Meet Teshya Alo, a 16-year-old, 125 pound judo and wrestling phenom who can “throw women twice her age, and regularly beats the boys.” Teshya has her sights set on taking gold at both the judo and wrestling world championships, and if she does, she’ll be the first and youngest athlete ever to win world championships in two different sports, in the same year.
Teshya’s road to gold is the basis of the new documentary, Winning Girl, by award-winning director Kimberlee Bassford. The film follows Teshya over four years and tells the dynamic story of this young, elite athlete facing the challenges of growing up while pursuing her dream of becoming a champion.
Kimberlee is an independent documentary filmmaker with a passion for social issues, cultural and women’s stories. Born and raised in Honolulu, she holds a BA in psychology from Harvard and a Masters in Journalism from the University of California Berkeley. WYSK connected with the director to learn more about the film and what inspired her to share Teshya’s story.
I first learned of Teshya Alo from a Honolulu Advertiser newspaper article from July 2009, announcing her recent victory as both the freestyle and Greco-Roman champion at a national wresting tournament in Utah, titles usually held by boys. I was instantly intrigued by this young wrestling prodigy, who happened to be a girl, and immediately contacted her coaches and family.
Soon later, I met Teshya in person, and the 11-year-old ran up to me, flexed her arm and said with a grin, “Do you want to feel my muscles?” I immediately knew this girl was going places. So did she. She already had 11 national judo titles and 11 national wrestling titles under her belt. And she had a dream — to be a world champion and Olympic gold medalist in both sports.
So I wanted to follow her story to see what it actually took to chase such lofty goals and to do so at such a young age. Most sports films highlight an athlete once she’s already a world or Olympic champion. Rarely do we get to see an athlete as she is climbing the ranks and experience the years of training, disappointments and triumphs that lead up to that single championship moment.
I was also really interested in how Teshya seemed to defy gender stereotypes. Here was this girl, completely in love with two traditionally male sports and excelling at both of them. Yet she described herself as a “girly girl” who loved shopping and getting her nails painted. She was the shining example of a post-Title IX girl who enjoyed all the opportunities of athletics and was defining for herself what a girl should and could be.