Spain Park wrestlers, siblings qualify for Brazilian National Team

Published 1:21 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Born to an American and Brazilian National Champion in Judo and Jiu-jitsu, Kyle and Yasmine Oliveira seemed destined for greatness themselves.

The two wrestlers at Spain Park High School, however, will tell you it has taken years of hard work to find their passion for the sport, but now, only one thing matters—winning titles.

They’ll soon have a chance to do so on a national stage as the brother and sister duo both qualified for the Brazilian National Team to compete in their respective age groups at the upcoming 2022 Pan-Am competitions.

“Words can’t describe how proud I am of them,” said Kyle and Yasmine’s dad Kaliffa. “They are living the dream that I had for them because of the work they put in. It’s a blessing. Even though, for a while, I tried to fight it because I didn’t want to push them too hard. I didn’t want them to hate this. I wanted them to make their own choices.”

And while he did push them hard at times, both found a passion for the sport of wrestling in addition to Judo and Jiu-jitsu.

Yasmine did so by working through wanting to give up the sport at one point, while Kyle looked up to both his big sister and dad, and now has the competitive edge of wanting to win.

Now, both have the will to become a duo that is known.

“Our dream is to be like a sibling duo that we get kind of well known about it,” Kyle said. “You don’t really hear much about siblings going to the Olympics, so it would be really cool just having that duo and being recognized for it.”

Wrestling the emotions

Following a difficult first year of high school, wrestling against all boys and struggling to find her passion for the sport of traditional wrestling rather than Judo or Jiu-jitsu, Yasmine decided to give it up her sophomore year at Spain Park.

“After my first year wrestling in eighth grade, it was really rough,” she said. “I didn’t win many matches at all. I was obviously the only girl wrestling these guys and they were a lot bigger than me. I was weighing 145, but 145 high school was much different than middle school. I struggled with that a little bit and took sophomore year off and didn’t wrestle at all.”

Yasmine said she didn’t think about the sport much at all while she wasn’t competing, but that changed after a conversation with Dawn Harrison, who was the mom of senior wrestler Fischer Harrison.

“She came up to me and pretty much told me I’m going to be wrestling my junior year,” Yasmine said with a laugh. “Thanks to Mrs. Dawn, I’m here today, and ever since junior year, I’ve slowly started getting more serious about wrestling. I started training a lot different. I wasn’t just counting on high school practices, I started working hard in the offseason.”

She also looked back to her roots and the tools she had to make her great.

With her dad close to becoming an Olympian in 2004 and an owner of two gyms focused on Judo and Jiu-jitsu, she used that to her advantage.

As an eighth grader, it was that outlook that worked, and it came back around for her final two years of high school.

“My dad always said wrestling would make me more well-rounded in Judo and Jiu-jitsu, so I started to combine it all,” Yasmine said.

The true test, however, came at the conclusion of her junior year when she lost at state junior year.

A heartbreaking moment for Yasmine, she turned that to motivation.

“From there, I felt like I needed to pick it up,” she said. “I started going to Warrior Wrestling Club and started getting really serious about it, training as much as I could while balancing my job at my dad’s gym and going to school. That’s when I decided to shift gears and get more serious about it.”

Not only did she go on a redemption path the next season to win the state championship this season as a senior, but her resurgence back into the sport served as an example for her younger brother.

“Her brother was in middle school when she was a sophomore,” Kaliffa said. “But when she hit junior year, he was a freshman at Spain Park, so they could be in the same room. One of the reasons she went back to wrestling was because her brother was there too. They helped each other.”

Now, Yasmine has gone from giving up the sport to a 25-0 season that saw her win a state championship and earn a spot on the U20 Brazilian National Team, while she is also headed to King University in Tennessee to compete in college, which is one of the top schools in the country for girls wrestling.

“There is a constant need to keep fighting and keep wrestling,” she said. “I’m very happy where I am now compared to a year ago for sure. I know I’ve grown a lot, but I also know there is a lot to get better at. I honestly didn’t think I’d get this drive back. I didn’t realize how much better I could actually get. When you start wrestling, you feel like there is only so much you can do because it’s such a difficult sport. It’s a lot of mental toughness and mental battles you go through.”

As for Kyle, he got his start in the sixth grade, and originally, he admitted he didn’t take it seriously.

“I was struggling a bit,” he said. “It was just having fun out there. I didn’t take it very seriously, but when I got to high school, I had a completely different mentality.”

Kyle said he was training in the offseason with weightlifting and Jiu-jitsu, which he said helped him feel more confident in his athletic ability to do grappling and combat sports.

He put together a solid eighth-grade year by finishing third in the metro tournament, but as a freshman, he started to showcase his ability by qualifying for the state tournament and eventually placing.

That, however, put more expectations on his shoulders going into this past season, which started off strong, but ultimately finished with him slipping up and missing state.

Like his sister, that seemed to light a fire under Kyle.

“I was really upset about that,” he said. “The offseason started two days later, and I was focused on getting the title so I started training consistently.”

But an unexpected turn was on the near horizon.

