meet menlo college's precious bell

for whom the bell tolls

may 15, 2019

ATHERTON, California

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While Hemingway’s esteemed novel – and the poem by John Donne from which he borrowed the above quote and title – speaks to death specifically, it – they – speak to interconnectedness more broadly. The ways that we all individually, and collectively, might be affected by the outcomes felt directly by other people – even miles or worlds apart. The “butterfly effect” is a theory describing this phenomenon. The flutter of the little insect’s wings could spark a disturbance in the air that creates a hurricane a continent away. Whether we fully ascribe to such a belief or not, we should be ever mindful that our actions, our choices, affect others as theirs do us.

Ask anyone involved in the sport of wrestling what makes the sport special to them. The camaraderie. The togetherness. The sport demands much of your body and mind. The ties that bind. You to me. Them to us. In the room, everyone works. Everyone strives. And that collective energy, minds and bodies being ripped, torn, rebuilt and strengthened is where family is forged and the clay that is each wrestler is sculpted. Wrestling doesn’t create something new out of wrestlers, it carves away the excess, the superfluous, the waste, and reveals what was always there. The warrior.

***

Light from high above, the rafters, shone down. Eight made the podium. She stood. On the surface, calm, stoic even. Peeling back the layers would reveal tumult, disappointment. 2nd place. She smiled. To the outside world, she was a success. 2nd place. Tears building behind eyes, disguised as sparkle, as joy. In the arena, cameras flashed, phones pointed and clicked, steady applause for the medalists. In her head, silence. Missed opportunities on rewind. While the NAIA championship eluded her this time, this moment. She would have more. Times. Moments. Podiums with medals. Goal medals. The loftiest of which are reserved for those who most understand and respect the process. And so she stood. Head high. Heart heavy.

***

 

To fully understand how Precious Bell became Menlo College’s lone champion at the Women’s Senior Open, you have to know her. Know her story. Surprise makes way for certainty and it’s clear that determination begets destiny. This was destined. She is determined. The runner-up finish at the NAIA championships only fueled the fire and she took the US Open by storm. A hurricane. Category 5. And now she sits just two best-of-three matches away from making the Senior team. As she prepares for the WTT, I had a chance to speak with the junior Oak whom head coach Joey Bareng says is one of their biggest leaders. “When we recruited Precious we knew she was more potential than finished product. You can see in your mind where wrestlers can go, if they buy in and believe in the process. It didn’t start smoothly for her. It was a lot of things. The transition. She didn’t have the easiest childhood, so I’m sure there was self-doubt, do I really belong here? But we always knew she could get here. To win the US Open, maybe she caught some people by surprise, but not us. We see her every day. She’s not done either.” After talking with Coach Bareng, I had some insight – background information – to prepare for my conversation with Precious.

***

I should probably mention that the conversation we did have was more of just her opening up, telling me much of her story and a phone call for which I had planned maybe 20 minutes of questions turned into 90 minutes of just her, like stream of consciousness. I will try to capture the essence of it all here.

“So, first off, congratulations winning the open. I’m sure that felt good.”
“Oh yeah. I thought I could and after NAIA and WCWA, I felt like I really had to step my game up. You never want to lose but at the same time you take losses, and those little things you can improve on and get back to work. So, I was upset right after, knowing how close I got, but I also knew where I needed to get to.”
“Next is the team trials. You’re already in the finals there. Win and you make Final X. How much of an advantage is it to be in the finals and not have to go through the full bracket?”
“Well, obviously being in the finals is great, it’s just one best of three match. But, having to wait to compete I’ll just have to stay warm, stay ready.”
“So describe for us your process, how Precious gets in the zone so to speak.”
“Well, I’m very disciplined in my approach. I wasn’t always, you know. But to be as successful as I want, I had to figure out my routine. I like techno music. No lyrics. Words can be a distraction at that time and I like to clear my head and just zone out to some techno. That’s the other thing, my phone was stolen before my match and it threw me off mentally. Not to make an excuse, the girl just out wrestled me that time. That’s the great thing about this sport. You always get to test yourself and some days I’m the better wrestler and some days someone is better than me. It’s all respect for everyone I compete against though. But yeah, my phone was stolen and I didn’t have my techno man!”
“You mentioned that you developed this routine over time, can you take us back a bit, when did you begin wrestling? What was it like at first?”
“I didn’t have the easiest time growing up. I was busy just figuring out how to survive. Day to day. I started wrestling my junior year and I have a lot of love for the Eastside High program and when I graduated I was our school’s first state placer. I finished 3rd. That was cool but I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
“Your coach…”
“Coach Joey? He’s my dog. I love that dude. Marcus [Randolph] too. More than any other school, when they were recruiting me they were always in touch with my social worker and would text me daily just to make sure everything was in order and I was preparing for graduation. Coach Marcus was making all the drives to come see me. He was on top of everything. They just handled it all like family. Not to say the other schools were bad or anything but Menlo was just involved more and that’s why I chose them.”
“That’s awesome, and exactly what I was going to ask. So what was the transition to college like?
“Well it started bad. I mean really bad. Like I was crying and going to quit bad. Like here I was a big recruit, the other girls must have thought who is this, let’s see what she’s got. And I didn’t even know how to shoot. That’s how bad it was. And I was so embarrassed like do I even belong here? But I just told myself I had to put on my big girl pants and learn whatever I had to. But it was anything but smooth to begin with.”
“Looking back what helped you get through it?”
“Ok, so, you know there was a lot of things, foster homes, group homes, just instability all around. But it wasn’t all bad either. You know you grow up fast and you learn and you also see the balance. Like I have six siblings and I know they look up to me, they count on me. They don’t want to hear that their poor sister had it hard one day in practice, they want to know that I’m out there putting in work! I have a best friend, Dymond Guiliford. She’s always had my back. Her family is just awesome. They are like my family. She wrestles too. She’s really my sister.”
“So there have been some supporters and people in your corner, just not the stereotypical, what we think of.”
“Exactly. It’s not traditional or picture perfect but my middle school track coach Jeremy [Persson] has been with me all these years. He was at the US Open. I mean there”s a lot of people I have love for and can say I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”
“That’s pretty cool. Not traditional, like you say. And not always the easiest, but still knowing people have your back is one of the greatest things for a person to believe in themselves and go for big things. So, Joey was telling me about those earliest practices, some of the on the mat struggles, if you will.”

