Essential Viewing

Essential Viewing: Winning Girl

Teshya Alo is a force to be reckoned with. A judo and wrestling phenom she can flip women twice her age. The male competition doesn’t intimidate her one bit. She is arguably the best athlete in the state of Hawaii. Oh, and she also happens to be just 16 years old.

Alo is the subject and narrator of director Kimberlee Bassford’s latest documentary, Winning Girl. Bassford, who is most known for her film Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, focuses on Alo and her family. From large victories to the daily agonies and sacrifices, the 64-minute doc succinctly depicts a young athlete’s road to her dream–to one day become the first person ever to win world championships in two sports in the same year.

Judo and wrestling runs in the family. Both of Teshya’s parents competed in high school, where they met. Since then, they have handed down their passions to, not only Teshya, but her younger sister and brother. Neither age nor gender play a role in reminding their children that they have it within them to be champs. The film starts with Alo as a precocious 12 year old and ends with her as a confident, bordering on cocky, 16 year old competing in national and international competitions.

“It’s gonna be easy — in my head,” Alo says to her coach.

That teenage exuberance is channeled into winning on the mat. For judo and wrestling, this means scoring the most points or, for the latter, getting that match-winning pin. Easier said than done for a teenager going up against bigger, more experienced opponents.

Away from the mat, we also see the Alos as a family. A working, middle-class family of athletes where every single penny goes towards training and traveling to matches. Teshya goes to a Kamehemeha School, a private school for children of Hawaiian descent, where learning Hawaiian history and culture is just as important as algebra. We see her go surfing, ice-skating, get mani pedis for her 14th birthday. We also see her having very real conversations about getting older and boys.

Alo has an infectious smile, on and off the mats. The only time you see that smile fade is when she is defeated. It’s at the international level, where the tournaments have women far more experienced than her, that she has the hardest time.

Yet, through it all, it is Teshya’s determination that shines through. You can’t help but sit on the edge of your seat, hoping that she is able to flip a competitor twice her age and pounds heavier. With her charm and endearing attitude, whether not she achieves her goal of being the first two-sport world champion, Teshya Alo has already won.

Winning Girl makes its television premiere on America ReFramed next Tuesday, May 12 at 8pm EST.

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