The Power of Sports and Kindness: Michael, Nate, & Connor's Story

Sports are NOT about medals and winning. They are about so much more than that. Sport has the ability to positively transform individuals and societies- this is something that through my own observations and experiences I know to be true. Through individuals’ participation in sport, human beings develop their characters, their mental health and confidence, their physical health, and their social skills. Observing athletes’ journeys, including their struggles, triumphs, and failures, also has the potential to inspire communities and stimulate positive social change. This is why sport is essential in our world.  This is also why I believe, now more then ever, young people of all ages need the opportunities, encouragement, and support to participate in sport.

One unique thing about the sport of wrestling, and one reason it is the best sport in the world (okay- I may be a little biased), is that it is extremely inclusive. Girls and boys of all sizes, shapes, and skill are afforded the opportunity to participate, and thus, the chance to reap the benefits of sport.

With all of this being said- I will now get to the purpose of this post.

This morning I heard an AMAZING story. It is one that MUST be shared and celebrated. It is incredibly moving and clearly shows the inclusivity and beauty of the sport of wrestling, the power of sport, and most importantly, the power of kindness.

Just over a week ago, Mike Roselli, the Wrestling Coach at Vancouver College, sent the below email to one of the school’s Vice Principals. The story it tells will leave you inspired- enjoy!

 

Something happened at yesterday’s wrestling tournament in Burnaby that you need to know about. There is a young man that I see at every wrestling tournament that wrestles in the 90kg weight class and he has never won a match. This young man has Down syndrome.

It came time for Michael Do to wrestle this young man and he asked me for instructions on how to proceed. I told Michael to win the match but not wrestle to hard or fast and give the young man an opportunity to enjoy some time on the mat wrestling. After Micheal was up 8-0 he looked at me so serenely and smiled. He then proceeded to let this young man take him down 3 times for 8 points, time then expired with the match tied 8-8. Since this young man scored the last points, he won the match, his very first win, ever! When Michael walked off the mat and came over to me, he smiled and very quietly said “it was the right thing to do”. I had to take a moment to compose myself.

During this young man’s next match his opponent from another school, following Michael’s example, did the exact same thing. This young man had now won 2 straight matches and his very first medal, bronze.

This boy and his father had tears of joy and we, wrestlers and coaches from different schools, all hugged while the tournament stopped and people applauded.

It takes one small act of kindness to change the world and it was Michael Do, a young man from VC, who did something special for another person.

This is the true nature of sport and an example for all how to treat one another.

Sincerely,

Mike Roselli                      

                                                                    

 I hope you all enjoyed this story as much as I did.

To hear more about this story listen to https://omny.fm/shows/the-jon-mccomb-show/the-choices-we-make!

Happy Monday everyone! Go spread some love and kindness!

Coaching Appreciation

 I went to school for seven years, and attained a Masters degree in criminology from Simon Fraser University.  For the last several years I have had a fairly straightforward plan: after I retire from sport I will use my education in a law enforcement or law-related field .

However, in the months since the Olympic Games, I have taken on a larger role in coaching than I have in previous years. This role has had resulted in me second-guessing my life plan.

Could I make a career as a wrestling coach? Would I be satisfied and happy in this role? Would I even make a good coach?

The girls on the SFU wrestling team are some of the kindest, most respectful, hardest working, and most dedicated group. Are all groups like this? Or is this just a special group that makes only them so enjoyable to work with?

These are all questions I ask myself (and some of those closest to me daily, as I try to come to conclusive answers. I don't think these questions are easy to answer,.. and perhaps I wont ever know the answers unless I explore life as a coach further.

I think what makes coaching so fun and so rewarding is that you can see change and growth in your athletes. You get to see them mature, learn, and grow as athletes and as people.

As a coach you have so much responsibility, as your beliefs and your actions influence the behaviours, values, and decisions of your athletes. You are a mentor, role model, and teacher for young people- what an amazing privilege! But with privilege also comes responsibility. Coaches must be aware of their influence and take this responsibility seriously, as a coach’s behaviour and their teachings can greatly impact the trajectory of young peoples' lives. 