“I can laugh at it now. And really when you think about it, it’s not close to the most challenging things I’ve overcome. I don’t really have a family supporting me you know. Menlo is my family. This team, the coaches. I couldn’t fight for them? No. I have to put this school on the map. National championships, Olympic championships. I want all of it.”
“So how does someone go from not knowing a single freestyle rule to competing for the Olympic team?”
“My coaches. My teammates that are like sisters. We might fight sometimes but inside that room we’re a family. They believe in me. How can I let them down? I can’t. Also, I have to make my name mean something. I have this name, no one has heard of. No one in my family has really done anything with it. So, if I can be the first and create a legacy that would be really cool.”
“Well, the Olympics would certainly do that!”
“Yes, exactly!”
“And what about after wrestling, how do you plan to keep the name you build growing?”
“I’m studying Psychology but what I would really like to do is be an advocate for foster kids. Not really like a social worker. I’d like to be outside the system and be able to help more. Obviously, based on my experience I know what needs to be done.”
“But that’s down the line a ways. You have some wrestling stuff to take care of.”
“Yes. World team trials. Hopefully Final X and then who knows? It’ll be tough. I respect Adeline [Grey] a lot and if I get to wrestle her I know the challenge that will be. But this is what I want. So I’m just like ‘let’s go!’ you know? Then it’s my senior season. Twenty twenty [Olympics]. So it’s a lot but I love it. This is what it’s all about.”
“Now, if someone were to read this – you know I get a whole five people to read every article – if any of them were to tune in to watch you what can they expect to see?”
“Hmm. I really like watching Dave Taylor and the Penn State coach.”
“Cael Sanderson.”
“Yeah, I use a lot of ankle picks and moves that are good for someone taller and lankier, like me. I like to watch them and pick up new moves. They’ll also see someone who goes all out for the whole match. I leave everything out there. Then I know maybe I’m the best wrestler that day or maybe my opponent was better. But it’s all respect. Always.”
“Well those are a couple of great guys to model yourself after. Did you ever think, like 10 years ago, that you’d be here? Like from wherever you were to now getting ready to compete for a shot at the world team and being interviewed by the biggest wrestling media company in the world? Kidding. But really, has any of this been surprising?”
“Yes and no. I had dreams of being in the Olympics, in track though. But then you also have to understand that being 10 or 11 and what I had going on, how does someone like me actually make a dream like that come true? Lots of people have dreams, I’m not the only one with dreams. So, if you were to tell me all of this was going to happen? No, I wouldn’t believe it. But that’s just why I’m so happy I chose Menlo and why I’m just taking it all in, staying humble, nothing is given in life or this sport. Have to stay focused and keep working.”
“And on that note, what would want to say to any kids, especially those who might be going through some of the same things you experienced?”
“Just to keep striving. It’s so weird that people might look at me as someone to look up to. I’m not really anyone special like that I’m just trying my best. Maybe that’s it, that you just have to do the best you can do. But as a wrestler, I hope there’s girls out there training to beat me, training to be better than I ever was. That’s how this sport grows. It’s no fun if there isn’t someone out there trying to beat you. At the same time, they better bring it, because I’m going to.’
“Haha, that’s a great mentality. You definitely embrace the idea of competition more than most people I talk to.”
“The thing is, it never stops. I only get better if the people I go against are better. I only know how good I am if I push myself against the best.”
“You’re definitely on your way. Is there anything else you would like to say before we go?”
“Just strap on your seatbelt. It’s about to get wild!”

“More than any other school, they just handled it all like family… Menlo was just involved more and that’s why I chose them.”

As Precious prepares for the next challenge on her wrestling journey, she’ll step onto the mat armed with a piece of everyone and everything she’s known. The streets of Los Angeles and Lancaster. Known for swallowing kids whole, never to be seen or heard from again. Those siblings who she works for every day. To be better. Do better.  Xander. Nisha. Willaljess. Alfonsza. Jessika. Jesse. The coaches. Jeremy Persson. Joey Barengo. Marcus Randolph. That belief. Support. Love. Menlo College. Her teammates, her friends, her family. Herself. The self-doubt turned self-confidence, struggle turned success. She is connected to those people and experiences who have shaped her, still chiseling away the excess, revealing the warrior within. And win, lose, or draw, her impact will be felt. Precious Bell. First of her name.

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