When Nina Makem and her family moved from the central African country of Cameroon to Shakopee in 2015, she had no idea she’d one day be heading to college as a wrestler. Her family moved to Minnesota for a better life, and it’s paid off. Makem is currently a senior at Shakopee High School and will attend Augsburg University in the fall to wrestle and to major in exercise science with an emphasis on physical therapy.

Makem has been part of the Shakopee wrestling program for three years where she mostly competed against males. She is also a member of the Minnesota Storm wrestling club where she takes the mat against other females.

“Growing up, I watched a lot of WWE. I liked it and was inspired by it,” she said. “My older brother started wrestling in Shakopee and would tell us about it, so I joined too. In WWE, I liked that the wrestlers jumped off ropes and hit each other. When I joined the high school team, I found out it was much different. I went into the wrestling room and there weren’t any ropes or people on jumping on each other, but I liked it. It seemed much safer.”

Wrestling ended up being a family event. Both of her older brothers, Duplex and Randy, were on the Shakopee wrestling team. Her younger sister Joel is a sophomore and also on the team.

“One thing I like about wrestling is that it’s a lifestyle,” Makem said. “Wrestling teaches you to be disciplined and go to practice almost every day to develop your skills not always because you feel like it, but because it’s important to reach your goals. You develop a mentality and routine to make weight and learn about nutrition. You can carry that with you for the rest of your life.”

When she first signed up for wrestling, she was only the second female on the Shakopee team and was nervous about what to expect. Her first year, she practiced but didn’t feel ready to compete. Her first competition was in a tournament with Minnesota Storm, and she took third.

Across all of her competitions, she’s experienced only one occasion in which a male didn’t want to wrestle her because of her gender. Otherwise, competitors and especially her teammates and coaches have been enthusiastic and encouraging, she said.

“My Shakopee teammates are very supportive,” Makem said. “They’re always saying, ‘Good job. Keep it up.’ They are always helping to make each of us better and feel happy. They don’t treat me differently because I’m a girl. They treat me like I’m a member of the team. It was really fun to go to practice every day and wrestle with the boys and be part of a successful team.”

She credits her coaches for preparing her to wrestle at the college level. “I’m thankful for all of my coaches for getting me to this point,” Makem said. “They were pushing me to this point to do my best and helping me reach my potential.”

Besides wrestling, she also competes in track where she throws shot put and discus, and runs sprints. She said sports are important to her and help her academically.

“Sports let me take time off from school when I’m not thinking about the classroom,” Makem said. “Sports give me a break to rewire my brain. I can do something physically, then come back to do my school work.”

She encourages other females who are interested in wrestling to pursue it. “Try it before you start making assumptions,” she said. “You might like it and want to stick with it because it’s fun. You figure out that as you go, you can get very good at it.”

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.