British Columbia

Coquitlam wrestler says eating vegetables and wrestling boys key to her world title

Justina Di Stasio hopes her new gold medal will provide the confidence boost needed to make the 2020 Olympics.

Justina Di Stasio hopes her new gold medal will provide the confidence boost needed to make the 2020 Olympics

Coquitlam's Justina Di Stasio reacts after beating Nasanburmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia in the 72 kilogram gold medal final at the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest. (Balazs Czagany/MTI via The Associated Press)

It goes without saying that Coquitlam wrestling phenom Justina Di Stasio is a lean, mean fighting machine.

But to become a world champion in the 72 kilogram weight class — something she accomplished Wednesday in Budapest — she had to get even leaner and a lot meaner, especially when it came to her diet.

Justina Di Stasio (second from left) celebrates her gold medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary. (Tibor Illyes/MTI via AP)

"I normally wrestle at 76 kilos and normally weigh 76 kilos after eating dinner, so I've alway eaten what I want. So to be 72 kilos, I had to start measuring everything, eat vegetables and healthy stuff," she said, speaking on the phone from Budapest. 

Di Stasio's gold medal is the first by a Canadian wrestler at a World Championships in six years.

Wrestling boys

The SFU product credits her coaches at the Burnaby Mountain Wrestling Club — Dave McKay, Mike Jones and Justin Abdou — along with the teenage boys at the Khalsa Wrestling Club in Surrey, where she often goes to change up her training regime. 

"It's a high school club and I go there to wrestle the boys. The idea is you're trying to make the practices harder than the tournaments. The 14 and 15-year-old boys there are really good — strong, fast and there's a lot of them," she said.

"I have a lot of girls to wrestle at SFU, because we have such a good program up there, but it's nice to have both options."

Di Stasio says the Khalsa boys don't mind losing to a girl.

"They're really nice. They're cool."

'Super proud of who I am'

The world championship title bookends a memorable month for the 25-year-old. A few weeks ago, she was completely surprised to learn she was being honoured in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame's new Indigenous gallery. 

"I'm half Italian and half Cree from the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba," she said. "I always felt I couldn't speak out about being Aboriginal because of my Italian last name, but I'm super proud of who I am ... and how my mom worked to give me opportunities."

Justina Di Stasio (in red) of Canada wins against Nasanburmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia in the final of women's 72 kiloggram category at the Wrestling World Championships in Budapest. (Balazs Czagany/MTI via AP)

Di Stasio says the next step in her career will be focused on the 2020 Olympics and moving back up to the 76 kilogram division. (72 kilograms is not an Olympic event.)

Two years ago she was an alternate for the Rio Olympic team after finishing second to Calgary's Erica Wiebe at the Canadian trials. ​Weibe went on to win gold in Rio.

The qualifying scenario for Tokyo will be even tougher. 

Di Stasio will not only have to knock off the defending Olympic champion in Wiebe, she'll have to defeat all comers in a very competitive division. But next time around she expects to be stronger, especially with a world title under her belt. 

"This [gold medal] is very important. It's huge for my confidence and that's where I've struggled the most," she said.

"You can work hard and learn things, but confidence is make or break at big tournaments." 

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