When Brittanee Laverdure left Watson Lake six years ago, she was looking for a positive change in her life.
She found it on the wrestling mat.
After five seasons with the University of Calgary women’s wrestling team, Laverdure was named the university’s Athlete of the Year this month.
It’s the first time a female wrestler has received the honour.
The sport doesn’t grab headlines like basketball or hockey, and wrestlers often toil in obscurity.
“It’s hard for a wrestler to show how good they really are; they don’t keep statistics like other sports do,” said Laverdure over the phone from Calgary.
She is undefeated in two seasons in inter-university competition, and also trains with the senior national team.
Laverdure’s success usually earns little attention and she wasn’t really expecting anything different this spring.
Or she wasn’t until her parents showed up at her house before the awards dinner. She started to get suspicious. “They drove 1,900 kilometres from Watson Lake … they couldn’t get a flight,” she said.
Besides spotlighting the sport, the award helped highlight for Laverdure’s parents the time and effort their daughter devotes to wrestling.
“It was cool that my parents were there,” she said. “They know I wrestle, that I’m on the national team and I’m always in these different countries, but they don’t really know what it is, and I don’t have the patience to tell them,” she said with a laugh.
She’s busy enough as it is, completing a degree in international indigenous studies, training with two wrestling teams and working a part-time job. “It’s crazy, my lunch hour … I’m doing weights in the gym at work,” she said.
As captain of the university team, she was feeling pressure to repeat her success of last season-winning the Canada West and Canadian Inter-University Sport championships in the 55-kilogram division — a feat she managed to pull off in March.
Her accomplishments at the university level are preparation for senior international competition, which will become her primary focus when she graduates this semester.
She’s had some experience at the world juniors, medalling in each international event she competed in during the last two years.
However, the seniors are a new challenge.
She’s jockeying for a spot on the Canadian squad heading to the world senior championships in September.
Two recent self-funded trips to tournaments in New York and Belarus have given her some valuable points and experience, but the one-wrestler-per-weight-class rule will probably keep her from the world championships in the 55-kilogram division.
“I’m second right now to the girl who won silver in Athens. I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
“I’ve never gone to senior worlds, but I always train the people that do,” she said. “It’s frustrating to look at results from world championships and know that you’ve beaten half those people … but you can’t even go.”
Her schedule will become clearer after the senior nationals in Saskatoon next month.
If she finishes in the top two, she’ll be on the national team. “Either way I’ll be at the Canada Cup in July in Ontario, and probably a tournament in Germany.”
She’s confident about her chances for making the team, and is hoping to qualify for some federal funding as well.
A convoluted funding formula kept her from getting any support last season.
“That’s a contentious issue,” she said. “I was on the bubble that year, if anyone on the team placed top eight at worlds, I would get a card.”
It didn’t happen, so she used her own money and got some help from the university wrestling club to travel to tournaments. “It’s disheartening … it’s pretty hard paying the bills, but I’ll probably qualify this year.”
Other international events on her radar are the Pan-American championships, the alternative to the senior worlds, and the World University Championships in Mongolia in June.
Each competition has different requirements, and a few bad matches or an injury can ruin a season.
“You’re always on the edge,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re international; it’s all based on how you wrestled that day.
“Some people get stressed out, but I try to use that energy, turn it into something positive.”
Ultimately, Laverdure’s goal is the Olympics. “It has to be, or what else am I doing — getting beat up for fun?” she said with a laugh. “Seriously, I do enjoy it, and I’ve gotten to see the world.”
She’s hoping to find time in her hectic schedule to make a trip back to Watson Lake in May.
“I read we weren’t doing so good in academic performance back home,” she said. “It’s important to me, as a member of the Kaska Nation, that the youth see that they can make things happen for themselves.”