Jenna Burkert didn’t want to be the stereotype.
She’d heard it all plenty growing up, that as a female wrestler she was supposed to be “masculine,” and yes, probably gay too. As she grew through her teens and into her 20s, she came to realize that she was that lesbian in wrestling.
“I think I was afraid to come out in the wrestling world because I didn’t want to be that stereotype,” Burkert says on the latest episode of the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast. “It’s painted in a certain way, and I just didn’t feel like being put in a box.”
Now out in every aspect of her life, and proudly married to her wife, she doesn’t shy away from being part of the LGBTQ community and representing her country and the gays on the international athletic stage.
Recently she was given a Courage Award by Wrestle Like A Girl, for being an out lesbian and member of the LGBTQ community, “ensuring everyone knows all are welcome on the wrestling mat”.
Burkert has found widespread acceptance in the sport of wrestling, and even in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she went to high school.
“I’ve gotten a lot of messages from men and women about them seeing my wife and I over the years, and them feeling more comfortable,” Burkert said. “The community didn’t disown me, they love Alex and me. They’re so entertained by us. They’re totally accepting.”
Like so many female wrestlers, Burkert got her start wrestling against boys in New York, where she grew up until high school. And in her early years of elementary school, she was very good. In fact, despite all of the matches against boys, it wasn’t until she went to an all-girls tournament that she suffered her first loss.
“I got my butt kicked, too,” she said. “It’s not like it was a close match.”
As she got older, she noticed her ability to compete with the boys changing quickly. While she was getting stronger, the boys’ increases in strength eventually made it impossible for her to compete with them at the level she demanded of herself.
“It was extremely emotionally taxing because, as hard as I worked, I just couldn’t compete with them much longer,” Burkert said. “They were getting very strong. I had to constantly stay at the lightest weight possible to even be competitive. I had times from seventh grade to my freshman year when I was like, ‘I have to quit this sport because I’m getting my butt kicked, and I’m not having fun.’”
That’s when she ended up at a training center in Marquette, Mich., training with some of the best female wrestlers in the country and going to high school.
Now with a recent bronze medal at the World Championships, Burkert is aiming for a spot at the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024, where she intends to win gold.
You can listen to the conversation with wrestler on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts and many more platforms. Just search for Outsports wherever you get your podcast.
And be sure to follow Five Rings To Rule Them All on Twitter.