Kyle Oliveira, left, holds up the Brazilian National Flag after qualifying in both Greco and Freestyle for the U17 Cadet Brazilian National Team. (Contributed)

Fighting for a spot

Already set to have Yasmine try and qualify for the U20 Brazilian National Team, the opportunity then came up for Kyle to do the same, but with much shorter notice.

Fresh off what he considered a disappointing sophomore season and in the middle of training for a bigger comeback the next year, Kyle got a notice of four days before he was set to compete in qualifying in Brazil.

“One day, I was sitting in the kitchen and my dad was like, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Brazil?’” Kyle recalled. “I was like ‘To do what?’ He responded, ‘For world teams.’”

Kyle hesitated in shock for a moment and responded with an, “Uh, I don’t know,” before his dad told him the tickets were already bought and they were going.

“I was like, ‘Oh, OK!’” Kyle said with both he and his sister laughing. “I was training, but I wasn’t in the mindset to compete, so it’s a lot different. It was four days before.”

Not only that, he was going up in weight to compete against some who were 40-45 pounds heavier.

Kaliffa, however, knew his son had what it takes to compete at a high level and against bigger athletes because of how well his son did against him.

“I’ve been training since I was 3 years old,” Kaliffa said. “I was on the Brazilian National Team for a while, I won Brazilian Nationals seven times, I won American Nationals four times. When he trains with me, he goes really hard, and I’m much bigger than him. I think him competing against bigger guys, he puts absolutely no pressure on himself, he just goes out there and has a lot of fun. That was one of the ideas, just go to have fun and see how it goes. He is very strong, but I think he doubts a little bit how strong he is. But if he can do OK against me with the experience and strength I have, I knew he could do good.”

That’s exactly what happened in Brazil.

Competing March 19 and 20, shortly after a disappointing finish to the high school wrestling season by his own measures and just days after he found out he would be attending, he qualified for the Brazilian National Cadet U17 team.

In the process of qualifying for the United World Pan-American Championships, he beat the current National Champion and won seven total matches, qualifying in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle.

“I wasn’t as proud at first because it was just another tournament,” he said. “It wasn’t anticipated, it was just go out there and do whatever. It didn’t get to me until a week later that I had just won world trials. Then, when I got back to Alabama, everybody was like, ‘Whoa, dude, you just won world trials.’ That’s when it started to sink in.”

He said when he arrived in Brazil, he felt like an outsider with others giving him mean looks as an American competing for a spot on the Brazil National Team.

But by the time it had ended, he felt welcome and made several new friends.

He also earned their respect after he took off a new pair of Nike wrestling shoes he had been wanting and gave them to another wrestler who had holes in his shoes.

“I had been wanting those shoes for a long time, so it was tough to give them up, but they were meant for a greater purpose,” he said.

In that moment, others saw and appreciated what Kyle had done.

In turn, that has started a mission for the Oliveira family. Through fundraising with their church, Church Unlimited, they will now donate 80 pairs of wrestling shoes to others during their upcoming trips to the Pan-Ams.

Kyle will now compete in the Pan-Am Cadet U17 in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 24-26 and will train June 8-22. He will compete in the Freestyle 130-kilogram division and the Greco 92-kilogram division.

As for Yasmine, the mental challenge was the biggest obstacle for her. She had more time leading up to her qualifier, but it was different than competing in the states because she wasn’t able to get a good look at her opponents.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I took that as an opportunity for me to learn more than what I needed just to be over prepared.”

When she competed in the Freestyle U20 qualifier on May 20, she was expecting five matches, but ended up only having to wrestle twice, but against two talented opponents.

But that didn’t stop her, as she pinned her first opponent and then won with a tech fall of 13-3 in the championship matchup against the National Champion.

With her wins, Yasmine will now compete in Oaxtepec, Mexico in the U20 Junior Pan-Ams July 8-10. Her day to compete will be July 9, while she’ll train in Monterrey starting June 29 for eight days before going to compete.

Kyle embraces Yasmine in a hug after his sister lost in the state championship a year ago. (For the Reporter/Dawn Harrison)

Sibling success

Standing in a hallway following the 2021 Girls Wrestling State Tournament, the first in state history, Yasmine was devastated following a loss in the championship.

In an emotional moment with tears streaming, Kyle was there. He quickly embraced her with a hug and worked to lift her spirits

In that moment, the two not only put aside their competitive nature with one another and their typical brother-sister arguments, they started to see the bigger picture.

“I’m very proud of her for what she has done,” Kyle said. “She is definitely an inspiration to me. She’s always been on my side. We argue a lot, but we love each other and motivate each other. I look up to her.”

Now, with both having driving factors to be the best, they’re ready to accomplish their goals and be there for one another the entire way.

“It’s all about expecting and working for the best,” Kaliffa said. “If they do that, the success will come. The hard work is done. They’re ready no matter what comes of it, as long as they give it their best.”

Both know the upcoming trips will be fun, but the focus isn’t on the travel and experience, it’s about being the best.

After all, they have their sights set on becoming an Olympic sibling duo in the coming years, and they’ll continue to push each other through the ups and downs to help make their dream come true.