Our Game 2: Leigh Jaynes-Provisor Is About Her Country, Her Wrestling And Her Resilience

Second place is never a bad thing until you make a habit out of it. Being runner-up can be worse than finishing last because when you consistently play the bridesmaid it means that you’re just not good enough to ascend to the top of the totem pole or you’re wasting as much talent as you’re displaying and it’s keeping you from going to that next level.

Finishing second is a tiresome process of being continuously teased and can turn any sane person bonkers. Some get mired in a flow of constant self-doubt and indecisiveness and never recover. Those who don’t lose their marbles, get driven into a state of self-evaluation with the purpose of revitalizing their competitive spirit and re-analyzing their methodology.

At least, that was the case when world class wrestler Leigh Jaynes-Provisor took a year off after losing in the 2012 World Championships, a competition that she entered as the world’s No.1- seeded women’s wrestler in her weight class (59 kg).

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Leigh Jaynes-Provisor: In 2012…that’s when I knew I had to change some things. My way of thinking. During Olympic Trials I decided to go down to 55kg (121 pounds).  Im 5-7 and it was just so small for me. Its not really anybody’s fault but my own, I thought that was the weight I needed to go to make the team. Really nobody could have talked me out of it and I just thought of it and ignored the numbers which were saying, “youre 11 percent body fat and 140 pounds, this isn’t in the cards for you. You’re gonna have a hard time making weight and you’re going to get weaker and weaker and weaker.”

I went into the Olympic Trials ranked No. 1 and I beat everybody in my weight class at least once. I overturned some losses and things like that and I was rolling. I ended up missing weight. I wasn’t even close. I missed it by like three pounds. It was heartbreaking and it was also a lesson because I was forced to compete at 63kg and I was extremely light in that class, but I still made it into the semis and still won a lot of matches and did very well.

Once again, it all came down to doubt. Not believing that I had the confidence and size to go up to 63kg and compete well and win… You have to go through those hardships to realize what you have and what you’re capable of. Now I know I can go into any of the healthy weight classes, and I look at my numbers very closely and see where I’m going to compete best and where it’s not going to be a struggle to always worry about making weight. That way I can really concentrate on wrestling. I weigh 132 pounds now, so that’s my ideal weight. 

Second Fiddle

A first-time World Team member in 2007, Leigh’s had a string of near-misses in women’s freestyle wrestling. She fell short of medaling at her inaugural World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan at 59kg/130 lbs. She finished second in the U.S. World Team Trials in 2008, 2009 and 2011, and third in 2010. She finally broke through again in 2011 and made the U.S. squad at 59kg. In 2012, she was one of seven Americans who competed at the FILA Women’s World Championships in Strathcona County, Canada. It was supposed to be her shining moment in wrestling. Provisor entered the competition as the hands down favorite, but unfortunately she left after one match — a loss to Mongolia.

She calls her championship shortcomings “paralysis by analysis” or “just getting stuck.”  Whatever the reason, It was another lost opportunity. The kind that can make you reconsider everything. Leigh wasn’t ready to totally abandon wrestling as some suggested, but she was ready to take a chill pill. So instead of going crazy with regret and disappointment, she chose to reflect, regroup and just do some things that had nothing to do with the sport that dominated her life since high school. 

“It was necessary,” Provisor told The Shadow League. “After my poor performances with my 2012 Olympic hopes and past heartbreaks and losing the match to Mongolia at The World Championships and then Mongolia getting eliminated which meant  I was one and done… It was so frustrating because I realized my talent and ability was so much more than what I represented out there. It was time for me to take a step back.”

“But on a brighter note,” Provisor continued, “I got married to a man that also competed in the Olympics in London in 2012 and wrestled and we had been dating previously. We took a break, got back together, got married and had my daughter Evelyn. It was a perfectly-timed situation and nice for me to do something else that brought me joy and reevaluate wrestling from a different perspective.”

Word on the wrestling circuit was that she checked out. 

