Ten years ago, Kenya Sloan was cheering on her younger brother, Keenan, during his wrestling practice.

Noticing the young girl's enthusiasm, coach Junior Hernandez walked over to Kenya, gave her a pair of shoes, and encouraged her to walk out on the mats and try the sport for herself.

Fast forward to 2018. Kenya Sloan is now one of the most decorated athletes in East Tennessee - four state titles in four years, a USA women's national championship, and a no. 1 ranking in the 180 pound wright class.

"Whenever I step out on a mat, my success or my failure, whatever comes out of it is all dependent on me," Sloan said. "If I lose, I can't blame anyone else."

Sloan said her secret to success is setting small goals. Each accomplishment built on the last, 'til eventually, she became great.

"In wrestling, there's something special about literally pushing your body to the max to where you feel like you don't have any thing else in you to give, then giving more anyway," Sloan said.

Every wrestling match is a small step toward self-discovery. It almost didn't happen; Sloan was considering quitting the sport before high school.

"Ten years is a lot of life to give something," Sloan said. "There's not much of an offseason. It's always wrestling, wrestling, wrestling. I was tired, I was burned out, and I was going to quit. I didn't really know when it was my thing. I always knew it would be a big part of my life because I love the sport.

A few conversations with her father, family, and Hernandez kept her in the game a little bit longer. Then she started wrestling other girls for the first time. Then, the awards - and a captain's spot on the Hardin Valley wrestling team spot - came.

"I'm still making small goals along the way and learning how much it is my thing," Sloan said.

Sloan applies this lesson she learned on the mat to the rest of her life. Take, for example, the upright bass, which she's played in orchestra since middle school.

"You only are as good as you work for," Sloan said of the similarities between music and wrestling. "There are definitely some people who are born musically inclined. You become amazing at it by practicing. Like you become amazing at wrestling by practicing."

A mantra in the wrestling community - half running joke, half stoic belief - is "wrestling isn't a sport, it's a lifestyle." Sloan believes in it thoroughly.

"There are some people that are just, 'I love the grind.' That's not me," Sloan said. "I love to win. And I know the grind is how I win. When I get these titles and recognitions, I feel it makes all this work worth it."

Kenya will take her talents to Campbellsville University in Kentucky in hopes of winning a national title there. She's entering as a biology major with a minor in educational ministries.

If all goes well, you could see her in the Olympics. Maybe not in the summer games in Tokyo in 2020, but somewhere down the line.

"Eventually when you make small goals, they keep going up and eventually they turn into big goals and you didn't know it," Sloan said coyly. "So I don't know what's far off. I'm not dreaming about Olympics yet."

Whatever comes next, she'll get there one step at a time.