New Brunswick

Dreams delayed: Fredericton wrestler puts her Olympic goal on hold

Samantha Stewart is delaying her dream of competing at the Olympic games. The Fredericton wrestler had hoped to be in Tokyo this summer, but COVID-19 has brought that to a halt.

Samantha Stewart hoped to be competing in the 2020 Olympic Games this summer

Samantha Stewart is short on wrestling partners because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Samantha Stewart)

Samantha Stewart is delaying her dream of competing at the Olympic Games. The Fredericton wrestler still plans on competing in Tokyo, but she just see the delay as a bit of a longer hike to get there.

"I understand that it's a year away, it just hasn't sunk in that that's a huge amount of time," said Stewart, who is trying to look at the positives.

"It's just one more year to get better, and this is just like a moment in my career when I don't think this is like the end."

Just before the pandemic cancelled and postponed sporting events across the globe, Stewart won the right to wrestle at the Olympic qualifiers that were scheduled for April, when she could have earned her spot at the Summer Olympics, which have been postponed to 2021.

Stewart bought a stationary bike so she could keep up her cardio. (Submitted by Samantha Stewart)

Stewart has been wrestling since she was 13 years old. For her, the delay is unfortunate, but it could've been worse. 

"I was not planning on retiring after these Olympics, and I'm not like some of my other female athletes who are itching to start a family," said Stewart. 

"I wasn't planning on retiring and I don't plan on stopping to have kids. I'm more like just focused on the pinnacle of what I can achieve as an athlete."

Work from home

Stewart says she's doing her best to keep her mind focused on the present and what she has to do now to be better later. 

She usually uses cardio equipment at the Richard J. Currie Center, which had to close because of the pandemic, and all her wrestling equipment was at the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium, which also closed. 

Stewart was able to get some of the wrestling equipment to bring home, and she bought a stationary bike to stay in shape.

At the start of the pandemic she still had to get ready for Olympic qualifiers, as the Olympics hadn't been postponed yet.

"Basically, it was like, 'How am I going to keep training for this qualifier that's coming up with no access to the gym and no access to the wrestling room?'" said Stewart. 

On March 22, Team Canada announced it wouldn't be sending athletes to the Olympics if they went ahead as scheduled, dashing Stewart's hopes of competing. But shortly after, the Olympics were postponed. 

"That was a huge sigh of relief," said Stewart. 

Even if the Games had gone ahead and Team Canada attended, Stewart would've been at a disadvantage. 

"I live in a one-bedroom tiny apartment… I don't have a home gym, I don't have wrestling mats in my basement, I'm not living with someone who is my training partner, so I had to come up with a way to still train with limited access for equipment."

Stewart said the most challenging part of the pandemic was the overhaul of her regular schedule. Stewart admitted there have been hard days, when she couldn't motivate herself to do her workout.

"I basically went from training twice a day, approximately four to five hours a day of training and being at the gym, to the first two months of this I wasn't able to go to the gym at all," said Stewart. 

"It's easy to leave the house and go to the gym and then you're there and you work as hard as you can. It's harder to stay that focused and work as hard as you can when you're in your own apartment."

Eyes off the prize

Stewart's journey through the pandemic reminds her of a hike in Colorado Springs that she's had to run up for training.

The Manitou Springs Incline is a series of old cable car tracks. It's a popular hiking spot for visitors, but wrestlers use the steep incline as a way to test their will and strength. Instead of enjoying the hike, athletes will power their way up the hill. 

When Stewart starts her ascent, she isn't looking at the peak — the final destination that makes the climb worth it.

Stewart says that preparing for the Olympics since it was postponed is like hiking up the Manitou Springs Incline in Colorado Springs. (Submitted by Samantha Stewart)

Her fastest times up the incline have been when she keeps her mind on the next step instead of focusing on the end goal. 

"If you're looking up you can get more disheartened by how far away it is, and how much left you have to achieve, and nobody looks behind them and sees how far they've actually come to get where they are, everyone is just so singularly focused on how much is left to get to that top," said Stewart. 

And the same goes for the Olympics. Instead of thinking about the far off competition, she's just working on each step, and how she can make herself a better wrestler. 

"The Olympics being postponed is just one more year to get better and it's kind of going to be our celebration that we made it through all this," said Stewart. 

"I've always thought of wanting to be the best I can possibly be, and that's why I like wrestling and why I enjoy being an athlete because I want to push myself to my full potential and see what that potential is... This is just one more step on that whole constant never ending improvement."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.

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