“They counted me out,” Provisor insisted. “They said, ‘Oh shes 34, shes a mom, shes married, shes checked out.’ I never intended to retire because as a wrestler once you mentally check out it’s over. Once you decided to take your shoes off in the middle of the mat, which is a representative of you fully retiring, I dont think you can mentally put those shoes back on and be the same person. So I never took my shoes off. I always intended on coming back and competing and going for The 2016 Olympics in Rio and making a world team and winning a world medal. That has never changed. That goal was always in mind, but I just felt like I needed to do something for myself and lead a normal life.”

Leigh married fellow Team USA wrestler Ben Provisor and it was a match made in wrestling heaven and just the boost of “normalcy” Provisor needed to clear her mind, energize her soul and reintroduce wrestling as just one aspect of her well-rounded life.  

“It was basically a year that I took off. Gathered myself and formulated my next plan of action,” she said. “Then it took me two years to get to weight and actually be competitive again. So I spent all of 2014 losing matches and it was really frustrating and then this year I won all of my matches. That’s how quickly it turns around in wrestling and sometimes people don’t see it coming. I never checked out of the game. That’s what people fail to realize. I was always making plans and always putting things together.”

Checking out isn’t something that Leigh does anyway. In June, she survived what could have been a deadly car accident. Thankfully, her daughter, husband and dog walked away from it unscathed.

And growing up in New Jersey, Provisor had to deal with major family crisis from the day she was born. Her father, Clayton Jaynes, was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction. Her mother, Karen Williams, tried to help Clayton, but he was too far gone. Right after Leigh was born, Karen left Clayton to provide her children with a healthier environment.

“She struggled as a single mother of two young children, working two jobs to make a life for us,” said Leigh.  “When I was 12, she suffered mood changes and personality problems. She wasn’t the same person I knew anymore. Naturally, the state felt she was having a nervous breakdown from the stress. So the Division of Youth and Family Services recommended she be medicated and my brother Michael and I were placed in temporary care of the state.”

Leigh had some anger issues as a child and the dysfunction was real, but she never used the turmoil of her youth as an excuse to fail. It only fueled her passion to be successful in whatever it is she chose to do. 

I think everybody has their story,” Jaynes-Provisor told TSL. “Everybody has hardships. The difference is that I made a point to persevere and overcome despite obstacles. I think that’s what defines you. It’s not the road bumps in life, but whether or not you get enough momentum to get over them and that’s what I did. If that inspires other people to do better then great, because I really believe that everybody has a purpose in life thats greater than themselves and theres enough time for everyone to achieve what they want to achieve. It may not happen in the same time or fashion as others, but continuing to move forward despite circumstances is whats going to make you a champion.”

Leigh feels like she is one of those late bloomers when it comes to wrestling and she is finally physically and mentally potent enough to snatch the elusive World Championship. This year’s event is held in Las Vegas and runs from Sept. 8-15 at The Orleans Hotel and Casino.

The event will be the first qualifying event for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It will feature competition in men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman and will award the largest number of 2016 Olympic spots of any meet. The U.S. has hosted the world championships five times before, most recently in New York City in 2003.

JLP: I have a lot of experience at the World Championships, but I havent competed well in the past and I know the reason why. I’ve had some mental breakdowns at times. I guess that just means third time’s a charm. I tend to be the type that can overtrain so I’m just really working on polishing up the things that are necessary…having quality practices rather than quantity. I am the oldest on the world team and I just need to make sure that I trust my instincts and gut in preparing myself. My mental game is a lot better than its ever been and Im wrestling better than I ever have. I’m overturning losses that have taken me a decade to overturn.

So I just feel great about the outcome of this year and I’m just going to stay the course. The coaches are there to provide you with structure but ultimately you have to make your own decisions and that’s what I didn’t do in the past. Regardless of what my gut was telling me to do I would just go ahead and follow suit. This time it’s kind of like a do-or-die situation for me so I’m just going to go ahead and do it my way and trust my instincts and use my coaches as a resource but not necessarily as the defining guideline of how I need to prepare myself.

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Real American Wrestling Hero 

The support of the American crowd should be uplifting and a true motivation to Jaynes-Provisor, who has more than a decade of military service in the Armed Forces. 

Ive been in the Army for 14 years,” Provisor added. “Theres no greater pride other than representing the United States on the world stage in wrestling. Im an American to the bone, Im a patriot and I love this country. This time the World Championships are on home soil so its nice to be able to wrestle in front of your home crowd. I actually compete on Sept. 11, which is a significant time for Americans and I just hope I can compete well and be a hometown hero.”