As a coach, you get to clearly see the fruit of athletes’ labour. You see athletes working hard, and listening to your every word and every piece of advice. You see them struggle, and you see them persevere and succeed. Watching others train and compete over a period of time makes it easy to see improvements through an outside, objective eye- and that has to be the best feeling as a coach. Seeing these improvements, and seeing those athletes who train hard and deserve success and progress- make progress and achieve success.

However, I have also come to realize that coaching is extremely challenging. It’s emotionally exhausting being invested in so many different individuals. I win with the athletes I coach but I also lose with them.

Mike Jones- the SFU women’s head coach, the best coach I have ever had, and the most liked coach in Canada wrestling (okay- the ladder title was made up by me)- recently told me- “I have been doing coaching for over 40 years and what I can tell you is that you are rarely truly happy in this job”. When I questioned him on what he actually meant by such a negative statement he gave the 2016 Olympic results as an example. Helen Maroulis, his past athlete/ SFU wrestler became an Olympic champion- the highest accolade you can achieve in this sport, and therefore he was ecstatic! However, on the same day, I, who also was his athlete, had the opposite result. I was injured in warm-up at the Games and unable to compete. Mike said coaching is filled with days like this. Days where you are so proud of certain athletes’ achieving their goals,and accomplishing successes but also saddened for other deserving athletes who have failed to achieve similar successes and triumphs. These remarks reflect the exhausting and constant reality that exists in the coaching world and a reality that seems unavoidable and emotionally tolling.

Additionally, the amount of work and energy it takes to be a good coach I have also come to appreciate fully through my coaching experiences this year. It's a 24-7 job. You’re planning and running practices, recruiting, replying to emails, attending meetings, balancing finances, applying for funding, planning and traveling to tournaments and camps, doing other paperwork… I could go on but you get the point. As athletes we just think about the coaching but do not realize what goes on in between, before, and after practices. There is ALWAYS something to do. The “to do” list never ends. You can always be doing something, or improving something. Everyone wants more from you. This knowledge had me think about all of the past coaches I have ever had. It has made me further appreciate all the GREAT coaches I have had. What a difficult job it is to adequately do everything required as a coach. I can so clearly see that it takes a very special kind of person to make a good coach and be able to commit their lives to this role.

(Thank you to all the great coaches who have coached me in the past! I can never adequately thank you enough. Special thank you’s to Mike Jones, George Grant, Clive Llewellyn, Paul Ragusa, & Leigh Vierling for being such great, consistent, passionate, and loving coaches to me. You all are truly special.)

Anyways... I am not a person to do anything half- way. So, until I am certain that I would make a great head-coach and be happy in this role as a career, I will not put myself in that role. For now, I am so happy and excited to continue learning and improving my coaching knowledge through my role as an assistant coach at SFU!

GO CLAN!!!!!!!  

Life After Sport

I have been doing a lot of self-reflection since the Olympic Games- asking myself questions about what I want to do with my life after I am done competing in wrestling. What can I do that will allow me to be happy, excited, and make a difference in peoples lives, while at the same time using all of my potential and not selling myself short of my abilities and influence. Those who know me know that I am a very indecisive person- so the thought of making a seemingly life long commitment to a career is extremely daunting and anxiety provoking.

What makes this decision so difficult is that I have put thousands of hours into the sport of wrestling. I have been wrestling since middle school, but specifically the past 8 years (since arriving at SFU), I have dedicated my entire life and prioritized wrestling and my athletic performance above everything else- including relationships and school. Everything I did, everything I ate, everything I thought, was wrestling related. Wrestling was my “career” but one that I brought home with me and that influenced every decision and every action for most of my life. So what could I do that I would love enough to make such a commitment to in terms of a career after sport?

You always hear- “balance in life is healthy”, but for most high performance-athletes there is no “balance”. I think that's what makes it so hard to transition out of the sporting world. Sure- many athletes are educated, and have other identities and roles in life but I can guarantee those athletes that have made it to a high enough level will tell you- their athletic identity has been their “master status” through most if not their entire athletic experience.  They prioritized improving as athletes and achieving their athletic goals above everything else in their lives.

