From wrestling mat to motherhood, Iowa soldier looks for 'next best thing'

From wrestling mat to motherhood, Iowa soldier looks for 'next best thing'
Spc. Megan Black-Campion, a recruiter for the Iowa Army National Guard, smiles for a photo at Fort Carson, Colorado, July 2020. Black-Campion joined the Colorado Army National Guard and wrestled for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program in 2019. She was also the first woman to win a match at the Iowa state wrestling tournament Photo credit U.S. Army

Long before women’s wrestling was sanctioned in the state of Iowa in 2022, Spc. Megan Black-Campion made a name for herself in the sport.

Black-Campion, of Batavia, Iowa, has wrestled her entire life until the recent birth of her daughter. She is always searching for the “next best thing” when it comes to wrestling and being a mother.

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With her family’s full support, Black-Campion began her wresting career after her younger brother, Tucker Black, showed interest in the sport first.

“You name it, Megan and I were doing it together,” said Tucker.

Black-Campion played sports alongside her brother through high school. Tucker said she was a tough wrestler even at a young age.

Although the Black family was passionate about sports, some of the other kids in Black-Campion's class didn’t take sports as seriously. She remembers liking wrestling because of the individual responsibility. Her success was in her hands, no one else's.

It wasn’t until she started high school that she realized not every competitor would be open to wrestling a girl.

During practice, Black-Campion was held to the same standards as her male teammates. However, competitors would often mock her and forfeit matches.

“I don’t remember one time where I could visibly see it get to her,” said Tucker, “and that was something I was really proud of as a brother.”

She said other people always seemed to make a bigger deal out of being a female wrestler than she did. It never crossed her mind that she might one day make history.

Black-Campion qualified for the Iowa state wrestling tournament in 2012 with a broken wrist and became the first woman to win a match at the tournament.

She remembers going on to win the Pan American Championship in 2016. She stood on top of the podium listening to the national anthem play as the U.S. flag was raised. The room roared with applause from wrestlers and spectators alike.

In that moment, her world seemed to stop.

From wrestling mat to motherhood, Iowa soldier looks for 'next best thing'
Spc. Megan Black-Campion, a recruiter for the Iowa Army National Guard, wrestles at the world team trials finals in Lincoln, Nebraska, September 2021 Photo credit U.S. Army

“Wearing that uniform, with the flag . . . it means the most to me. You wear that with pride.”

Black-Campion earned the title of All-American four years in a row in college. She was a two-time national finalist and a 2018 University National Champion. She graduated from McKendree University in Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.

Even though she loved PE, she felt like she still had a lot to give to the sport. Black-Campion took the next step in her career and began wrestling as a training partner at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Her partner at the time wrestled for the Army World Class Athlete Program.

WCAP coach Sgt. 1st Class Jermaine Hodge helped Black-Campion find her next best thing. He suggested she pursue a wrestling career in the U.S. Army.

“I was like, ‘Oh man. I get to do what I love and chase a dream?’ Yeah, sign me up,” said Black-Campion.

She jumped on the opportunity. Black-Campion enlisted in the Colorado Army National Guard in 2019 as a motor transport operator and shipped to basic training. After she completed her initial training, she qualified to become a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program. Black-Campion represented the U.S. team in the Tour de Spain, Pan American Championships and the 2021 World Championships.

Growing up in Iowa shaped the way she wrestled. Standing on the world stage with thousands of people in the crowd sounded just like an Iowa high school wrestling tournament on a Saturday.

“It made wrestling in other places easy,” said Black-Campion. “Iowans love wrestling, and they come out in big numbers to support. They’re loud and rambunctious. I grew up only knowing that.”

Years of intense training and matches take a toll on the body, even on world class athletes.

Black-Campion had knee and shoulder surgeries in her last few years of wrestling. These setbacks were just part of the process of being an athlete, she said.

There were two things that helped Black-Campion get through these hardships and recover. The first was prayer. She said she wouldn’t have been able to get back on the mat without God on her side.

The second thing Black-Campion did was focus on what she could control – an important skill all Soldiers are taught.

She recalled some advice Hodge had given her at the start of her military career: always focus on the “next best thing.” For Black-Campion, that meant staying engaged mentally and physically.

She spent hours watching wrestling tapes while her injuries healed.

“I would visualize myself wrestling those matches, in those positions,” said Black-Campion.

When she wasn’t watching wrestling film, she found herself in the pool. Black-Campion spent her time in physical therapy working to stay in shape for when it was time to return to the mat.

After her recovery, Black-Campion was gearing up for another year of wrestling for the Army team when she found out she and her husband were going to be parents.

“When you’ve been working your whole life for a goal, like being an Olympic champion, that love for wrestling doesn’t just stop when you find out you’re pregnant,” Black-Campion said. “As an athlete, we’re told that the next match is the most important match.”

Black-Campion's next match was motherhood.

Her daughter Leighton Campion was born in the summer of 2022.

“Holding her is better than any medal I could ever hold,” said Black-Campion.

Growing up, Black-Campion could be found wherever her brother was. The same is true now. She and Tucker coach the William Penn University women’s wrestling team.

The next best thing for Black-Campion is recruiting for the Iowa Army National Guard and spending time with her family.

Featured Image Photo Credit: U.S. Army