On a wrestling ring in spring, they promised to wed

GCU wrestlers Noah Valenzuela and Sami Tuttle have a strong hold on their relationship. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

For the last time, she walked to the wrestling mat’s center ring, only to turn around and find him on bended knee – holding a ring.

Samantha Tuttle isn’t the type to wish for a “ring by spring,” as the Grand Canyon University student adage goes, but even this gutsy grappler started to cry.

The former New Mexico high school wrestler had transferred from a nearby college to GCU in 2022 after the coach told her she’d never be an all-American. She promptly joined a GCU women’s team in Club Sports that just launched the year before and never forgot his words, becoming an all-American for the second time in mid-March.

“A couple years ago, we were talking about not bringing club wrestling back just because it was so small, and Sami was the one who led the way and made sure we kept the team,” said coach Austen Moore.

GCU wrestlers Sami Tuttle and Noah Valenzuela.

Last year, Tuttle and Daniela Suttles became the first GCU women’s wrestlers to earn all-American status, earning top-four finishes in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association National Championships.

Just as importantly, that year she came across a familiar name on the GCU men’s wrestling roster – Noah Valenzuela. He came to Arizona via California, had also transferred from a nearby college and was the friend of a friend.

“I was like, he’s cool, he’s cute, but I remember giving him a ride to practice one day and it was a really quiet ride, and I was thinking, ‘he’s kind of mean.’ But he was just shy, and I didn’t know it,” Tuttle said. “We started talking more after that, and I asked him if he wanted to study with me. Ever since then, we’ve spent every single day together.

“There is not anyone I feel so comfortable and safe around. I’m a very strong-headed and opinionated person, so there are few people I let close to me. But somehow Noah just works his way in. He has a way with words, I guess, even though he hardly talks, so maybe he has a way with no words.”

Noah?

“My dream partner was a wrestler with tattoos,” he said softly, chuckling. “We clicked a lot faster than I thought we would. We both grew up wrestling, so we understand the life and whole aspect of being a wrestler.”

If you’ve ever met a wrestler, it isn’t a passion, it’s an obsession. “It’s something you absorb if you want to be the best,” she said. “Lot of ups and downs,” he added, “lot of mental battles.”

They began to practice together. There weren’t a lot of sparring partners for Tuttle in her 155-pound class. So they helped each other. He learned her grind-it-out, wear-'em-out style, and he exposed her to his raw physical quickness and power.

Then came the beginning of this year. The women’s team tripled in size from three to 10 wrestlers, but the coaching staff was replaced well into the season, so Tuttle had only wrestled three times before the meet to qualify for nationals. She promptly blew out a knee, yet qualified.

“I don’t want you to be disappointed,” she said in a conversation with her mom, who has watched her wrestle since she was little, “but I’m not sure my body is going to be able to do everything I know it can.”

Sami Tuttle wrestles during a match at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association nationals.

But with parents and siblings in the stands at the NCWA nationals in Shreveport, Louisiana, in mid-March, she was going to try. She wrestled four matches in one day, protecting her leg while winning two in a row to need just one more to get all-American status for the second year.

“I knew I would have a hard time making it through the whole match. I really had to break her in the first period to make it, so as soon as I got on top, I was being rough. The ref had to stop the match for unnecessary roughness. But I was on top the whole match. I can make it through a match without getting gassed out. I can wrestle for six minutes, can you?”

She would later find out she was likely wrestling on torn cartilage.

Meanwhile, Valenzuela had cut more than 20 pounds to wrestle in the men’s tournament at 141 pounds but lost out after the first day – to other schools that offer scholarships to club wrestlers, Moore said.

Sami Tuttle removes her wrestling shoes to leave at the center of the mat following her final match.

Valenzuela had another winning maneuver in mind, however, and it wasn’t a takedown.

The couple had often discussed how much wrestling had meant to them, and how it would be great to get engaged at the national meet. But only he knew the plan. He talked to his coach and meet officials and stood aside to cheer on Tuttle in her third-place match.

“I was standing there with my nerves waiting for the match to get over,” he said.

She knew, win or lose, that it would be her last match. The senior is graduating with a degree in business management in April. So after the loss, Tuttle unlaced her wrestling shoes and set them in the middle of the ring. “It symbolizes an end to a big chunk of my life,” she said, her voice breaking. “It was really hard, but it was special to show how much I accomplished in the sport, knowing how many times I almost called it quits.”

She hugged her coach and turned around.

“And Noah was in the middle of the mat,” she said.

Noah Valenzuela proposes to Sami Tuttle after her match at the NCWA National Championships.

He asked her to marry. She said yes, and he placed a ring on her finger, then lifted her arm in a proposal victory as the crowd roared.

“It was a really tough moment that turned into one of the best moments ever,” Tuttle said.

She led a tiny team into one with four all-Americans – herself with a fourth-place finish at 155 pounds, Suttles (third at 109 pounds), Orianna Morales (fifth at 155 pounds), Prisila Vela (third at 235 pounds). And she found a life partner who also will graduate in April with a degree in marketing and advertising. Both are looking for jobs but have committed to being assistants to next year’s men’s and women’s teams.

“They are two leaders, every step of the way,” said Moore of his team captains.

Noah Valenzuela signals victory after his accepted proposal.

Wrestling, they said, is for strong-minded people who work hard together, and they will bring that into marriage, whose date has yet to be set.

“We have a good foundation to start on,” Tuttle said. “We make such a good partnership. We were team captains together. We have learned so much about each other. We’ve seen each other in vulnerable moments.”

“Wrestling,” he added, “brought us together.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: How two GCU women became wrestling trailblazers

GCU News: Students are eager to get in the Club Sports game

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Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

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