Batavia’s Sydney Perry barely had a moment to pause when she heard the news.
In July, during the Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, Perry was notified she had to grab her passport. She was going to the World Championships.
Where? In Rome.
“That summer, I had gone to team tryouts,” Perry said. “The way it worked, the winner went to worlds. Whoever got second went to the Pan-American Championships in Buenos Aires.”
Perry wrestled Lizzie Shunn of Eagle Canyon, Utah, to determine Team USA’s representative in the 65 kilogram division on the U-17 level.
“It was the best two out of three at the trials,” Perry said. “And she pretty much destroyed me both times.”
Just as Perry accepted the Pan-Am Games as a suitable consolation prize, she learned Shunn was unable to travel to Rome due to complications from an injury.
Perry ended up competing at both international events. At the World Championships, she qualified for the bronze medal match and finished fifth.
At the Pan-Am Games, Perry earned a silver medal.
The two experiences proved transformative.
“It was a lot of fun and interesting to be around a group of girls who were completely focused on and dedicating their whole lives to wrestling,” Perry said. “What I saw was not only their behavior inside but out of the room — for instance what they were eating.
“They were just really serious people to be around.”
Perry has been as serious as can be so far this season, going 17-0 as a junior through the first month of the season. She is 38-0 at Batavia since the start of her sophomore year.
Last season, Perry competed in the Illinois High School Association’s inaugural individual girls state meet, capturing the 145-pound state championship.
Perry began her wrestling career at age 9 with the Batavia Wrestling Club. She followed her older brother Tyler, who finished second at 170 in Class 3A last season as a senior.
Tyler Perry is now a freshman wrestler at Northern Colorado.
“I’d be his sister and his partner,” Sydney said. “I’d be forced to stand like a statue and he’d take shots on me. I just thought if I was in the practice room, I might as well try and practice.”
Her high-level performance in Rome and Buenos Aires has boosted her confidence.
“It was super fascinating to see all the different teams and their styles,” she said. “It was at that point where I realized I was actually good.”
Now, her trips abroad have sparked a new way of thinking.
With girls wrestling rising in cultural awareness, including a spike in numbers and participation, Perry is looking forward to more elite international competition.
“I see myself doing this in the future,” she said. “I want to be the best person I can be and achieve my dreams.”
Batavia coach Scott Bayer has observed Perry’s transformation since she began with the feeder program in the fourth grade.
“She has made huge jumps from the start of wrestling season last year through the summer and her experiences at Fargo and internationally,” Bayer said. “She really sees her larger wrestling career now.
“It’s really cool to see how everything is changing — see how women’s wrestling is growing.”
Perry’s teammates see a driven athlete who is deeply humble and generous, according to freshman 100-pounder Lily Enid.
“She is always working toward a goal,” Enid said. “She just knows things and teaches me. If I don’t know something, she can easily fix it and help me become better.”
Going up against some of the best girls wrestlers in the world, Perry elevated her standards and dug deeper. She trained up to four times a day.
She returned from the two international competitions focused and engaged, ready to take the next step.
Perry demonstrated her improvement in a September rematch with Shunn in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Perry avenged two lopsided losses with a win by technical fall.
“The international competition gave me time to really work on specific things, like my head position, working my upper body and perfecting the little positions,” Perry said.
Bayer said that dedication and willingness to challenge herself are Perry’s defining characteristics.
“Girls wrestling is still in its infancy, and she is a trailblazer,” Bayer said. “Early on, she gave herself over to the culture, the hard work and the humility wrestling requires.
“She has always had that willingness to innovate — to be uncomfortable with what she was doing and keep growing.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.