PETALUMA — Michelle Larsen is used to fighting above her weight and taking on a little more than the average student athlete.
The decorated Petaluma High heavyweight wrestler who finished second at the CIF state wrestling meet in Visalia last month was the smallest athlete in the division, according to her coach, longtime Trojans assistant and head girls coach Mike Butts.
“She was giving up anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds depending on who her opponent was,” he said.
It’s the only time you’ll hear Butts or anyone else use the phrase “giving up” when talking about Larsen.
Larsen, a senior on the verge of graduating with honors from Petaluma, has dealt with myriad health issues most of her life.
She is deaf in one ear, has peripheral vision loss, color blindness in one eye and a motor processing issue which makes it difficult for her to quickly process texts. She wears a protective mask when she wrestles because she has a tumor behind her left eye.
And with that, she still maintains a grade point average of 4.15 and aims to pursue engineering in college. She’s ranked 20th in her class of more than 300 seniors, is a member of the California Scholarship Federation, a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and is on the verge of becoming a four-time CIF Scholar Athlete.
“I’m actually quite frankly, amazed,” said her dad, Stacy Larsen. “I call her my workhorse. She just goes and goes and goes.”
It was that grit that was celebrated Friday with a visit from Oakland Raiders linebacker Neiron Ball, who bestowed a $5,000 check to Larsen as the Raiders’ pick for the Bay Area All-Star Team scholarship.
“It took a lot of hard work, being a scholar-athlete,” the University of Florida graduate said of Larsen.
Larsen beamed as the two walked around campus, Ball in his No. 58 jersey and Larsen in a newly bestowed No. 16.
“It meant a lot,” she said.
Larsen has meant a lot to the Trojans community.
Wrestling head coach Paul Schloesser said Larsen leads by example.
“She’s quiet,” he said. “But we’ll go for a run and you’ll hear grunting and groaning, but Michelle? She’s in shoes and halfway out the door.”
Larsen executed her own impromptu fundraiser for the wrestling team by selling cotton candy at a Trojans football game. She is president of the wrestling club.
“She thinks about the team, she thinks about others,” Schloesser said. “We all want to stand in Michelle’s corner and coach because she’s so great.”
Butts has special admiration for Larsen — arguably his star pupil in recent years.
“She does have athletic ability, but her work ethic is pretty determined,” he said. “She works pretty darned hard.”
If there’s an athletic downside to Larsen’s medical issues, Butts doesn’t see it.
“One of the benefits of her not being able to hear out of one ear, I don’t have to yell at her — she can’t hear me anyways,” he said.
Despite her success on the mat in four years at Petaluma, it’d be hard to hear a boastful word from her.
“Michelle was quiet and cool, never got excited. She would just smile, like, ‘This is cool. Another notch on the belt, another day at the office,’ ” Butts said. “She was really kind of special. She gave me an even keel. I can be pretty intense and pretty excitable at times with her in there. Now I breathe, I don’t get too caught up in the moment. That is one of the things she has given me. She kind of gave me a little zen kind of thinking.”