By Dan Plouffe
The Ontario Games provide many athletes’ first steps on the path to bigger competitions, like the Canada Games and then maybe one day even the Olympic Games.
That’s been Maeva Camejo’s objective since she saw wrestling on TV at the London 2012 Games.
“As soon as I started wrestling, I realized there wasn’t any other sport that made me as happy as wrestling did,” indicates the 13-year-old who competed at the Mar. 1-4 Ontario Winter Games in Orillia. “I get to have a lot of great experiences, and my goal is to one day go to the Olympics.”
It wasn’t Canadian Olympic medallists from 2012 like Carol Huyng and Tonya Verbeek who carved Camejo’s Olympic dream however, it was her dad and mom cheering wildly for athletes from their respective native countries, Cuba and France.
Her parents both grew up rather poor and met in Canada as they sought a better life. Camejo’s father was a boxer in Cuba, while her mother took up jiujitsu as a teenager. They now operate Therien Martial Arts Orleans.
Camejo says she constantly draws inspiration from her parents, whether it’s their drive and passion, their teaching wisdom, or… as her opponents.
“We always fight in the house,” smiles Camejo. “We have mats setup in the basement, so every Sunday when we’re bored, we’re like, ‘OK, game on, we’re fighting!’
“It’s just a family thing. It’s always been a part of who we are.”
Camejo has been involved in a variety of martial arts since age 3, but only tried wrestling for the first time a year ago.
“When I started, I didn’t know anything about wrestling,” notes Camejo, who didn’t have Ontario Games on her radar in the slightest at the time. “I think I’ve come a long way. Once I got 6 months in, I started to hear about these big competitions, so I wanted to be a part of them. I’m really thankful for the opportunities the sport has given me.”
Facing competitors up to four years her senior, the Grade 8 Louis-Riel high school student finished just off the podium in 4th place at the Games, though she can still pull a provincial medal out of her pocket from the Ontario Cadet/Juvenile Wrestling Championships a month earlier in Brampton.
Camejo went in hoping not to get pinned by every opponent she’s face, but expecting they’d probably beat her by technical superiority (10-point advantage). Instead, the 46 kg division competitor came out with a bronze medal.
“It was really surprising,” recalls Camejo, who scored 2 wins by technical superiority herself and another by pinfall – again matched up against competitors up to 4 years older. “When I got the medal, it made me realize I’m better than I think I am and I should have more confidence in myself.”
Several of Camejo’s classmates are discovering what’s possible in wrestling as well. With all of 20 practices under her belt, Tsunami Academy teammate Gabrielle Gauvin also qualified for the Games, as did Adrien Larocque.
All three are products of Louis-Riel’s exploratory sports program, where 200 Grade 7-8 students have been introduced to wrestling in their gym class. The school also hosted a February in-house tournament with 60 participants to give a greater glimpse into the possibilities.
“We’re trying to build a real quality program,” signals coach Derek Kossatz, who sees the start of something special brewing at the highly supportive school in Gloucester. “If we were to keep most of these kids involved in the sport for the next 4-5 years, I see a lot of provincial and national titles coming down in the future.”
2 gold for Pathway wrestlers
With a pair of OWG champions, Stittsville’s young Pathway Wrestling Club is rapidly making a name for itself on the local wrestling scene as well.
Sam Griffin (cadet 76 kg) and Max Roxburgh cadet (66 kg) both earned their second Ontario gold in as many months in Orillia, coming on the heels of their perfect runs at provincials where they each won every match by technical superiority or pinfall.
Without athletes’ hometowns listed in results, it is not feasible for the Ottawa Sportspage to provide a comprehensive summary of local medallists from the Games.
Amongst the champions were Connor Allen (alpine skiing), Spencer Murray (bowling), and cross-country skiers Jasmine Lyons, Katherine Macintosh, Paige Saravanamuttoo, Thomas Fairhead and Luke Allan, while Eastern Ontario won the ringette competition.
Consult orillia2018.ca for more information.