In the weeks leading up to the U.S. Marine Corps Open Wrestling Championships in April of this year, 1st Lt. Stephanie Simon would wake up before sunrise to step on a wrestling mat and pour herself into her training. She trained with the All-Marine Wrestling Team in her free time, exercised outside of formal practices and led her Marines as a Marine Corps officer. The countless hours helped Simon qualify for the World Team Trials.
“I’ve always wanted a challenge,” said Simon, who saw her first wrestling match in the sixth grade. “I’ve always wanted to do a sport that was tough. I saw a lot of boys were in the sport, and I was like, ‘I can beat them up.’”
In 2011, Simon made it to the US Marine Corps Cadet and Junior National Championships, where she earned fourth place in her weight class in the nation and achieved the title of All-American wrestler.
She was accepted into the United States Naval Academy in 2013 where she continued her journey in combat sports, becoming the first female to earn a national boxing title for the academy in 2015. She would earn two more titles during her time at the academy and became a catalyst for change at the academy.
When Simon graduated in 2017, there were only three female boxers there. Today, there is a full women’s team at the academy and they compete in more bouts now than in the history of women’s boxing at the academy.
“I’m always trying to make a difference,” said Simon. “I’m always trying to make a change. I’m always trying to contribute to equality.”
After earning her next title, that of a United States Marine, Simon worked her way to become one of the first female amphibian assault officers, a combat occupational specialty that was previously closed for women until 2016.
Simon was assigned to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She currently serves as a platoon commander and will soon take on greater responsibilities as a company executive officer.
“I picked (amphibian assault officer) because I knew that would be a big point of friction," said Simon. "I wanted to go where I knew it was going to be tough and also where I knew they needed to have females, and female officers who were in charge and who have authority.”
Even with her full-time leadership position, Simon still makes time to pursue her passions in physical fitness. She not only strives to meet perfect scores on her annual physical fitness tests - she meets the male first-class standards on them.
“She’s a fit Marine,” said 1st Lt. Terrence Zaleski, director of communications for All-Marine Wrestling Team. “When the Marine Corps sets a standard, she tries to surpass that standard.”
Outside of normal exercise and Marine Corps duties, Simon says she works to better her skills in combat sports to be an example for growing female communities in wrestling and in other sports.
“We need to start integrating more, because that’s what’s going to make wrestling, and the Marine Corps, better,” Simon said. “I am a firm believer that once you have diversity — an equal representation of everyone, whether it’s race or gender — that’s when you truly start to form a bond and a family that is not biased toward one specific kind of person.”
Simon took time from July 14 – 19 to visit her roots at the junior and cadet national championships held in Fargo, North Dakota, to encourage young wrestlers to pursue their passion and break barriers. She was able to network with coaches, present awards to winning wrestlers and address all of the attendees on stage.
“I have lived my life and Marine Corps career with the wrestler mindset,” said Simon while addressing the crowd in Fargo. “What do you do when you’re so gassed and exhausted in a match that you can barely breathe? What do you do when life is tough and nothing seems to be working out? You dig deep, tap into your fighting spirit and fight back. No matter how tired or defeated you may feel, you leave everything you possibly have on the battlefield or the mat.”