FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Sarah States teaches eighth grade at Effie Kokrine Charter School. Her passion is helping her students formulate their personalities and become confident and kind young adults.
“Eighth grade is such a ‘find yourself’ time,” States said. “So a lot of what I bring into my classroom is self-empowerment, be who you are, but be kind to other people.”
States coached middle school and high school basketball while teaching. This is the first in six years States is not coaching, as she attempts to find a little more balance in her life, she said.
Between her time coaching and teaching, States said her life was busy but she still made time for her No. 1 hobby, wrestling. She is one of the founding members of the Fairbanks Ladies of Wrestling, or FLOW.
States, who wrestles as Freya the Slaya, is one of the original wrestlers, as well as one of the women who originated the idea.
“Rebecca Menzia and I were in Dawson and we kept seeing these signs for women’s wrestling there,” States said. “And we thought, ‘Oh, that sounds fun. That would be crazy. That would never work. Let’s try it anyway.'”
FLOW, the only women’s wrestling group in the state, began in November 2016 with only a small group of wrestlers.
“At first, it just seemed like a fun and unique thing to do,” States said.
“And then, as we were doing it, we thought, ‘Wow, this is really neat.'”
Since then, the group has nearly doubled in size and performed six shows around Fairbanks. The group plans to tour Alaska this upcoming summer.
While a little more painful than teaching, States said the wrestling still very much focuses on empowerment and carries a strong message for women.
“This really is a way for women to feel empowered and show empowerment through being really strong,” States said. “Women aren’t always celebrated for something like how high they can lift someone over their head and slam them on the ground.”
States, originally an artist, received her undergraduate degree from Calvin College in graphic design and art, during which time she worked as a substitute teacher. States said she discovered her love of teaching through that work. After graduating, States returned to Fairbanks and got her master’s degree in Education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2012.
“Teaching is a job where you know that what you’re doing is actually making a difference,” States said. “You’re really impacting people’s lives.”
States said her students know about her wrestling pastime and are fascinated.
“They love it. They think it’s awesome,” States said with a grin. “One of my students last year said my name should be the Teachenator and my tag line should be, ‘You’re going to get schooled’.”
While balancing life between teaching, coaching and wrestling seems like a stretch, States has also organized three events she calls Art Battles over the past few years.
“Art Battles is like a grassroots art funding project. It’s like competitive art,” States said. “So, a bunch of people will sign up and all pay a certain amount of money to participate. They all get a piece of some type of canvas and a certain number of hours to create a piece of art, in front of a crowd, and there’s music, and then, in the end, the person whose piece is most popular wins the money. The last battle was a fundraiser for Pulse after the shooting in Orlando.
States said she couldn’t have done any of this without the Fairbanks community.
“It’s got this magnetic pull,” States said. “I did similar events when I lived in the states, but people just aren’t as receptive or excited for new things. It’s great.”
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com