Norah Swaim would have been forgiven for quitting right there on the spot.
She had watched a lot of wrestling matches and was an athlete herself in other sports. Deciding to try her hand at wrestling, she turned to her older brother, Connor, for some of her first lessons.
He promptly broke his little sister’s elbow.
“I took her down and she didn’t know how to post yet, so she posted wrong and I broke her elbow,” Connor Swaim said. “She didn’t get to wrestle that year so I felt pretty bad.”
Not only did Norah not quit, she used the experience to her benefit.
“I learned a lot mentality wise from that,” she said.
Now, they’re on the mats together as one of the more distinctive sibling duos in Rhode Island wrestling. Norah, a sophomore, is North Kingstown’s 120-pounder and Connor, a junior, is at 132 pounds for the Skippers, both key members of a strong team.
“They’re great people and great wrestlers,” assistant coach Josh Clare said. “Their work ethic is second to none. I love coaching both of them.”
The Skippers are happy to have them. Just a few years ago, the Swaims were in Germany, one of many outposts in the journey of a military family. Connor was born in Ohio, Norah in Virginia. They also have two other siblings.
Amid all the moves, wrestling was a constant for Connor, who started when he was in first grade. It’s a family sport for the Swaims. Their dad, Brett, competed in high school and college. And as she thought about trying out wrestling, Norah knew she wouldn’t be the first member of her family to take the road less traveled as a girl on the mats. Her mother, Kim, also wrestled competitively.
“She was like, ‘You can do this,’” Norah said.
In eighth grade, Norah decided to take the plunge. Once the elbow injury was behind her, she found she really enjoyed her new sport.
“I played other sports and so did Connor,” Norah said. “I was into my other sports, but I was always on the sidelines at wrestling matches, cheering him on and learning a lot just watching him. Probably eighth grade, I was like, ‘I want to do this.’ I’ve had great coaches and a great support system, with my mom and dad and Connor being wrestlers. One of my coaches, Nick O’Connell, has taught me so much.”
The Swaims started to make a mark for the Skippers last season, which was held in the spring after a COVID postponement. Connor made the 120-pound semifinals at the state tournament, then fought his way to a third-place finish. Norah qualified for states and dropped her first two matches.
This season, Connor won the South County Invitational and is unbeaten in dual meets. Norah is 4-1 in dual meets. Both scored pins in last week’s match against La Salle.
“We’re both really competitive and we’re in pretty close weight classes, so it’s been fun to go against each other,” Norah said. “He’s been wrestling a lot longer than I have but there’s always good competition between us.”
Connor has high goals for his junior season.
“I would like to be a state champ and hopefully finish top three at New Englands,” he said.
Norah is hoping to earn a spot on the podium at states, which would be a pretty big achievement in just her second year of wrestling.
“I would like to place at states. I think that’s a pretty good goal for me,” she said. “I’ve been working hard. I made it to states last year and I’ve learned a lot.”
Younger brother Timothy wrestles in the middle school ranks and also got a win last week, as middle school squads competed before the varsity match.
At home, the family has wrestling mats set up. For Connor and Norah, that means there’s always an opportunity to get some work in.
“I try to show her things as we go along,” Connor said. “If our partners can’t get together on the weekend, we can still work on things. We have mats at our house. We drill things, I can teach her things. She’s a really quick learner.”
Connor has the upper hand in their matchups, but they’re always rooting for each other when it comes to the real thing.
“She just keeps working through everything,” Connor said. “When you’re out-working half the boys, when you’re beating the whole team in sprints at the end of a grueling practice – it’s pretty impressive. She never gives up.”
Norah loves watching her brother’s success. She’s thrilled to be able to learn from him.
And she’s surely glad he hasn’t broken any bones lately.
“He’s a great leader and I love having him as my captain,” Norah said. “He’s always there to motivate me, keeping me on task, rooting for me.”