Monday, September 10, 2007

Someone you should know

Wrestler, photographer, web designer, activist – meet Danielle Hobeika.

I “met” Danielle while searching the internet for a way to join the fight against the planned elimination of the University of Oregon wrestling team. Sure enough, I found I clicked on the webmaster link to see who had gotten a website that good up that quickly – and found Danielle. Since then we’ve communicated online a few times and I asked if I might feature her on my wrestling blog.

Her interest in photography began early. “I was obsessed with (the) camera and photography ever since I was a little girl. I would always steal my grandfather’s Polaroid and snap away”. She developed her photographic skills at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Massachusetts and then while working on the Harvard Crimson in college. Her photographs range from beautiful landscapes to some of the most thrilling wrestling action shots I’ve seen.

An athlete herself (swimming and tennis), she was introduced to wrestling her junior year in high school when a friend invited her to attend one of his meets. Says Danielle, “… after witnessing the intensity of my friend’s wrestling meet, I was immediately drawn to the sport and decided that I would join the (boys) team my senior year in high school.” Three other girls decided to join the wrestling team with her.

“We were fortunate that neighboring Brookline had an all-girls team made up of about twenty (members). Brookline hosted a lot of girls wrestling events – from actual tournaments to informal “wrestle-arounds” where they invited girls from all over New England and paired them up according to experience level so that girls could get several matches every couple of weeks against other girls.” She and her teammates were successful that first year and the sport was growing on Danielle, “… my spring season of tennis I found myself doing push-ups on the tennis court all the time because it lacked intensity to me compared to wrestling.”

After being accepted at Harvard she learned that they had a female, Lauralee Summer, on their wrestling team. According to Danielle, “(Lauralee) has been one of the most influential people I have met in my life.” They started training together the summer before Danielle entered college and Lauralee convinced her to join the team at Harvard. “I was hesitant to walk into a Division I men’s program with only a few months of wrestling under my belt, but with Lauralee’s support, I did it.” She received tremendous support from the Harvard coaches and team and has had a successful career in women’s freestyle. Her most successful year was in 2002, when she won the 112-pound University National Championship, placed first at the NYAC International Open, finished second at the US Senior Nationals, and third at the World Team Trials.

Danielle started photographing wrestling while still in high school and covered wrestling for The Crimson. In 2002 she began taking her wrestling photography to a national level. At the US Nationals that year she met Al Elrefai and a business relationship began that eventually became I asked her if there have ever been conflicts between the two careers. “There have been times that I have been at competitions where I have been warming up for a match, and people come up to me and ask me if I can take photos of their next match for them. It’s difficult because as much as I would like to do both at the same time, I need to focus on one or the other.”

Danielle earned a degree in psychology at Harvard. I asked her about the evolution of her interest in web design. “I started becoming interested in graphic design in college. My mother is a graphic designer (print) so that influenced me a bit. I started taking on projects doing some design work for guidebooks. I also had a friend who was a computer science major teach me some html. So I started putting the two together, reading web design tutorials, and teaching myself the basics. My first projects were designing a personal website for myself and the Harvard wrestling team website.”

One rule for budding entrepreneurs is to take something you know and love and build a business on it. Danielle has been able to do that. While she has created websites for many businesses and artists, wrestling-related sites comprise the bulk of her portfolio. Says Danielle, “I started doing websites for some of the other athletes on the freestyle and Greco circuit, and they would refer me to other people they knew who wanted sites. After I started doing more photography and becoming more involved with the NCAA community, I made even more connections and it kept growing.” Her sites include, the Overtime School of Wrestling, and the Brands-Gable University of Iowa Wrestling camp.

Danielle is an activist. She fights for the betterment of her sport and she fights for kids. In addition to the Save Oregon Wrestling site, Danielle has designed a site for Pinning Down Autism, an organization made up of members of the wrestling community who are dedicated to defeating autism. She is also active with Beat the Streets, a program that teaches wrestling to inner city kids in New York City. On August 26, Danielle launched the new Beat the Streets site ( She recently began work on Project Torch, an organization whose goal is funding wrestlers at all level of competition – from underprivileged kids to elite Olympic athletes. I asked her what drove her to do so much non-profit work. “I am a person who highly values reciprocity. The wrestling community has done a lot of good for me, so it’s only natural that I would want to give back to it as much as possible.”

What’s in the future for Danielle? For one thing she’s considering retiring from competition. It’s a difficult decision, but Danielle feels she can help wrestling more by focusing on her creative and promotional talents. She believes that the internet can be invaluable in both promoting the sport and attracting new participants. “I see it as a tool to inspire kids to participate in the sport and keep them involved in wrestling.”

Wrestling attracts a variety of fascinating people. We fans are glad to have someone like Danielle Hobeika fighting for our sport. To get to know Danielle better visit her website at

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