound, is Fitch.
And it’s not because she’s a girl.
At 14, Fitch stands just 4 feet 11. And on her good days, she admits, she weighs 103 pounds. Fitch has a sense of humor about it, and she gets a kick of her fellow students’ reactions when they find out about her accomplishments.
“Most of the time, they don’t really believe it at first, probably because I’m so small,” Fitch said with a smile. “Sometimes they’ve heard other people talk about it.”
And there’s been a lot to talk about when it comes to Fitch’s wrestling success.
Long before she arrived at Jay M. Robinson, she had attained success at the club level while working with Trojan Trained, a Cabarrus-based team run by Adam Cox. In addition to her dad’s wrestling background, she’s taken pointers from her brothers, Chance and Caedyn.
Chance, now a junior in college, is a former Jay M. Robinson wrestler, and Caedyn, currently a senior with the Bulldogs, is one of the best in the state at 113 pounds.
Those factors, combined with Heaven’s willingness to push herself in weight training and mat time against bigger partners, have put her in an elite class early in her high school career.
Jay M. Robinson coach Gary Workman has been a teacher of the sport for more than two decades, having helped his three sons – Casey, Dwight and Evan – have strong careers at Central Cabarrus High School.
In this, his first year at Jay M. Robinson, it’s been easy for Workman to see what makes Fitch special.
“There’s an aptitude that I feel like you have to have to wrestle, and she’s got the aptitude for it,” said Workman, who’s also had coaching stints at Central Cabarrus and North Mecklenburg High. “Wrestling’s what I call ‘a full-contact chess match.’ You have to go from offense to defense instantly, your mind has to be quick, and your twitch muscles have to be quick. And she’s got those skills.”
A wrestler first
Fitch’s talents were on full display throughout this season. Workman said most of her 31 wins came by pin or major decision. Boys, he said, sometimes had reservations about wrestling a girl, but that soon disappeared when Fitch began dominating the match.
Interestingly, though, one of the most celebrated matches in Cabarrus County this season came when Fitch faced off against another girl.
In the SPC tournament championship a few weeks ago, Fitch romped her way to the 106 finals. On the other side of the bracket, so did Cox Mill’s Caelyn Davis.
It was a bittersweet matchup, Fitch said, because Davis is her best friend. The two became close as elementary school students when Fitch was in her early years of training and practiced alongside Davis’ brothers. When Davis saw another girl taking on the boys, it inspired her, and soon she was out there with Fitch.
Over the years, their bond grew strong, and today they often go out to eat together and have sleepovers.
But in the SPC finals at A.L. Brown, they were standing on the other side of the mat from each other in an organized match for the first time in about five years. The SPC title was on the line, and each wrestled like it.
Several spectators called it the best match of the tournament and easily the most watched.
“It was pretty intense, especially since I was wrestling my best friend for six years now,” Fitch said. “We have an unbreakable bond between us, so it was crazy having to wrestle. I feel like it was the closest match there.”
In the end, Fitch had her arm raised with a 5-4 decision and her first conference crown. Workman called it “one of the best matches I’ve seen her wrestle the whole year, front to back.”
“Heaven was never on defense,” Workman added. “She was on offense the whole time, and she dictated the flow of the match. She led the whole match. She was never in peril.”
The Bulldogs coach, however, said he didn’t want people to miss the real message about Fitch and Davis in the match.
“In the world of wrestling, it’s not really a girls match; it’s two wrestlers,” Workman said. “That’s all they are. They just happen to be girls, and they’ve got skill sets that a lot of guys look at and go, ‘Wish I had that.’ The fact that they’re girls is newsworthy, I guess, but they’re wrestlers first.”
The future is now?
Caedyn Fitch knows what his little sister is, and he knows how she became that.
Since the two are close in weight class, they often train together. And in his efforts to make her better, well, Caedyn hasn’t exactly taken it easy on her – not that Heaven would want him to.
Caedyn recalled a wrestling camp the two of them attended in Chapel Hill last summer. When it was their turn to battle, Caedyn was his usual, tough self.
Things got a little ugly, but Heaven gave as much as she got.
“I was trying to push her the best I could, and it got to the point where she would start crying, I was bleeding, and we were just looking crazy in front of everyone else,” Caedyn said. “I remember that was a pretty significant thing to me.”
It was a major step for Heaven, Caedyn said. It was then that he knew his little sister would be ready for the rigors of high school wrestling.
“I can see now that when I’m pushing her the same kind of way, she deals with it a lot better,” Caedyn said. “It’s a lot harder for me to just kind of push her around than it used to be, so I can tell she’s really grown a lot.”
Heaven said she’s dedicated to becoming the best wrestler she can over the next three years. But she isn’t motivated by hopes of competing beyond Jay M. Robinson.
“I want to become an orthodontist,” she said. “(In college), I want to be able to focus on my academics, especially if I’m going to be going into something as difficult as the medical field. I don’t want to have too many distractions.”
Fitch added, though, that she might reconsider wrestling if she’s offered a scholarship.
Her brother believes she’s capable of that. In fact, Caedyn, who’s currently the No. 7 wrestler in the state, according to Kombat Ready Wrestling, thinks matching state titles for the Fitches this season also isn’t out of the question.
“I was thinking about that over the weekend, and now (the postseason) is coming up,” Caedyn said. “That would be pretty cool.
“She’s learning a lot when it comes to neutral and bottom (positions). She always used to have trouble with that. And through wrestling with the high school kids, she’s gotten a lot better at dealing with people that have a higher skill level. I know she’s just a freshman, but she’s good.”
And after all these years, Caedyn Fitch doesn’t see any barriers for his little sister, either.