On Friday, Marlyn Martinez, a San Francisco International High School senior and Mission District resident, will compete against 22 other female wrestlers for the state championship at Lemoore, Calif.
The athlete secured her spot in the competition after she pinned the top seed and defending champ, Alana O’Neil, at the California Interscholastic Federation Central Coast girls’ wrestling finals on Feb. 2.
“I’m excited and don’t feel nervous yet,” Martinez said. “I’m ready for state championships.”
Three years ago, the Guatemala native never imagined that she would be taking a place in SF International High School history. The school, which enrolls immigrant students who have been in the United States for less than four years, is making its mark in California interscholastic sports.
“I’m happy this small school is taking big steps,” Martinez said.
Traveling from her home in Guatemala City three years ago to be with her father in the Mission District was, for Martinez, an even bigger step. At first she didn’t want to come to San Francisco, but her father told her it was too dangerous back home.
“When I first saw the Mission, I thought, hmm … it’s a lot like Guatemala because there are a lot of Latino people — and McDonald’s — which made me feel comfortable,” Martinez said.
She remembers that her father told her that parts of the neighborhood could be risky, and warned her not to wear red or blue because those colors are associated with gang turf wars.
“I thought he was joking, but one day gangsters were following me and talking to me in English,” she said. “I didn’t understand them.” She realized then that for youth who wear gang colors, her new home could be a dangerous place.
The teenager also felt a little homesick.
“I missed my family, friends, and my old school,” she said. In Guatemala City, Martinez had competed in karate, soccer, volleyball and basketball. That memory of sports competition in her native land made her eager to be active in her new school. “I didn’t want to be at home doing nothing,” she said. “I remember looking for a school with a lot of people who speak Spanish so I [didn’t] feel weird.”
Now, looking back as senior, she recalls that the first three months at SF International “were hard because people knew more English and there are many different cultures. But then it [got] better because of sports and friends at school.”
An all-around athlete, Martinez also plays volleyball and soccer as defender and forward for the SF International Huskies. Like any teen, she also likes to hang out with friends, watch movies and create art.
“I love the Mission District because there is a lot of food from many countries,” she said, adding, “I love SF International because it is my second home.”
Martinez is putting off any thoughts of returning to her native land because she is determined to graduate from high school and attend college. She has applied to several colleges and universities and is starting to receive acceptances. She has her hopes set on Santa Clara University because it is a small, Catholic school that offers a program in her planned major, civil engineering.
But college is still months away, and this week her focus is on Friday’s championship match.
Listening to music and reflecting on her life’s journey help her focus before a match, Martinez said. She enjoys listening to all musical genres, including punk rock and Spanish and Arabic songs.
“Music makes me makes feel like I’m in my world, and I start to think about my experiences, challenges and inspirations, like my school, friends and family,” she said.
“I just remember the first day I was in the United States and how much I have grown, and always remember not [to] give up.”