Cousin Cecelia is named in partial tribute to my Irish mother, is the daughter of my sainted Aunt Peggy, and has been a notable church organist and piano teacher for decades in the St. James area.
Back in 2000, her youngest son, Dustin, qualified for the state wrestling tournament at Target Center, and I was able to take a seat for his first match on Cecelia's left, with husband John on her right.
This kind and generous mom was clearly nervous in the minutes leading to the match. Then, the 130-pounders started their combat, and Cecelia went loony tunes. She became a precursor to Donald Trump losing an election.
"Are all wrestling moms like that?'' I asked Brandon Paulson, the wunderkind of Minnesota wrestling 30 years ago, and Olympic silver medalist in Greco Roman in 1996, on Thursday.
Paulson laughed slightly and said: "A voice shouting 'NO! Brandon' is a memorable sound for me. That was my mother, Sherry. And now I have a nephew wrestling, and if she's allowed to be there when wrestling starts one of these days, Grandma Sherry will be shouting commands to him.''
A below-radar phenomenon during the past decade has been the growth in girls' and women's wrestling. There are now 28 states (not yet Minnesota) that have sanctioned girls' wrestling as a high school varsity sport. The number of collegiate programs (including JUCOs) was due to grow to 80 this winter, although with only two in Division 1 — Sacred Heart in Connecticut and Presbyterian in North Carolina.
Here in Minnesota, we have a youthful star perhaps on the same Olympic path as Paulson in Emily Shilson, 19. She is a sophomore in the Augsburg program, the school that brought back collegiate wrestling to Minnesota in 2019, 15 years after Minnesota-Morris (the nation's women's wrestling original in 1996) dropped the sport.
This got me wondering: How are the wrestling moms who have lost their minds watching sons, the kid that ate dirt as a nutritional supplement, going to handle watching a daughter that was too bright for such behavior?
Wrestling is the beast of interscholastic sports. If the person across the mat is stronger, quicker, more fundamentally sound, you're going to get twisted into a pretzel.
There's no place to hide in wrestling.
"That's what I like about it,'' Emily said. "I don't want to put it on a teammate for my success or failure. It's up to me in wrestling. That fits me.''
Does it fit Mom?
"I have my moments, but I'm more quiet than most,'' Margaret Shilson said. "That could be because Emily has had a lot of success from Day 1. That makes it more enjoyable, obviously.''
Paulson is the co-owner of the Pinnacle Wrestling School in Roseville with Jared Lawrence, another former Gophers standout.
"Jared and I opened the facility 11 years ago and we've basically had Emily with us since then,'' Paulson said. "And Margaret — unlike my mom at the same ages — stays pretty calm.''
As does Emily, who mostly has been the twister rather than the twistee in the pretzel part of wrestling.
For instance: During the 2019-20 season, she was the NCAA, WCWA (all colleges), Junior Nationals and USA Wrestling Under-23 champion at 109/110 pounds.
Shilson was 139-64 (with 62 pins) wresting against boys for Mounds View and Centennial high schools. Emily qualified for the state wrestling tournament three times, twice for Centennial and as a senior for Mounds View.
"No one in our 11 years at Pinnacle has put in more time in our program than Emily,'' Paulson said. "She's a gym rat. This is not a chore for her. She lives for it.
"Stone Cold Shilson. That's our name for her.''
Chad Shilson, Emily's dad, is the women/girls' director for Minnesota USA Wrestling. From the outside, he might seem the ultimate "Sports Dad,'' but Paulson sees it differently, from experience:
"When I was a young wrestler, my goal was to be in the Olympics. I drove myself and, at 22 years old, I made it. Emily also has that singular focus — to make it to the Olympics.
"No way she trains this hard because a parent is pushing her. This is what she wants to do, and Chad and Margaret are going to provide Emily with every opportunity to get there.''
Japan is the dominant force in women's wrestling. Twice the Shilsons have set up training and competing for Emily (and others) at the Japanese wrestling center in Nagoya.
"The Japanese wrestlers are amazing,'' Emily said. "There is no wasted time in their workouts. And there are no days off.''
That also applies to Shilson.
"I became a daily runner 10 years ago, and Emily picked up on that approach,'' Chad said. "She started keeping a calendar of her daily workouts in 2012. She has 8½ years of not missing a workout day. She's so precise that she weighs in each day in pounds and kilos.''
Nutrition? Emily will go weeks without a "sweet'' although the family does recall her eating a Dairy Queen blizzard after winning the national U-23 title a few months ago.
There's hope that Emily and her Augsburg teammates will be able to start a schedule in January. The Olympic trials are in April, and at age 19 and still getting stronger (although not bigger), she's very much a long shot to make it to the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
But 2024 in Paris … don't bet against Stone Cold Shilson.
She's become such a machine that even Margaret has no cause to go off the deep end watching her daughter on the unforgiving surface that's a wrestling mat.
An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information on the first girls competitor to participate in the Minnesota State High School wrestling tournament.
Fulda's Elissa Reitsma, competing for Fulda/Murray County Central, competed in the state tournament in 2009 and 2011. Reitsma was highly rated and missed a chance to qualify for the state meet in 2010 due to a late-season knee injury.