For most people, their careers relate to their master status- they work hard, get an education or training, and prioritize work- with eyes on making money, getting a raise, making a difference- with long term, life-long goals in mind. For athletes however-their “careers” are always on a shorter time-line. We know that our 20’s are when we will reach peak performance in the sporting world.  But after this athletic career is over-then what? We put in the hours and years of training for something that we know is short lived. We gladly, and willingly sacrifice everything else. However, after our athletic careers have ended- most athletes won’t be able to “retire” and are forced to find an alternate career in their life after sport in order to make a living.

For high performance athletes, their teammates and experiences, and the passion they have for the sport will remain but they will be FORCED to make this transition out- maybe due to injuries, maybe due to finances, maybe due to the realization that they are unable (as a result of many different reasons) to get to the level or maintain the level of performance needed to be successful in their sport, or maybe because of the desire (particularly for women) to start a family in which they are unable to compete. If you think of retiring from sport as a forced action instead of an easy decision or switch then I think it is easier to empathize with transitioning athletes. Because what I know for sure is that most athletes are so passionate about their sport that they would love to continue to compete indefinitely (if their mental and physical health, finances, and relationships allowed), as there is nothing comparable to the emotions and experiences gained through sport.

However, transitioning athletes are forced accept and deal, and find another master identity to replace their athletic one. And sure this process is easier for some than for others, but I think the “post- competition depression” that you hear so commonly among transitioning athletes lies within the uncertainty of “what do I do now?”. It has to do with the fact that a transitioning athlete questions whether they will be able to find a career or role that they feel as passionately about as they did about their sport, an identity that they take as much pride in as their athletic identity, or that they will be able to feel those same extremes of emotions, or wake up everyday excited to work towards a goal like they had when they were high performance athletes.

However, in the sporting world, no one talks about life after sport. It is an important topic that I think is ignored by athletes and coaches alike. The time that the athlete “retires” is too late to start the conversation of life after sport. I believe that encouraging athletes to plan and think about life after sport and having conversations about various topics related to this would be extremely beneficial for the well-being of all high performance athletes. Sure, athletes know their athletic careers are relatively short, but vocalizing this fact and explaining the difficulty some athletes have with life after sport will have athletes thinking about the seriousness and importance of planning for that point in their lives in which they will no longer compete. 

I think that is why my knee injury in 2014/2015 was so difficult. I hadn’t realistically thought about life after wrestling, or who I was or what I would do without the sport. This injury forced me to soul-search and clarify my priorities and my identity when I did not have the sport of wrestling. I think that the coping experience and character building that that injury forced upon me now helps me to look at retiring from sport from a position of acceptance, excitement, and peace. That injury forced me to find and learn about myself and my relationships, and prioritize things and people in my life. However, I think and I wish that I had been encouraged to think about these and had discussions about such topics prior to this injury, as I think it would have made the coping (especially in the first couple months of this injury) easier. I also know I can relate to the struggles being experienced by those athletes transitioning out of sport after this past Olympic cycle, as I know this will be the first time many of them are facing so many big questions, and undergoing identity and soul searching in life without their sport.

I think that about the process of transitioning out of sport a lot, as a lot of people close to me are currently transitioning out of competition- and I ask myself- if I was permanently unable to continue to compete or if I no longer was able to dedicate the time or energy into competing would I be able to still live a passionate, happy, exciting life without the sport of wrestling?  I think the answer is yes.

The career and life that I want to pursue will continue to be wonderful with and without the sport of wrestling. My relationships will remain, and those I love will remain. My friends, family, and loved ones will still love me no matter what I choose to do to fill up my days, and I will love them. What I want to do is to make a difference in peoples lives, and leave every person that I meet feeling a little more positive and a little more happy- and I think that through this effort I will continue to allow myself to feel purposeful and blissful.

For those of you who haven’t already- I highly suggest watching Brene Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” (and those who like to ready- read her books). It will put your life and efforts in perspective by re-focusing your priorities and thoughts towards love, relationships, and honest connections. I have to admit I have watched and re-watched and read and reread her teachings, and I can say she has been the most helpful in pulling me out of my sometimes overwhelming anxiety or negativity that naturally occurs after trauma and hurt- THANK YOU Kevin Black for introducing me to her!

