Deanna Betterman will be the first to tell you her life’s path has been bumpy.

“Lot of ups and downs,” said Betterman, who you might remember as Deanna Rix, the former Marshwood High female wrestler who nearly won a state championship wrestling against boys back in 2005.

She left Maine to join the U.S. Olympic Training Center, dropped out of wresting for a year, came back four years ago to reclaim her status as one of the nation’s top female wrestlers and married Joe Betterman, the nation’s top-ranked 60-kilogram wrestler. She was primed to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials.

But she won’t be in Iowa City next weekend for the trials. Betterman’s life, you see, took another twist. She’s pregnant.

So is her latest bump an “up” or a “down?”

“Oh it’s a good thing,” she said from her home in Colorado Springs, Colo. “The timing was a little off but we’re definitely excited about it.”

Yes, it would have been nice to have the chance to go to this year’s Olympics in London, where Joe Betterman should be representing the U.S. But her life is in order, she will become a mother in early October and, at 24, is young enough to return for a shot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Her father, Matt Rix, the wrestling coach at Marshwood who was visiting her last week, said everyone is thrilled with the news.

“When she called, there wasn’t even a second thought about the Olympics,” he said. “It’s just so exciting. So we knew the Olympics weren’t going to happen. She’s young enough, she can still pursue it if she wants. Other women have done it.

“Sometimes you come back with a different focus, a little more serious.”

DOWN AND BACK UP

Deanna Betterman knows something about returning with a renewed focus.

She was big news when she was at Marshwood, a girl beating boys regularly. Not only did the local media follow her career closely, but she was the subject of a story in USA Today and by The Associated Press.

She finished second in the 130-pound Class A state championships as a senior, losing 2-1 in double overtime to Shane Leadbetter of Sanford when he earned an escape point with four seconds left.

She won national tournaments and was on the fast track to the U.S. national team. She attended Northern Michigan University as part of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. That’s where the bumps started. She was 18, surrounded by 21-year-olds.

“It was my first time away from home, I wasn’t mature and I was surrounded by people who weren’t in my age group,” said Betterman. “It wasn’t a good situation. I was getting into trouble. I did some things I regret.”

She was soon out of the training center. And wrestling, which was fine with her.

“It had become overwhelming,” she said. “I needed to take a break from it.”

After about a year of training on her own in Colorado, she realized she wanted to get back in. That’s when she met Kevin Black, the founder of the Victory School of Wrestling in River Falls, Wis. While serving not only as a wrestling coach but a life coach, Black rekindled her love of the sport.

“When I got hold of her, she was on her last straw,” said Black. “She was beyond Strike Three with USA Wrestling. She was on Strike 15. Her training was hit-and-miss. I told her she could come to my place and I would give her a clean slate.”

And not just in wrestling but in life. “We just focused on taking care of Deanna,” he said. “We got her life in order, gave her responsibilities.”

In July 2008, after she had missed the Olympic trials because she couldn’t make weight, Betterman decided it was time to give it up.

Then she tried out for the U.S. world championship team, made it, and finished fifth in the world.

“It’s funny, she sort of let go of her identity as a wrestler,” said Black. “Then she went back to wrestling and had fun doing it. She wanted to win, she wanted to succeed, but she didn’t need it for her life.”

From 2008-11, she became a dominant wrestler again, also finishing fifth in the world championships in 2009, winning gold in the Pan American championships in 2010 and winning the prestigious Dave Schultz Memorial International tournament three consecutive years, from 2009-11.

She returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where she met her future husband, Joe Betterman.

They were dating other people at the time but became close friends. When those relationships ended, they were there for each other.

“It was easy to be good friends with her,” said Joe Betterman. “She was a wrestler and really competitive. We grew closer and closer.

“I thought she was cute. Especially for a wrestler, she was really cute. It all happened to fall into place.”

A REASON TO WAIT

Deanna Rix and Joe Betterman were married on Aug. 13, 2011. While preparing for the Dave Schultz tournament in February, she found out she was pregnant.

“I was still going to wrestle,” she said. “I was still going to cut weight. Then my doctor said it really wouldn’t be good for me to do that.”

Gone, too, were her chances for the London Olympics. Betterman, who normally competes at 59 kg (130 pounds), was ranked eighth in the 63 kg class (138.75 pounds), though she would have cut weight to compete at 55 kg (121 pounds). Fifty-nine kilograms is not an Olympic weight class.

Disappointed, yet thrilled with her pregnancy, she now does light running and weight lifting. She goes to the U.S. Olympic wrestling room and watches her husband get ready for the trials.

“It’s hard,” she said. “I still want to really wrestle now.”

She and Joe still talk wrestling all the time. Some of it is trash talking — “She says she would have beaten me in high school, I say I would have beaten her,” said Joe — but a lot of it is on his present task and her future goal.

She plans on making another run at the Olympics.

“Hopefully, a few months after the baby is born, I can get back into the swing of things,” said Deanna.

She has another reason to continue.

Her younger brother, Matty, died of a prescription drug overdose in 2009. She still wears the knee pads he gave her before her first world championships in 2008.

“That was the toughest thing I ever went through,” she said. “I had the world trials a month and a half after it happened and I had to refocus on it as soon as I could. I tried to use him for inspiration. I wrestled for him and I pray to him before all my big matches.

“I keep him with me when I’m wrestling. I think about him every day.”

A FUTURE IN MAINE

There will come a day when the Bettermans are done wrestling. When that day comes, Maine will become the recipient of their love of the sport.

“We’re planning on moving back to Maine,” said Deanna. “We want to open a wrestling gym, do camps and clinics. Wrestling will always be part of our lives.”

The idea for this came from not Deanna, but Joe. He grew up in inner-city Chicago, lived a tough life and fell in love with Maine when he visited.

“I love the ocean, I love deep-sea fishing,” he said. “The wrestling community is so close, so many wrestling families. I think it will be a good move for us.”

And for Maine. Matt Rix, whose program at Marshwood is considered among the best in the state, said his daughter and son-in-law could put Maine wrestling in the national spotlight.

“It’s an untapped resource,” he said. “New England wrestling isn’t really respected around the country. (A wrestling gym) is what we need. To have someone like Deanna and Joe come here, with all their connections, it can really take off.”

But for now, Deanna isn’t looking that far into the future.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH