It wasn’t your typical partnership. Nonetheless effective.
Just a few years ago, ex-Broomfield star grappler Darren Green and longtime U.S. women’s wrestler Katherine Shai trained together on the mat.
Shai had just had a baby and was looking to work back into shape. And in return, the touted national wrestling figure would help Green thanks to her lifetime knowledge of the sport — down to the finest details.
Fast-forward to the recent news of Shai being named the inaugural coach of the Eagles girls wrestling program — which will serve as the station of the Boulder Valley School District team — for this upcoming winter season, Green thought of his former training partner. His old school. Another perfect match.
“We trained quite a bit,” recalled Green, who won two state titles in high school and now wrestles at the University of Wyoming. “I helped her get ready for some big tournaments that she was competing for at the time, and she also helped me with technique. She is super technical. She is very educated, and obviously so in the sport of wrestling.”
Green remembers the wisdom Shai imparted in their time together. Hand position. Hips in. Keep those feet moving, those toes in the mat.
The oft-forgotten particulars a young touted wrestler like Green could easily let wander, didn’t.
“Depending on whether they’re a fresh wrestler or an experienced wrestler, she is going to make the adjustments to make sure she has a qualified practice for everyone,” Green noted.
Shai — a world-class wrestler and among the early pioneers of the sport for women in this country — said she garnered her teaching prowess from her late father, Lee Allen, a two-time Olympian and a decorated wrestling coach out of the state of California.
She’s instilled what he taught her in other one-on-one training sessions of late. Now, with taking it to an entire program, she said it’s a challenge that excites her.
“The biggest inspiration — that comes from my dad and his love for the sport and his love for passing it onto others, giving to others,” Shai said. “He was a pretty unique coach. I think very stereotypically with wrestling coaches, people think of intensity, maybe on the extreme end. He was the opposite of that. I grew up in a calm and encouraging coaching environment.”
The path to getting her to Broomfield wasn’t easy.
When talking about the hiring process, Eagles athletic director Steve Shelton was open about the struggles in finding the perfect fit.
The job had been posted since the middle of summer, he said.
There were applicants. Interviews. But nothing was quite right.
As for Shai, the Eagles had reached out to her early on. Between wrestling and motherhood, though, she needed time to think it over. And after some simmering, her hiring was announced earlier this month.
“So impressed with her, not just her wrestling ability, but to listen to her talk about growing up in California when women’s wrestling was growing, and having to be an advocate for the sport for her whole entire life, not just her career, but her life,” Shelton said amazed him. “And on top of that, in terms of being a competitive wrestler, it can’t be beat.”
Adding: “In some ways, we got lucky. But in some ways, when you think about Broomfield and the history of success we’ve had in wrestling on the boys side, and this community, I think it’s a great fit for her too.”
Shai is a seven-time U.S. National Team member, a collegiate and university world champion. She trained for years at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and finished third at the Olympic Trials three times.
Before any of that, she was among the early athletes to pioneer women’s wrestling in California. With Colorado’s sanctioning of the sport in 2019, it’s now something she hopes continues to grow in this state, too.
“I think it is an exciting opportunity that these girls get to be a part of, which I have full faith in what’s about to be a huge sport in Colorado for girls,” Shai said. “It just takes a few brave ones to step on the mat and to take that chance in something very different than what I think a lot of people expect.”