Nine years ago, I had moved across the country to chase after my big, crazy dream, I was wrestling at the University level club for the first time, and I was completely and utterly pointless. Literally.
I had not scored a single point in the past two months, I was sore in places I never knew existed, tired, worn out, and questioning everything I knew about myself. That feeling continued throughout my first season at the University of Calgary. I didn’t make the roster to wrestle at the Canada West and Canadian University Championships and everyday was a grind as I was pushed to my limits, mentally, physically, emotionally.
I had worked 10 hour days all July and August that summer to afford the move and I was still taking on massive student loans. I had left behind my friends and family to chase after this dream of being the best in the world in my sport. I loved wrestling but on this day, nine years ago, I was uncertain I could manage the demands of university classes, the distractions of first year residence life, and most importantly the grueling training that the sport of wrestling requires.
I was tired, sore, homesick and unsure of myself but every night for two hours I got to forget about everything and do what I loved; wrestle.
I moved to Calgary in the Fall of 2007, about 3 months before the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team Trials. There was a number of bodies in the wrestling room vying for one sport in each of the 4 weight classes at the Olympic Games. I was a young, fresh-faced rookie and I entered a room fraught with tensions as my teammates were preparing to compete against each other and the rest of Canada and earn the honour to represent Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Failure is a natural part of the sport of wrestling. You get taken down continuously and it takes strength of body and mind to keep getting up and keep coming back. There are no cuts in the sport of wrestling. Whoever survives the training earns the right to be on the team but there are numerous “legends of the Fall” as we refer to them, who come out and can’t adapt to the constant testing of limits. I remember running up and down the stairs of the Olympic Oval one particular morning, and weighing the pros and cons of intentionally falling down the stairs; because that seemed like a better alternative than finishing the workout. I simply didn’t think my body could do it.
But those are the moments that come to define an individual.
I never threw myself down the stairs. I just kept moving one foot in front of the other. I got up when I got taken down. Covered in sweat, often with tears; but always upwards and onwards.
I got up every morning focused on what I could accomplish that day, on what my best effort would be. I didn’t quite understand at the time but I have slowly discovered, that whatever is my best effort on each day; is and will always be enough.
There is no secret formula. Fear, doubt, struggle, failure; they are all part of the secret to success, to true, deep, rattling in your bones joy. Without experiencing all those emotions, I wouldn’t have been able to stand tall on top of the Olympic podium and sing with pride the words of the Canadian anthem.
On July 21st 2016, 13 days before our flight left for Rio, I went into practice feeling those same feelings of fear, doubt, struggle, facing the very real possibility of failure. I had been pushed in the build up to the Olympic Games in a way I had never experienced. My coaches had promised they wouldn’t ask me to do anything they didn’t think I was capable of but there were many times when I didn’t think I could make it.
On that day, after another tough practice; my teammate, coach, and friend Carol Huynh shared with me her journal entry from this day 8 years prior. She had been one of the women I had been training alongside when I first moved to Calgary. I had seen her struggle and fail but continue to push forward. I had also woken up at 4am that Summer to watch her win Canada’s first Olympic Gold Medal ever in women’s wrestling.
She shared with me her journal entry about how much she was struggling that day and on one of my darkest moments, one of the most uncertain times in my life; I felt a glimmer of hope that it was going to be okay.
Because that same day, in my journal I wrote;
“I fear for the uncertainty of what is ahead. I am scared. I know I am a good wrestler but I am scared that on the day when it matters most, I will not be ready. I’m scared that I’ll be overcome with fears, nerves, anxiety with what is ahead of me,” I wrote down all these feelings and continued, “For me, ready means when I step on the mats, embracing these feelings and knowing that I’ve done everything I could and that I’m ready to go into battle and give it my all.”
When I woke up on August 18th, 2016, the day I compete at the Olympic Games, I already felt like a champion. I had done everything I could to prepare, I had pushed my limits, and spent every day pursuing excellence. I was never perfect and I will never be, but in my pursuit, I had given it my all and that had to be enough.
I was ready to stand tall and walk out onto the world stage and to let the joy and power of being myself course through my body and do what I love most.
We strive to be the best, to win, to stand on top of the podium; but those moments are so fleeting, so out of our control, so rare. We spend the majority of our lives in pursuit of our goals only. I spent roughly 3000 days training for the one day I competed at the Olympic Games.
So, can we not also be defined by each and every one of those days? Are we not defined by the accumulation of each and every day we spend in pursuit of our goals rather than the one day we achieve them? Winning can be fickle and tenuous. Instead of worrying about winning; make each day a day you wish to be defined by; and I guarantee you will be successful.
Erica Wiebe is a Canadian freestyle wrestler and Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Calgary. Her passion for wrestling and writing combine in the words of this blog, sprinkled with a strong opinion on certain matters and a hint of feminist thrown in for good measure.