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…