Anyways- the time that I will make the transition out of wrestling is still uncertain- I cannot tell you when this will be. However, as I keep saying, I will not force myself to train and compete if I no longer feel the excitement, passion, motivation, or have the ability to do so. Whether this is one, two, three, four, or five years away- I literally have no idea. But when this time comes, I will bid farewell to the sport I love and pursue another path with the same dedication and passion as I once directed to my wrestling career. I will continue to love and be loved, and do my best to make this crazy world a little bit brighter.

To My Home Town: Thank Yous & Updates

It has been two months since the Olympic Games have ended. I have had some time to process the end of a phenomenal and emotional “Olympic experience,” and to celebrate everything I have accomplished in the sport of wrestling.

My Olympic journey did not begin in December 2015, when I made the Olympic team, but 13 years prior when I began wrestling at Deer Meadow.

I became a full-time, single sport athlete in the fall of 2008 when I moved to Vancouver to wrestle for Simon Fraser University. It was at this time that I began working every day towards my Olympic dream.

Making the Olympic team required unwavering focus and commitment to becoming a better athlete and wrestler every single day over these eight years.

The whirlwind of making the team and experiencing the preparation and atmosphere at the Olympic Games was surreal, and (despite suffering an injury in warmup that prevented me from competing), it was, by far the best experience of my life.

I have given it a lot of thought, and have not yet decided if I am going to commit to another Olympic cycle (four more years).

Before making this decision, I have to ensure that I am willing to commit the time and energy I know is necessary to be successful at this level.

As long as I am healthy, able, and continue to love to train and compete I will do so; however, for now I have to focus on recovering from my injury. What I do know for sure is that I love wrestling and I am not ready to quit the sport yet.

My coach in Burnaby has become someone I have come to love, and trust wholeheartedly.

When I asked if he thought I should retire from the sport, he said he would support my decision whatever it may be. He added: “I actually sincerely hope that you continue to wrestle! I think you did a lot of things right and well leading up to Rio and would love you to have the results those preparations deserve!”

I am currently recovering from my hamstring injury, which I have learned is going to be a very long and emotional battle. However, I have finally found the energy, motivation and positivity to direct all of my energy to this rehab process, and the journey back to optimal mental and physical heath.

I want to now say THANK YOU. Thank you again to EVERYONE from Olds. I would like to thank you all in person, but if our paths do not cross in the near future, I wanted to provide you with the thanks you all so rightly deserve.

Thank you all for the involvement in my fundraising, the donations and your time, for your financial assistance, for your cheers and unwavering support, and for your loyalty and love leading up to, and after the Games.

To everyone who financially supported me -- thank you so, so, so much. I know that all of you have worked hard for your money, and I also know times are tough in Alberta right now.

I am so thankful for every dollar I was given and am so appreciative of your generosity. I wouldn’t have been able to go on this journey or prepare as I did if it wasn't for your donations.

To everyone who donated to my Go Fund Me Page -- thank you from the bottom of my heart. After reading all the comments and seeing all the donations, I was blown away by how many people, and which people from Olds supported me through this means.

To the Olds bowling alley, the Richardsons, to everyone who bought tickets, beers, or shirts at my fundraiser in April, and to those who donated or bought items at the event -- THANK YOU. This night was one of the best of the year for me!

To be able to see, in person, all the support and love from everyone in Olds in one location was absolutely incredible. The time and money invested by so many people to make this event such a success was unbelievable; I still can’t believe it. I am thankful for all of you!

Thank you to the Town of Olds and Mayor Judy Dahl for your involvement in creating the best town in the world, for believing in me, donating to me, and making me feel so special on my Olympic journey.

Thank you to the Olds Albertan, for their role in sharing my entire Olympic experience and telling my story so well from start to finish!

Thank you to everyone who got up at 7 a.m. to watch me compete. Thank you to the Mayfair Cinema for streaming my match on Aug. 18 – and for everyone who got up way too early to come watch me on the big screen. (On an unrelated note -- thank you also to Mayfair Cinema for having the best popcorn in the world).

