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Jenna Burkert is many things the world once told her she wasn’t supposed to be: a soldier, a wrestler, a lesbian.
Or, in a world without stigma, Jenna is a soldier-athlete in the Army's World Class Athlete Program and an Olympic and World Championship level freestyle wrestler. She’s happily married to her wife and unapologetically authentic. She’s beautifully strong and tattooed. She’s fiercely competitive and acutely accountable.
Jenna has been a Honey Stinger Hive Athlete and Ambassador for six years. She joined the brand’s Athlete Advisory Committee (AAC) last year because Honey Stinger never made her feel ashamed of who she was. The AAC was developed to establish ongoing relationships with a diverse group of Hive Ambassadors with the purpose of engaging in productive conversations around social justice and community involvement.
For Jenna, the AAC is an opportunity to make progress. “The sports world connects us,” Jenna says. “The AAC is a great community with so much respect. I wanted to be involved and give back. We’re at a time when we can push for initiatives, but change comes from within and you have to be in it.”
Jenna and her wife live with and help care for her brother who has autism spectrum disorder.
What Jenna has to give comes from her secret weapon: vulnerability. She’s not afraid to share her experience and she’s not afraid to be perceived as weak. “I grew up Italian Catholic, and I fought a lot of my feelings. It was really hard for me to accept that I was different.” When Jenna came out as gay in her early 20s, she was at a low point in her wrestling career. “Not living my truth limited me so much,” she knows now.
Without a doubt, wrestling teaches people to be driven, work under chaos, ask the right questions, figure things out, and live outside their ego. “These are qualities employers want,” Jenna points out. “We need more girls on the mat. We need more states to sanction women’s wrestling at the high school level. The stereotype tells us wrestling is a male sport, but why would we limit that to just men?”
What has been true in her personal life has been equally true on the mat. The moment Jenna started to become who she really was, everything began to flourish—from health and nutrition to family and career. Wrestling is “a very personal, physical, and mental sport. It’s a fight with rules, it’s a chess match, and it’s an art. It’s not just the strongest or fastest who wins—you have to be everything, and you have to do it all.” All the pieces have to come together.
Over the course of her life, stepping in the direction of visibility has been essential. “I’ve always used the phrase ‘a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.’ Do you want to fix things? Then say it out loud. That’s what the AAC is for.” When people are true to themselves, it gets noticed. Being seen benefits others because they believe that can be them, too.
“Life is so much more worth living when you can just be yourself. It’s important to share our stories. Everyone can identify with someone.”
SGT JENNA BURKERT
Favorite Honey Stinger Product: Short Stack Waffle
Hometown: Rocky Point, New York
High School: Marquette Senior High School
College: University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Joined Army: May 2016
HS Hive Athlete & Ambassador
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS2021 World Championships Bronze Medalist