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Ucluelet wrestlers finish season strong

West Coast wrestlers represent Ucluelet and Tofino at national championships in Mississauga Ontario
West Coast wrestlers Caitlyn Midlane and Olivia Rhodes each earned two medals at the 2024 Canadian Wrestling Championships in Mississauga, Ontario. It was an emotional experience for Rhodes who wrapped up her wrestling career with a strong finish. (Submitted photo)

West Coast wrestlers wrapped up their season with a strong showing at the national championships last month.

The event was hosted in Mississauga, Ontario, from April 5-7 and the local wrestling club Ukee Storm sent three athletes to compete: Olivia Rhodes, Caitlyn Midlane and Wyatt Rhodes.

More than 900 wrestlers competed across three age divisions and two styles: freestyle and Greco Roman.

Olivia Rhodes earned her first national medal in freestyle, taking bronze, and added a bronze medal in Greco Roman as well.

“I was trying to be more excited than nervous because it was my last one, so I was trying to make the most of it and not make it all about nerves and freaking out. I just tried to have fun. I was excited to go into it,” she told the Westerly. “It was very emotional. All the grads were crying. My teammates were crying. We’re crying tears of joy. We’re reminiscing on all the memories and overall it was just a great, great end year. It made me realize how lucky I am to be part of something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

The team’s coach, and Olivia and Wyatt’s dad, Mike Rhodes told the Westerly via email that Olivia was determined to get on the freestyle podium after a fourth place finish last year.

“She took care of business in the early rounds of the competition and made it to the semi finals. She wrestled a great match, going back and forth with her opponent from Alberta but unfortunately she lost that one,” he said. “She stayed mentally strong though and regrouped to go medal hunting and wrestled brilliantly in her next two matches to finish third. It was a very emotional feeling to get that final whistle and realize that she had accomplished her goal of earning a medal.”

Olivia said her emotions were high knowing this was her final wrestling event.

“I feel every emotion when I’m wrestling, sad, happy, excited, nervous, everything, you’ll see it on my face. I was never nervous, I was mostly just sad and excited and happy. Cried a lot of tears of joy that day. On the mat, you could definitely tell. I was winning and I would be crying,” she said.

She said after winning her final match to secure the freestyle bronze, she took a moment to take it all in.

“I just laid back on the mat and thought about everything for a few seconds and then I had to get up and shake my opponent’s hand. The referee actually asked me why I was crying because I won,” she laughed. “I just blanked out. I was so happy. I started crying and literally laid back on the mat for a second.”

She added that going into the final match, she could hear everyone’s support surrounding her, noting Vancouver Island wrestlers are a tight knit unit regardless of their home schools.

“Everybody was watching me. Every single person from the Island was there. I could hear them all telling me what to do. It was just surreal. I could hear every single person. That’s my whole wrestling family; they were all there on my last match,” she said.

She said she had faced her final opponent before and had defeated her.

“I knew she could beat me. We were pretty even. I knew if I wrestled the same way as the tournament where I beat her, then I could do it. With the proper adrenaline and strive to win, I could do it, I just had to do it smart,” she said. “I took her down and she took me down, so it was pretty even back and forth until I finally got on top and won.”

Olivia is planning to head to Vancouver Island University in the fall and will be taking a break from wrestling, though she hopes to help out the Ucluelet Secondary School team with coaching whenever she can.

She said she has competed in wrestling since Grade 4 and that the sport was a source of both physical and mental health throughout her youth.

“It’s changed my perspective on perseverance and determination. I know what those words mean because I’ve actually had to use them and I’ve lived them. From Grade 8 to 12, it’s been a journey really. I’ve lost many matches, but I’ve also won many matches. You never really know, anything could happen,” she said. “Every match you have to persevere, if you didn’t, you’d lose, honestly. Your shoulder could be hurting and they could be stretching it in a different way, but you have to get back up and keep going. You’ve got to get it out of your mind and keep going. Determination is you might not want to practice, but you do anyways. You’re really tired, you didn’t get a good sleep, but you’ve still got to do it…It’s not just for sports, it’s for life in general. You might not want to wake up and go to work, but you’ve got to, so you keep going.”

She added her dad has coached her through the entire journey and that watching him, as well as her older siblings, wrestle when she was younger inspired her and fostered a love of the sport.

“Literally, he probably loves it as much as me…He’s proud of me because I won and he taught me how to win,” she said. “Honestly I couldn’t have won without him. He would wake me up in the morning and say, ‘We’re going for a run’ and I would hate him for the whole day and then, the next day, I would say that was worth it…He made me hate him for a little while until I realized it was all for the good. He’s been there every step of the way. He’d be there, no matter what. He’s really the one that got me there.”

Caitlyn Midlane took silver medals in both freestyle and Greco Roman, ending her streak of consecutive golds in both categories for two years.

