Representing the United States at the FILA Junior World Championships is nothing new for Jenna Burkert. The Suffolk County native will take the mat for the Red, White and Blue for the third consecutive year, this time in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 15 at 59 kg/130 pounds.
The path to the Junior Worlds had a few challenges in 2013. In January, she suffered a shoulder injury, which forced her to spend time away from training. Still, she returned to the mat, including for the US Open, where she took fourth.
“I went through a lot of rehab,” she said. “But I think I had a pretty fast recovery for the injury I had. It’s pretty much taken until now [late July] to feel really good about my shoulder. Actually, I think my shoulders feel even stronger now than before I got hurt.”
In addition to her injury, Burkert found herself in a tough position at the Body Bar FILA Junior Nationals, which are the qualifying event for the Junior World Team. It didn’t look that way initially, as she cruised through the early portions of the tournament and won the first period of the best-of-three finals series against Kayla Miracle 7-0. But in the second stanza, Miracle responded with a pin to capture the first match.
“That was definitely unexpected for me and many others,” Burkert said. “I couldn’t believe I got pinned and my mom was in the stands freaking out. She was expecting me to be freaking out too. Years ago, I don’t know if I would have made it through the rest of the matches. But it’s the best thing that could have happened to me mentally. It showed how much I’ve grown. Things happen in wrestling. I laughed it off, relaxed and came back to dominate the rest of the way.”
Indeed, she did. Burkert won the final two contests over Miracle by 1-0, 1-0 and 6-0, 3-3 scores to earn the spot on Team USA.
She hopes to keep the ball rolling in Bulgaria. In her first trip to the Junior Worlds in 2011, Burkert went 2-2 to earn eighth place. Last year, she faced China’s Jiamin Feng in her opening bout. In a back-and-forth affair, the Chinese wrestler picked up the fall in the third after 2-2 and 3-3 scores in the opening two stanzas.
“It was a pretty crazy match,” Burkert said. “I had her on her back for a while then I got caught. It was really upsetting for me. But it’s all a process. I learned a lot. Sometimes, in the past, I didn’t think I could keep up with the best. But I know that my opponents are not supernatural with superpowers. I’ve seen that I’m right there brawling with them. I know things will get hard and I may get scored on, but that doesn’t mean the match is over. I’m really excited. I’m ready to leave it all on the mat in my last year at the Junior Worlds.”
In addition to the experiences she had at previous international competitions, Burkert has seen top wrestlers just about every day over the past year as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
“It’s been really good,” she said. “It’s a different environment – everyone here is an athlete focused on making the Olympic Team. It’s inspiring to be around the best in many sports. My technique is so much better and there’s no one better than the coaches here. And the room is intense. You get your butt kicked every day, but you keep coming back and getting stronger.”
A number of the athletes Burkert sees on a frequent basis are repeat World team members as well. She’s excited to be making the journey with them.
“I love my teammates and I’ve known them all for a while,” she said. “It’s cool to keep making the teams together. We know what to expect and how to get the nerves out. We also know how to push each other and also be there for each other. One of the best things about wrestling is being able to travel and make great memories with your friends.”
She’s also ready to make some great memories on the mat.
“I think I’m going to win it this time,” she said. “I’ve said it a million times before. I was just telling my coach that I can see myself up on the podium. In the past, I’ve really wanted to win it but I didn’t really picture myself doing it. Now, I’ve been to training camps, I’ve wrestled everyone. I’m ready to brawl this year. I’m not coming home with anything less than gold.”