Peruvian Relief Society sister Thalia Mallqui has climbed the medal podium at several international freestyle wrestling competitions. (Instagram photo)
Peruvian Relief Society sister is one of the world's top wrestlers
By Jason Swensen
29 Dec 2022
Latter-day Saint elite wrestler/Relief Society sister Thalia Mallqui can thank her mom for two life-shaping introductions.
First, when the decorated Peruvian athlete was just 10-years-old, her mother, (Mary Peche), spotted a pair of missionaries walking down the street near their home in Huancayo. Mrs. Peche asked the elders if there was a Latter-day Saint chapel nearby.
“We went to Church that next Sunday,” she told Church Ball. “I remember feeling so good when we entered the chapel and participating in Primary. I loved singing the hymns.”
Soon, Mallqui and her younger sister, Jannette, were listening to the missionary discussions. Both siblings eagerly accepted the elders’ baptismal invitation.
Seven years later, Mrs. Mallqui introduced her daughters to freestyle wrestling.
“From day one, I fell in love with the sport.”
Mallqui has since become one of Peru’s most successful athletes, collecting hardware while bringing awareness to the emerging sport of women’s freestyle wrestling. She is a two-time Pan American Games medalist (silver in the 2015 Toronto Games, bronze in the 2019 Lima Games), a gold medalist in the 2017 Bolivarian Games and, most recently, a silver medalist (53 kg) in the 2022 South American Games.
Each trip to the medal podium has been special. “But my favorite memory,” she said. “is sharing this beautiful sport with my younger sister, who is no longer with us.”
Jannette Mallqui died in 2019, less than a year after competing alongside her elder sister at the 2019 Pan American Games in their home country.
For Thalia Mallqui, wrestling and family are intrinsically linked. Her late sister, Jannette, was her longtime training partner. “And I met my husband (Abel Herrera) through the sport.”
Thalia and Abel are the parents of a 13-year-old son, Oziel, who is also a promising freestyle wrestler.
The world’s oldest sport, freestyle wrestling demands coordination, strength and endurance. “But what I like most about wrestling is that you have to make split-second decisions on choosing techniques to defend against and execute attacks,” she said. “It’s not easy — but that’s the challenge of the sport.”
Mallqui admits being a woman in a male-dominated sport has not been easy in Peru. Securing the financial support to remain competitive remains an ongoing challenge “But we have shown that we can have competition results that are equal or even superior to the men.”
Living gospel principles, she added, makes her a better athlete.
“Temptations such as alcohol, cigarettes or drugs have never been difficult for me,” she said. “People sometimes say, ‘Oh, you don’t drink because you’re an athlete’. But I always tell them I don’t drink because of my religious beliefs.”
Travel and athletic competitions sometimes prevent Mallqui from worshiping with her home ward in Lima. “But I never forget to pray. I always seek the Lord’s guidance in every decision that I make. I want to have His spirit with me so I can remain firm in the gospel.”
At 35, Mallqui is typically one of the older participants in the uber-competitive world of international freestyle wrestling. She knows she’s in the twilight of her athletic career. The 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, may be her final competition.
But if she finds herself again on the medal podium, “then I’ll analyze things and look at the possibility of the 2024 (Paris) Olympic Games.”