“It was a pretty fierce competition and she wrestled strong and smart, she just came up against a very tough opponent from Quebec that she couldn’t quite get past. She rebounded like a champ though and went on to win the rest of her matches convincingly and take home a well deserved silver medal. She should be proud,” Coach Rhodes said of Midlane.

Midlane had earned her four golds in the U17 division, but moved up to U19 this year, drawing more experienced opponents.

“I knew the competition would be harder and it was harder for sure,” the Grade 11 wrestler told the Westerly.

She said she had four matches in freestyle, winning three of them in a round robin format with no finals attached.

“I think I wrestled the best I could to my ability. The one girl I lost to was pretty jacked and really good,” she said. “I was pretty excited. Second is pretty good also, so I was happy, but I was also kind of disappointed.”

She said the wrestler she lost to in Greco Roman was an opponent she had beaten earlier in freestyle.

“It was kind of upsetting, because I wanted to repeat at least one gold in one style, so I was disappointed, but I was also happy that I at least came second,” she said.

She added she always feels pressure coming into a match because of the high standard she puts on herself and her preparation.

“It’s not necessarily that I’m stressed out about continuing to get gold, it’s more that I’m just stressed out about my matches. I always am, even during small tournaments on the Island,” she said.

“I just like doing well and thriving in what I like to do. When I don’t, it’s kind of a bummer because it’s something that I work really hard for and I’m very committed to it. So, when I don’t do as good as I hoped to in something I’m so committed to and worked so hard for, it definitely puts you down a little bit, but I always put my head up and continue on to the next match and the next tournament.”

Next season will be the last for Midlane, who is heading into her Grade 12 year and she’s ready to take on more of a leadership role as a senior.

“I’m really excited for next season because I’m going to be the senior on the team and I’ll get to lead the younger kids through the sport and help be a role model for them. I’m really excited to do as best as I can and I’m probably going to work the hardest I’ve ever worked for next year because it is my final year. It’s sad to think about but, at the same time, I’m really excited for it,” she said.

“I think being a good role model means you’re positive and not putting people down or putting yourself down. When younger kids look up to you and see how you react and respond to wins and losses, it’s how they believe they should respond, so you should always act like it’s OK…And, in practice, be helping, be kind, be a friend and hopefully they’ll respect you and look up to you.”

She added she has been grateful for coach Rhodes’ guidance and mentorship throughout her wrestling journey.

“At the end of the tournament, he was talking to me and Olivia and he was saying how proud he was of us and it’s really just amazing to hear everything he always has to say and how uplifting he is,” she said. “He’s really the best role model I could have as a coach. I wouldn’t ask for any other coach.”

Next season will mean the absence of a familiar face during training and tournaments as Olivia is graduating.

“I’m really proud of her and everything she’s accomplished in her wrestling career and It’s really going to be different when she’s not there,” Midlane said of Olivia. “She’s always been at my side and my partner in everything.”

Olivia is confident Midlane will be a tremendous leader for next season’s squad, noting she’d already taken on a leadership role this season.

“She’s already a leader,” Olivia said.

“I know that she’ll do a really good job. She makes everyone happy. All the juniors look up to her, everybody does, even the guys. We’re all a family. The seniors do take charge, but the seniors are also not afraid to have fun. They’re not strict and stern. They have fun, but when it gets down to it, everyone has to compete. The seniors show them you can be silly, but eventually you have to get your head in the game and compete.”

Wyatt Rhodes was the third and youngest Ukee Storm wrestler to compete, but unfortunately suffered an injury during the freestyle competition and was unable to compete in Greco Roman.

“Wyatt had a tough day. He was wrestling well, but wrestling is a combative sport and when athletes are competing hard at that level, injuries can happen,” Coach Rhodes said,

“It was a fantastic weekend overall. I’m super proud of the way all three of them competed. It was a huge tournament with top athletes from all across the country, from Ukee to Newfoundland, so for the girls to be able to stand on the podium twice each is an amazing accomplishment…As a coach I’m immensely proud of the way all three of them competed and represented Ukee on the national stage. I had lots of coaches, parents and officials come up to me over the weekend with compliments on their wrestling and their character. As a dad, it was a roller coaster of emotions, with Wyatt getting injured and then to have Olivia bounce back from a loss to run the table and get her podium was incredible.”

He added the team felt well supported by their home Coast, motivating them through a solid season.

“They definitely earned it. They have put in countless hours of training, travelling and competing to get to the level where they are among the top athletes in the country. And, we couldn’t have done it without the support of our West Coast communities, teammates and supporters,” he said.

“Thank you to anyone who has bought a raffle ticket, plant or chocolates over the years, or donated your bottles or even your hard earned cash. We stand on the shoulders of a strong West Coast when we stand on the podium and that’s pretty cool.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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