Qualify for the Canada Games is an accomplishment all on its own. Coming home with gold is something completely different.
Three Maple Ridge wrestlers are pinning their hopes on their continued rise in the sport to come home with the top prize as competition gets underway on in Sherbrooke, Que. on Saturday, Aug. 3.
The Canada Summer Games will feature 4,200 athletes competing in 20 sports over 16 days.
Maple Ridge’s Payten Smith has to be a heavy favourite to strike gold.
The 16-year-old Maple Ridge secondary student is the reigning national champion in the 90-kilogram class and has gone just more than three years without a defeat. The straight-A student hasn’t lost a match since early in Grade 9.
Her success? She attributes much of it to her father. Payten has the good fortune of being able to learn the ropes from Bill Smith, a former professional wrestler under the name ‘The Hangman’ and ‘Black Jack,’ with both All-Star and Stampede wrestling.
With a background in martial arts, Bill said he has been able to pass on some of the insights he’s gained over the years. But he said his daughter’s sheer will to win is what separates her from the competition.
“Her will to win, to never give up, and her desire to constantly get better is what makes her so successful,” said her father. “She hasn’t lost a match in three years.”
Payten said as she approaches her senior year at high school, she’s looking to secure a scholarship close to home. She plans to use her experience at the summer games as motivation for her next national goal.
“I would love to go on and compete for Canada at the Olympics, that’s my goal,” said Payten.
The talent is certainly their for Payten, now all she has to do is convince the International Olympic Committee to put wrestling back in the Games.
Travelling with Payten to Quebec will be fellow MRSS student Cameron Hicks and Westview secondary’s Cody Osborn.
With a background in Jiu Jitsu starting in Grade 6, Osborn converted to wrestling once he joined high school. A two-time provincial bronze medallist who will be fighting in the 63-kg class, Osborn said the ability to determine his own fate in the ring is what drives him to fight.
“Whether you win on lose, it’s all about you,” explains Osborn. “No one can take the credit. I like to be able to take the responsibility, win or lose.”
He says he relies as much on his will to win as he does on technique, .
“I think a lot of the wrestlers I face can’t deal with my determination in the ring. It frustrates them,” said Osborne.
The Westview student sees himself returning to Jiu Jitsu once high school ends, with hopes of becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
Hicks, a 14-year-old MRSS student fresh off a bronze medal at the national championships in April in Saskatoon, says he feels he can improve on that showing at the Canada Summer Games. Like Osborn, the wiry Hicks likes the challenge of individual sports over team competition.
“I just like not having to rely on someone else for my own success,” he stresses. “I want to be the best and wrestling lets me do that.”
Wrestling in the 43-kg division, Hicks also has his father to thank for his love of the sport. Hicks says his dad, a former wrestler, has always supported his passion, whether its the long drives to meets or shuttling him back and forth from practice.
It’s a theme both Payten and Osborn also note.
Payten’s charity work with Job’s Daughters has, in turn, meant the Mason’s group has reciprocated with donations to help pay for her trip to the games.
Osborn had his travel expenses paid by a local contracting company.
All three acknowledge a long list of coaches and teachers who have helped them along the way. All three are looking forward to the competition.
“I’m excited to get the chance to go and prove myself,” said Hicks.