Orem • Raucous applause met Bonneville wrestler Kierstien Bush as she marched down the center of the mats laid out for Tuesday’s All-Star Duals at Utah Valley University.
The sound would have been completely foreign to her 8-year-old self, who spent her first year in the sport wrestling to the tune of, “Get her off the mat.”
Bush and five other female wrestlers became the first group of girls to compete in the state’s annual All-Star Duals on Tuesday. They competed in the second matches on all three mats: Springville’s Marlynne Deede vs. Copper Hills’ Jazmin Herrera (160 pounds) on the south mat, Maple Mountain’s Hailey Cox vs. Stansbury’s Maite Figueroa (132) on the north mat and Bush vs. American Leadership’s Sage Mortimer (113) on the center mat.
Bush started wrestling in second grade. Her cousin, former state champion Bryce Brimhall, already had gotten her brothers interested in the sport, and they set up a wrestling mat in their basement.
“I’d just practice with them and kind of be their dummy,” Bush said. “So I was like, ‘Well if I’m just going to be used for it, why not just do it?’”
It wasn’t a rousing success story from the beginning.
Bush said she won just a single match while losing 59 in her first year. That prompted frequent jeers from parents and coaches of the boys she competed against.
“She doesn’t belong here” Kierstien Bush’s father, Kasey Bush, remembers hearing shouted from the stands.
“That’s what really got her to where she could get that laser focus on what she wants to do,” he said. “In ways it was tough, but it helped it out. They probably don’t realize they helped her out, but they helped her out a lot.”
As Kierstien, at just 8 years old, brushed off comments from naysaying adults in meet after meet, she said she leaned on encouragement from her father.
“Listening to him,” she said, “my main supporter, my main go-to person, just telling me that, ‘You know, they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ And I’m here, and as long as I’m putting in the work, I deserve to be here.”
Kasey saw that Kierstien, although it didn’t show in the results that first year, “had a knack” for wrestling. Her natural competitive grit gave her an edge, and she went on to become a double USA all-American.
That, in part, earned her an invitation to the All-Star Dual. Kasey Bush sat in the stands Tuesday, but this time Kierstien had no shortage of encouragement from the audience.
As the matches on either side of them concluded, Bush and Mortimer remained locked in a battle that ended in a 10-2 major decision victory for Bush.
“I can’t say that [I’m most proud of] any one match or anything she’s done wrestling,” Kasey said. “I think it’s more or less, I’m proud of the person that wrestling has made her.”