We all have that little voice in our head; it is heard in your mind, but comes from your heart. You never know when it will speak, but it has a tendency to pipe up when you least expect.
The voice in my head always whispered the same thing, “YOU can be an Olympian.” For the longest time, the thought would creep into my mind, but I would shut it out. My brain wasn’t ready to believe what my heart wanted. All of that changed when I was watching the 2012 London Olympics on television from my hometown of Barrie, Ont.
Some of the girls on the podium were girls I had beaten. As I watched them smile and wave to the crowd, the little voice in my head piped up, “See… YOU can be an Olympian”.
Not even a month later, I packed up my bags and moved to Calgary, a national training center for wrestling and home of 48 kg Olympic gold and bronze medallist, Carol Huynh. It was the perfect plan. I would move to Calgary, train with an Olympian, make the Olympic team and win an Olympic medal. It was a great idea, but hardly an original concept.
Many national team girls were drawn to Calgary, and four years later, I found myself battling my teammate, Genevieve Morrison in the Olympic Trials final. It was not a rivalry I wanted. My brain told me that every single day, but it was a rivalry I needed, which was something my heart knew all along.
I won the trials and punched my ticket to Rio. The little voice in my head was practically screaming, “See…you are going to be an Olympian!”
When the final whistle blew, it was an amazing and heartbreaking moment. I looked into the eyes of my teammate, realizing that the only thing that really distinguished us was the colour of our uniforms. She had the same dream. She made the same sacrifices.
My brain couldn’t make sense of it, so my heart stepped in and we hugged. What was expressed in that single embrace would take a thousand words to describe. It was a hug of thanks, of apology, of relief but above all, of promise that I would keep her dream alive when I stepped onto the mats at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
I stepped onto the Olympic mats sooner than expected. One month after Olympic Trials, Team Canada was invited to participate in the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro. The test event is not a qualifier for the Olympics, but it is an amazing experience because you get to compete in the Olympic venue prior to the games.
When we pulled up to the venue, my heart skipped a beat. The building buzzed with volunteers and people ushered you this way and that way. Even though it was just a test event, the nervous energy was palpable. I had caught the eye of my teammates and we just smiled. Nothing needed to be said. We knew this was it. This was the battleground.
The tournament started and I made it to the bronze-medal round. My coach and I double high-fived as I stepped onto the mat; they felt slippery under my feet as new mats often do. Everything smelled fresh and the lighting was artificially bright. When you win a medal at a major games, the crowd roared with excitement, but this was a test event, and at the end of the match, my hand was raised in silence.
I heard faint cheers from my teammates in the distance and then that voice, AGAIN, in my head, “See…YOU can win a medal in Rio”.
After the tournament, we toured around Olympic park and the city of Rio. As I stood on the sunny beaches of the Olympic city, I felt a pang of sadness about earning bronze at the test event. My mind went quiet as I mulled it over and then the voice: “this time you leave with goals, so that next time you can leave with gold.”
When I return to Rio for the Olympics, I may dig up a gold medal, but even if I don’t, I know I will unearth something within myself that would’ve remain buried if I had not dared to pursue this dream with all my heart.
• The Canadian Olympic Wrestling Team brought five girls to the Olympic test event and brought home five medals.
•Jasmine Mian 48 kg Bronze
•Michelle Fazzari 58 kg Bronze
•Danielle Lappage 63 kg Gold
•Dori Yeats 69 kg Silver
• Erica Wiebe 75 kg Silver
• The Canadian Women’s wrestling team has won at least one medal at every Olympics since women began competing in Athens 2004.
• Carol Huynh is now the assistant chef de mission for the Rio 2016 Olympics.