Special and enormous thank yous go to my family and friends, the Richardsons, Ted, the DeLong family, the Gatez family, and Olds High School. Thank you each for being huge and necessary parts of my “Road to Rio.”

You all made the last year possible for me, and I sincerely love you guys so much. Thank you for your love, generosity, and excitement -- not just in the last year but in the decades and years leading up to this huge moment in my life.

It truly took a whole community to make this Olympic Dream possible. Thank you so much Olds. I am forever indebted to you.

Love,

Danielle Lappage

Making an Olympic Team!

Thank you for being interested in and a part of my wrestling journey! What a rollercoaster this journey has been. I have been competing in wrestling for 13 years now and have had so many great/ terrible/ crazy/ unreal experiences throughout this time. I have met so many amazing people, and have learned so many lessons. So where do I begin!?

 

It seems to make the most sense to give you all a short recap of the past 1.5 years of my life as this period of time encompasses both the absolute best and absolute worst experiences of my life and wrestling career so far.

 

I believe 2014 was a breakthrough year for me in terms of my wrestling. I won my first senior national championships, a University World title, and a Commonwealth Games title.  However, as many of you already know, I tore my ACL in the fall of 2014 just after returning back to the mats to prepare for the next wrestling season.

 

When I first got injured I was devastated. It sounds like a trivial thing- you hear about athletes getting injured all the time. It doesn't sound like a big deal. For me however, learning about the recovery process for a complete ACL tear was the worst news I could have got at that point in my life. That moment that the doctor told me my MRI results, I had my big goals and dreams for the 2015 season instantly taken away. I knew I wouldn't get to wrestle at the national championships that were being held in March 2015, which also meant I would not be able to qualify for the Pan Am Games or be able to earn a spot on the Olympic Trials ladder. If you don't know anyone who has gone through it- ACL recovery is a long, hard process. People were doubting whether I was going to come back, or if I did come back if I would be at the level I was prior to surgery. In the beginning, all these negative thoughts filled my head, and I was doubting my future in wrestling.  It also felt as though my identity had been taken away in an instant. Although I was in grad school at this time, I solely identified as a wrestler. If I didn't have wrestling- who was I? At that time I honestly couldn't answer that question. I hate to say it out loud because I know it sounds silly, but I also felt that my friends, and my family valued and loved me because of my wrestling identity and because of my accomplishments in the sport. I isolated myself for the next couple of weeks feeling sorry for myself and questioning my entire life.

 

However, I was lucky enough during this time to be surrounded by amazing, positive people. My coach- Mike Jones, a few of my teammates, and my roommate in particular were there for me through this whole process. They did not let me feel bad about this injury for too long, and always talked me out of my negative funk. It was because of them I realized that, although I would be going to the Olympic Trials unseeded, it was still possible and realistic that I could win that tournament that was being held in just over a year following my surgery. I don't know how many times these people put me in perspective or how many times I heard “Isn’t your goal the Olympics? Stop worrying about these other tournaments you are missing out on and start preparing for the Olympics”. They never doubted me (or if they did they never voiced it to me), and never lowered their expectations of me. It was because of them I kept my expectations of my wrestling future high even at times when my dreams seemed impractical.

 

Anyways, I made the choice three days before my knee surgery that I was still going to win those Olympic Trials. I was going to do everything I could to make myself stronger, and a better wrestler by December 2015. 

 

That next year of rehab was sooooo hard. But every day I woke up and made sure that I did something to progress my rehab and my wrestling. The day after surgery I was in the SFU gym arm biking and this is when the year-long rehab process began. I was in the gym 7 days a week. I worked out, watched wrestling tapes, watched practices, went to physio, did my physio exercises religiously, began seeing a sports psych, read soooo many books on topics such as rehab, positivity, mental toughness… and talked to any and every positive and inspiring person who would talk to me.  And I was also still in grad school at this time…. Needless to say, it was the most challenging year of my life.

