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From Italy to Manawa

Vitali tries wrestling for first time

By Greg Seubert

Alice Vitali knew she’d be in for the adventure of a lifetime.

She had no idea it would include wrestling.

The foreign exchange student from Bergamo, Italy, is spending part of her senior year at Manawa’s Little Wolf High School on the Wolves’ wrestling team.

While other team members worked their way up through Manawa’s youth wrestling program, Vitali showed up on the first day of practice in November with no wrestling experience.

“I used to do kickboxing,” she said. “I also did Aikido (a modern Japanese martial art), so I’ve always done something that was fighting. When I came here and saw there was wrestling, I was super-excited. I wanted to try it. I thought it was UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), so I thought we were going to throw chairs on the head, that kind of thing. I used to do a lot of competitions in kickboxing. I won four state championships and one world championship.”

She made her wrestling debut in Manawa Jan. 7 with three 170-pound matches at the Manawa Invitational. Winneconne’s Nicholas Braun pinned her in 1:51, Montello’s Mason Kratz pinned her in 4:22 and Antigo’s Will Dixon pinned her in 1:27.

“There are just boys in my weight class because girls are really light,” Vitali said. “I don’t know, I like it because I’ve always loved to do sports with boys. They work harder. I practice with them, so it’s fine to have matches with them.

“It’s kind of hard because the season is just three months and people here started four, five, six years ago,” she added. “For me, it was kind of hard, but they told me I was catching up pretty fast. The hard part is not learning the move, but understanding when you’re there in the middle of the mat that it’s super-fast. It should be automatic, but in the beginning, it cannot be.”

Vitali hears people and coaches yelling during her matches.

“We always have three coaches in the corner,” she said. “For me, it’s hard to understand them because I have to translate every single word they say and I don’t remember all the names of the moves because they are in English. I’m sure (wrestling) is a good decision. I can go back and start MMA (mixed martial arts) because I can mix kickboxing and wrestling. Kickboxing is just punching and kicking and here you cannot punch and you cannot kick.”

Wrestling isn’t Vitali’s first foray into sports in Manawa and it won’t be her last.

“I started this year without doing sports and it was so boring,” she said. “I love doing sports. I did cross country for two weeks, but I don’t like running, I just did it to stay in shape. I think I’m doing softball the next season just because I want to try it and we don’t have it in Italy. I’ve never even seen it. It’s part of the experience.”

Vitali is staying with the Grant and Tamara Johnson family.

“I’m loving it because it’s completely different,” she said. “I finally like going to school. My family is super-, super-, super-cool and I love them. I really feel like I’m at home. I don’t know how I will go back.”

Bergamo is a city of about 120,000 people near Milan. Although Bergamo is located in the foothills of the Bergamo Alps, Vitali is not a fan of winter.

“I hate cold so much,” she said. “They told me (about Wisconsin’s winters), but I didn’t choose to come here, they sent me here. When I saw in Wisconsin that the temperature would freeze, I was scared. My winter is more or less 32 (degrees) Fahrenheit. We have snow, but like 1 inch.”

She brought her winter coat from Italy, but it hasn’t really helped this winter.

“It’s not really warm, but it’s fine,” she said. “I use it from going to the car to the school.”

Besides dealing with her first Wisconsin winter, Vitali is also getting used to living in a small town.

“I come from a city with 120,000 people, so my school is bigger than the whole city of Manawa,” he said. “It’s completely a different way of life: people coming from farms, people who have always known each other. They didn’t really try to help me do things, but I’m really outgoing, so I made them know me.

“In my school, we have one class and the teachers change,” she said. “Here, you keep changing classes every period. We don’t have lunch at school, we don’t have sports at school, it’s all study. You just study and it’s a lot harder than here. In our school back in Italy, they know your name and your grades, nothing else. They know you as a student, not as a person, like here.”

Vitali already knows what she’ll always remember about her year away from home.

“I think I’m going to remember your coffee,” she said. “It’s really bad compared to my Italian coffee.”

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