Heather Crull, the daughter of Todd and Jill Crull, will be a junior at Northeastern High School this fall. She has a disarming smile, and she tends to be a little shy. If you did not know her background, you might view her as a typical teenager.

But Crull’s tireless work ethic, determination, and athletic accomplishments set her apart from most young people in the United States, and in the world.

Heather’s start

Initially, Crull’s name became familiar to area residents because of her success as a young wrestler. Starting as a kindergartner, she has been involved in competitive wrestling for over 10 years. “My cousin started wrestling and that got me interested and inspired me to try it and my father played a large part by encouraging me,” Crull said.  

Over time her success began to draw statewide attention. Her fame grew significantly when as a high school freshman, she competed in the 106-pound weight class against boys in the 2022 IHSAA wrestling tournament. “When I first started wrestling in high school, the boys underestimated me,” Heather said. “But once they saw me wrestle or wrestled against me, they began to take me seriously and wrestled as hard as they could.”

Crull takes an opponent to the mat. Photo by DAJO Photos

As her opponents quickly learned, she is a serious competitor. Heather won her weight class at the Shenandoah sectional, the Richmond regional, and finished third in the New Castle semi-state to qualify for the state finals, the biggest stage for Indiana high school wrestling. She is not the only member of her family to earn a trip to the Indiana state finals: her father and coaching mentor Todd Crull advanced to the state meet in the 145-pound class during the 1998 school year wrestling for Hagerstown High School. Her sister Olivia, who will be a freshman at Northeastern this fall, is also an accomplished wrestler.   

Women’s National Championship, 2023

In mid-April, Heather traveled to Spokane, Washington, to participate in the 17U USMC Women’s National Championships. Advancing to the finals from a field of 52 participants in the 49 Kilograms weight class (108 pounds), she faced Harlee Hiller in a best two out of three format. Hiller was the Illinois state champion this year in the 105-pound weight class, wrestling for the Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, which is located approximately 20 minutes north of Chicago.  

A third match was unnecessary. Crull won two consecutive 10-0 technical falls over Hiller for a dominating sweep to win her weight class. Heather explained that she felt she had an edge. “The mental aspect of the sport can come into play,” Heather said. “I had beaten Hiller before, and I think that I was in her head.”

As a result of her championship, Heather was named to the Under 17 USA Team that will compete at the 2023 Under 17 World Championships, July 31 through August 6, in Istanbul, Turkey. Heather has accumulated years of experience in tournaments, but her trip to Turkey will be her first competition in another country.

To prepare, Heather flew to Colorado Springs June 11 to attend training camps with her teammates. Heather and her sister Olivia will also travel to Florida and to Fargo, North Dakota, for tournaments in July.

Heather had to pay to travel to Spokane to earn her spot on the team. Funds will be provided to cover airfare, accommodations, and expenses for the athletes to attend the world championships in Turkey. Family members who attend will be responsible for their own expenses. However, there will be incidental expenses for Heather and expenses for her family. They’ve created an online T-shirt sale to help defray those costs; shirts that say “We believe in Heather Crull” can be found at https://heathercrull.itemorder.com/shop/sale.

Of course, there is the potential for language and cultural barriers to overcome during international travel, but the biggest concern is adjusting to jet lag with the time change. Even though the athletes will land in Turkey on a Sunday, they will not start competing until Wednesday.

Todd Crull explained the logic. “That will give them time to become acclimated to the environment, the weather, and the elevation,” he said. “They can practice for a few days before they compete on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.” The wrestlers will be required to weigh in every day to make sure they are maintaining the required weight. Heather cannot exceed 49 kilograms, or 108.025 pounds.  

Practice makes perfect

Heather Crull has been involved in other sports at Northeastern. She is a two-time regional qualifier in cross country, but a three-peat seems unlikely: this year when cross country starts, she will be out of the country and unable to participate. While she excels in cross country, her first love is wrestling. She is now focusing on getting better in wrestling so that she can meet the goals she has established for herself. She set the record straight on the matter: “Wrestling is definitely my favorite sport,” Heather said.

Heather explained her normal practice routine. “I have a few practice partners in Avon. We go to the Red Cobra frequently, which is a great facility, and they have good training partners.”

Todd explained some of Heather’s other training options during the off season. “There are also several places that have open mats available,” he said. “Williamsburg, New Castle, and Richmond all hold open mats. Heather’s main practice partner is near Anderson, so we also go there quite a bit. When she goes there, she will also practice with Chad Red, who runs Red Cobra Wrestling Academy.”

A benefit for Heather during her career has been the opportunity to meet people from different places. “It has been exciting to meet so many people from all over the country who are now my friends and teammates,” Heather said. She likes “knowing that they have faced some of the same challenges I have faced and worked and trained to be where they are.”

Jill, Heather and Todd Crull. Photo by Dan Harney

Heather has had the benefit of help from many people but none more important than her father. Todd is an assistant wrestling coach at Northeastern High School, and he had prior coaching experience when he accepted the position. He has also been involved in the Northeastern youth program. When Heather entered the sixth grade, he became the middle school coach and later joined the high school staff.

Girls wrestling is becoming more popular, and the day may come when the IHSAA girls wrestling tournament will be separate from the boys. Heather has an opinion on that. “If they decide to run a separate tournament, I think the girls should have the choice to wrestle in the boys’ tournament,” she said.

Heather works hard to improve and excel, but she also tries to have fun. She has hopes of competing in a high-level college program after high school and someday wrestling in the Olympics.

For now, she will travel to Istanbul, Turkey, in a few weeks to represent the United States of America. Be assured that she will be a worthy competitor and a strong ambassador for her country.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 14 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Dan Harney is a sports reporter at the Western Wayne News.