Ryerson student to fight for gold at Pan Am Games

Every weekday, Braxton Papadopoulos gets up to do a weight workout, eats her lunch, naps for half an hour, goes for a run and then spends two hours at wrestling practice — all while balancing a small number of classes.

It’s brutal, it’s demanding, but the 19-year-old wrestler loves it, and it seems her hard work has paid off.

Papadopoulos will be headed to the Pan Am Games this summer to represent Canada in a sport she’s loved for almost a decade.

Braxton Papadopoulos stands in the middle after winning gold at the 2014 Senior Canadian Championship. (Courtesy of Braxton Papadopoulos)

Braxton Papadopoulos stands in the middle after winning gold at the 2014 Junior Canadian Championship. (Courtesy of Braxton Papadopoulos)

“It just pushes you to work harder and I definitely like it because it’s a male-dominated sport,” she says. “I like being a female and competing with the guys.”

And compete she does — she’s placed third in both the 2014 Brazil Cup and the 2014 Commonwealth Games. And her most recent accomplishments are a gold at both the women’s 2014 national senior and junior championships.

“When I first won senior, I was only 17 and it was just crazy. I was really proud of myself,” she says.

Senior girls are considered 20 and up, although anyone over 17 can compete.

“It’s a lot easier too, because I get to go in there and I really don’t have anything to lose because I’m so young,” she says. “All these (senior) girls, have been doing it for so long, I guess that gives me a bit of confidence.”

Papadopoulos began her wrestling career at the age of 10, when her uncle – who is currently one of her head coaches – suggested it.

Describing herself as a tomboy, she enjoyed sports like Tae Kwon Do, she has a black belt, and track — especially hurdles — but originally hated wrestling, calling it “ridiculous.”

It didn’t help that at 10, she was consistently third — in competitions that had only three female wrestlers.

But she saw something similar this year, when only four girls came out to Ryerson’s newly established wrestling team.

“Wrestling in general is a pretty small community and a lot of people don’t know about freestyle wrestling,” she says.

“(Some people assume) female wrestlers are supposed to be ugly. I get told, ‘You don’t look like a wrestler.’ I don’t really know what a wrestler’s supposed to look like. And it’s just like, obviously wrestling is a male-dominated sport, especially internationally, they always have something to say about female wrestling.”

Saeed Azerbayjani, one of Papadopoulos’s head coaches at Ryerson, says he understands it will take a while for the university’s wrestling team to get on its feet, as it’s the first wrestling team Ryerson has had in almost three decades.

Ryerson’s wrestling club co-ordinator, John Cho, adds that women’s wrestling is pretty small compared to the male population.

“That’s why we want to really promote female wrestling,” he says. “Some of the most recent athletes getting medals in the Olympics (for Canada) are female … While the men haven’t placed.”

However, Papadopoulos was unable to participate in the club this year.

She is currently a student through the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education’s Bridges to Ryerson program, taking only three classes over three semesters.

She has to wait until she’s fully enrolled as a Ryerson student — she applied to Ryerson’s social work and child and youth care programs — to participate. Until then, Papadopoulos says, she’ll be busy training and getting into the routine as she heads for the Pan Am Games.

“(The goal in) Pan Am is to definitely be on the podium represent Canada well,” says Papadopoulos.

“And then after that, I have the world championship and then in December I have Olympic trials. I want to perform really well in the Olympics … then hopefully go there and make the podium.”

Papadopoulos’s first match will be in July in the Hershey Centre, in Mississauga, Ont.

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