 

I wish I could say I was positive throughout this entire rehab year but I can’t. It was so hard to see my teammates wrestling, and competing- things I wanted to do more than anything else. It made me angry sometimes when I saw people taking it easy at practice, or not taking advantage of their training and competing opportunities. I think during the Pan Am Games was the hardest point for me. I had been wrestling a bit at practice at this point but felt slow and rusty. I was so happy for my teammates who were at the Pan-Ams and competing so well. Juice, Dori, Braxton, and Gen in particular all had extremely inspiring performances at the Pan Ams. It made me very proud to be a Canadian woman wrestler. However, I also couldn't help but also feel sad that I was not there and did not get that chance to compete and the opportunity to be in the Pan Am Games. I was also questioning at this point whether I was going to be where I needed to be in just four months time. The uncertainty of the outcome and my rehab, combined with the difficulty of the rehab process was daunting. However, again, I looked to certain people in my life to re-inspire me and push me forward. Because of them I did not let negative feelings stay in my mind for very long- and I am so thankful for them.

 

I am sure you all know the happy ending to this story… Just over a year after my surgery I was able to win the Canadian Olympic team trials in the 63kg weight class! Because Braxton Papadopoulos had placed 5th at the 2015 world championships it meant that Canada had qualified the 63kg spot for the Olympic Games. So that moment when I won trials meant that I was going to the Olympic Games!

 

At the Olympic trials I had six matches over two days. In those matches I was more focused and confident than I have ever been on a mat before.  Of course I felt nervous but in those moments I told myself that I had done everything I could have done to prepare for that tournament. Win or lose there was literally nothing I could have improved in terms of preparation for that event. It was such a calming feeling.

 

When I won trials, I don't think there are words to describe how I felt. I was so happy and so proud. I was jumping, crying, screaming… And the accomplishment was made so much more special because all my family and friends were in the crowd to experience that moment. I literally couldn’t sleep for two weeks after that win I was so elated.

 

Since I made the Olympic team I have already had an extremely busy schedule. It is the first time in my life that I am a full time athlete. I am not working and not a student. I am fully committed to preparing for Rio. I have had three tournaments already this year and two more scheduled for the summer prior to the Olympics. I love this life, and I love this sport. Every day I wake up excited to improve, and excited to work towards my goals. I literally feel like I am living a dream.

 

People always say that they don't understand how I do it- my training seems so hard and that I have had to make so many sacrifices to get to and maintain the level of wrestling that I am at. However, I truly don't feel like I am sacrificing anything or that I have missed out on anything. I love to wrestle. I love to train. I like waking up early. I like being healthy. I love the people in the wrestling world, and in my life. I am passionate about wrestling and about the high performance lifestyle and I can’t imagine living a better life right now.

 

I also honestly believe my knee injury was a blessing to me. During that year of rehab I was able to complete and defend my Masters thesis on time, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I was traveling and wrestling full time. I came back leaner, stronger, and mentally tougher than I had ever been prior to my injury. I don’t think I would have won the Olympic Trials if I did not improve- but my injury forced me to improve all aspects of my game. During this time I also realized that I was taking wrestling and my abilities for granted. I missed the sport so much when I wasn't able to do it- the practices, the exhaustion, and even the weight cutting. I realized my days in wrestling could end for good at any moment. I always thought I loved the sport prior to my injury, but sometimes I felt burdened by the many hours and the busy schedule.  Now, I just feel blessed and excited each time I get to practice, and each time I get to compete. My injury relit my passion for the sport and made me even hungrier to achieve my dreams.

 

Through this injury I also began to value myself as more than just a wrestler. This is what I am most thankful for. I learned I am valued and loved for more than my association to the sport. I learned who those people are who will always be there for me outside and after wrestling. They are happy for me when I succeed in the sport but their love doesn't change based on my performance. I realized wrestling is and always will be a huge part of who I am. However, it is a part of my life and not the only thing in my life, nor is it even the most important thing in my life. Knowledge of such things has grounded me, and allowed me to feel peace, happiness, and enjoy and appreciate each and every moment.  

 

Anyways, I cannot be more thankful for this entire journey and am looking forward to see what the future has in store. Stay tuned…