Wrestling my way through defeat. Literally.

I was the first girl to ever wrestle in my high school.  My claim to fame ends there.

I wrestled for one full year.  Then I quit.  Wrestling was not like any other sport I had ever played.  The wins were exhilarating, and the losses, devastating.

When I played soccer or rugby, any team game, we won as a team, and we lost as a team.  Swimming was a solitary sport, but I was good at that.  I was a strong swimmer and I won many meets.

Then entered my life, wrestling.

I’ll try just about anything once.  So when the opportunity presented itself for girls, the first time ever, to wrestle at my high school, I was game.  I believe in life long learning, a motive that moved this enterprise up on my determined high school bucket list.

I fell in love with the sport itself.  The idea of it.  The strategy required.  The mental preparation.  The rules of engagement.  But when it came right down to it, the stamina of my mind was weak for what the game required.

Within the wrestling circle were my opponent and I.  Win or lose, I was on my own.  There was no team on the mat.  Only a coach yelling tips from the side lines.

My performance weighed heavy on my shoulders.  I came to know the taste of defeat more than once.  Defeat was a hard pill to swallow.

As I think of parenting on my own, I reflect on my wrestling year.  When my husband died I became not only a single parent, but an only-parent.  A journey much harder than I ever expected it to be.  There was no shared custody, no joint decision making.  Parenting transitioned from something I had come to do as a team, to something that landed entirely in my court.  Every decision, good or bad, every parenting discipline choice, every rise and fall was mine to own.  In some ways there was freedom in this.  I no longer needed to check with anyone else when deciding what I wanted to do, or be responsible to anyone else for how I chose to parent.  With the freedom however, came greater pressure, greater responsibility and accountability.  If my parenting choices failed, ultimately, there was no one else to blame, and no partner to share the load.

I look back on the lessons I learned from wrestling, and ponder how they apply to my life today, my life as an only-parent.

Lesson #1) Enlist the support of a good coach.

While I was writing this post, in the small town of Elgin, Ontario, I just so happened to meet Canadian Senior Wrestling champion, Jamie Macari.

After his retirement from wrestling at a young age, he went on to work as a wrestling coach.

When asked what his best advice for wrestling was, he said, “Passion!”

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

If I am going to be a good parent, a great parent, I need to be passionate about this role.  I need to pour into it all I am capable of giving.

Lesson #2)  Use my opponent’s weight against them.

Fifteen years ago there were a lack of competing female, high school wrestlers.  Typically, the rules of wrestling required competitors to be segmented into weight categories.  With too few female wrestlers, any competitor, light or heavy, could be found on the mat with me.

My focus became not only maneuvers, but using a heavier competitor’s weight against them.  If they lunged forward, the best thing I could do was move out of their way.  Their own body weight and momentum could take them to the ground.

I don’t wrestle my two year old daughter of course.  She is only a quarter my size.  But I can apply this lesson to her angry outbursts that seem larger than life.  Our daughter was easy going until her father died.  Then arose a hostility in her that was larger than herself.  It was her grief.

When I showed her pictures of her Dad, or told her stories, she was hungry to hear more.  That pang was quickly followed by outbursts of rage and tantrums.  It was like the deep hunger void within her lashed out, appalled that I could only feed her cardboard crackers instead of real food.  She wanted her living daddy back.  Not just stories and pictures.

Since the definition of a tantrum is the loss of all control, there was no reasoning with it.  I would put her in her own room to sort her aggression out, to exhaust herself, until the coals of her anger cooled and she could be reasoned with again.

Lesson #3) Pick your moves.

I could pour a lot of energy into aggressively charging my opponent, hoping my will would knock them down.  While in competition, or even training, it was this frame of mind where I felt defeated most.  I didn’t understand why.  I was not losing for lack of trying.  Why then, did I lose? Aggression meant I spent a lot of energy with little positive return for my efforts.

The coach I secured for the sport of only-parenting, was an effective child psychologist.  One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was that aggression breeds aggression.  If my goal was to calm my daughter, to train her in the way she should go, my aggression served only to counteract my efforts.

I continued to default to my initial way of reacting, until my own flame burnt out and I had nothing left in me but to speak with low energy.  Instead of fighting her head on, I picked a technique and calmly followed through. Lo and behold, my daughter calmed too.

It went to show I could be given solid advice from my “coach”, but, to my own detriment, I didn’t always put it into practice.

As Macari advised, “Commitment and autonomy are key. No great musician is that way for being a great reciter, but a growing learner, with passion; success in wrestling and life are like that too-taking responsibility for our own development.”

To succeed, I am learning, I must commit to consistent, passionate, assertive (not aggressive) behaviours.  I must always be a learner, and participator, in the unraveling story line of life, and only-parenting, to succeed.


There was a moment in my short lived wrestling experience.  It was one of those inspiring, defining moments of life, for me.

I was on the mat.  My competitor faced me.  She was tall and lanky.  There was enough of her to wrap all the way around me, and then some.  I ducked down low and went in for a double leg take-down.  She bent over my back, arms wrapped around my waist, and pulled me to one side.  I was tired.  It was easy to succumb.  I could have drifted to her whim.  Then I had a flash of competitive curiosity.

What if I just stood up right now?

She was bigger than me, taller than me, and had me where she wanted me.  But I had a renewed, passionate state of mind.

Stand up.  I repeated in my head.  Stand up.  I believed I could, and then, to my opponents irritated surprise, I did.

It was one of the few matches I won that year, and it had a lot to do with my state of mind.  Passion, and a hunger to overcome, where what got me to me feet.

As Macari alluded, a good coach could tell me what to do, but only I could make it happen.

As I  wrestle myself in the circle of life, in the challenge of single parenting as an only-parent, I will try to remember it is only me I have to overcome.





Shawna is a writer and public speaker.  Email Shawna to invite her to speak at your next event.


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