Regardless of how the World Championships play out, Leigh has already established herself as a pioneer in women’s wrestling and impacted U.S. athletics in a major way. In March she became the first women to ever compete in the Armed Forces Wrestling Championship

“That match had to happen,” Provisor said. “It had to happen for women in the armed forces all over the world. I think its a milestone achievement for the Armed Forces and womens wrestling. I am, most importantly, proud that my match even took place.”

For the first time ever, in an event that has been put on for decades, the AFWC held a womens bout during the freestyle competition.The event, held in Fort Carson, Colo., made history with its matchup between the Armys Jaynes-Provisor and the Marines Melissa Apodaca.

The bout was action-packed with Provisor pinning Apodaca at the end of the first period. The elite event occurs every year and includes teams from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines, with rosters boasting athletes for both the Greco-Roman and freestyle competitions. 

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The task is ambitious and the talent pool is thin for women wrestlers in the military. In order to bring this historical match to fruition Leigh did whatever she needed to do. 

LJP: I cut down to 60kg (during the year we get a two kilo allowance for any event not part of a world level competition) and Melissa is a 58kg competitor. I cut four pounds to get down and compete against her. We are actually good friends and we were partners and trained together. It was tough to compete against a good friend but we both recognized the significance of having that match and weighing in and showing up and facing off. It was a lot more than just winning a match. Even though the Army trained me to win and I would have heard it if I didnt win…but it was so much bigger than that. It was just about women representing armed forces and competing alongside the men. Hopefully more women will compete and be a part of the AF Championships and we will have a full roster.

The army is so far ahead of the game, we already have six women who are a part of The World Class Athlete program and Shon Lewis our coach has always been a huge advocate for women. As long as we meet the standard, he’s willing to support us. So that’s really important and I hope the other services follow suit.

Provisor’s journey may have started out bumpy and depressing, but a lifetime of accomplishment and barrier-breaking has grown like a rose from concrete. She says she owes it all to her competitive nature and the sport of wrestling, which sort of just fell into her lap. 

Dollar And A Dream 

JLP: Wrestling completely changed my life. I was in band and I think that being a part of the marching band gave me a lot of family support and friends that I am still close to today. A lot of people don’t know I played the flute and the tuba. I was heavily involved in music and spent a lot of time in the after school programs and things like that and I really didn’t see wrestling coming. I thought that I’d make it in life and go to school doing something based on music, but those opportunities, honestly,they never came. They didn’t show up. I was surprised. I had won every band award and I tried very hard and I was a drum major and a leader and I got invited to a scholarship ceremony and they said there would be some scholarship money for me. I filled out applications and thought I’d be able to go to school and really nothing came in and I was so surprised. I was a straight A student and on the honor roll. I was student of the month and I was like, gosh what do i have to do to get an education around here?

It came from the funniest place. I started wrestling as a senior in high school. It was the very last thing that I joined. I wasn’t good at it at all when I first started. I was horrible. I was getting beat up. I went to a women’s competition out in Flint, Michigan called USGWA and I participated in it. Initially I lost both my matches… I’m crying my eyes out and I was thinking “how can I be so bad at this sport?”

I was like man these girls are strong, I can’t understand why I’m so bad.  I’m usually pretty good in everything. Then they called me out to the head table and told me I had been participating in the wrong bracket. I was competing at a higher weight and they put me back in the tournament.  

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So I got a new lease on life and I just went out there with the fury and ended up just double legging everybody like in the movie Water Boy. I ended up blasting people all over. I lost a match or two but still made it to All-American anyway. I ended up in a magazine, which gave me the extra exposure I needed to finally be recruited by Missouri Valley College. They were recruiting athletes to be a part of a womens program they were starting. I was working full time at a thrift shop in NJ run by my High School coach and his family and Mike Machholz from the school called me there and said they were going to give me money to go to school. I was so ecstatic.  I said, “How do I get there?”

I had $100 in my pocket and a broken down car, but my friends offered to drive me and dropped me off at school with what little I had in my pocket. They also gave me some money to go and the rest is history.

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