By Brandi Awad
When Ismail Ayyoub moved from Kuwait to Ottawa with his family in February 2013, he had no idea what his future would hold. At 10 years old he left behind friends, family, and two sports that he adored: soccer and water polo.
Like many families who immigrate to Canada, Ayyoub says that his hoped to find a better life in their new country. For Ayyoub, the move meant learning a new language, making new friends, and living in a completely different environment.
Fast forward five years: Ayyoub has found his home on the mat, becoming both an OFSAA and national champion in wrestling.
His infatuation with the sport began just one year ago when he was inspired by his older brother Ibrahim. When their family moved to Ottawa, Ibrahim became the first Ayyoub to take up wrestling as a member of the National Capital Wrestling Club. He saw success as a wrestler, placing 3rd in his 2017 OFSAA campaign, but as his younger brother pointed out, that’s often all he would see.
“I remember when he was wrestling, he would always come back from tournaments and he would never get a gold medal; he would always get a silver or a bronze. When OFSAA time came, he went there and got 3rd and I was really upset because I love my brother and I wanted to see him win 1st,” he explained. “I just didn’t want to see that happen anymore, so I told him, ‘I’m going to work my ass off every single day so I can get you that medal that you deserve.’
From that point on, the younger Ayyoub says he dedicated himself to his wrestling club and his high school team at Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School.
By March, Ayyoub achieved his goal of bringing his brother a gold medal by winning 1st place at the OFSAA wrestling championships, dominating the boys 83 kilogram category.
“When I gave it to my brother, he was crying, I was crying… It was the best feeling in the world, it was the feeling of winning a million dollars,” Ayyoub said. “You work so hard all year, you sacrifice a lot of things to go to practice… and in the end, you have to make sure it pays off and I’m glad that paid off for me this year.”
Following his OFSAA win, Ayyoub was invited to the 2018 Junior Canadian Wrestling Championships in Edmonton, held April 13-15. But, as a recent immigrant, Ayyoub lacked the financial support needed to back the $1000 price tag attached to the tournament.
Ayyoub decided to set up a Make A Champ (a sports crowdfunding site) page seeking donations to fund his trip.
“All I asked for was $800,” he said. “I thought the maximum I would get would be maybe $400.”
After passing it along to friends and family and sharing it on social media, Ayyoub surpassed his goal, raising a total of $1,300. Among the donors was 2016 Olympic Wrestling Champion, Ottawa’s own Erica Wiebe, who pledged $150 towards Ayyoub’s trip, writing, “Best of luck Ismail!! This is just one small step in your long journey in this amazing sport!”
“I had posted it in the morning and by the end of the day it was full. It was like wow, people really support me, and they really believe in me. I was really surprised,” Ayyoub explained.
Heading into nationals, he says the support he received from others only motivated him further. There, Ayyoub became a national champion, winning the cadet (Under 17) men’s 80 kg category in freestyle, blanking his opponent 11-0 in the tournament final. He also won gold in the cadet men’s greco 80 kg category.
Now Ayyoub’s got international aspirations.
“I want to try out for the [national] team next year and represent my country,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
He continued: “I thank my parents every single day for making that move… I wouldn’t have been wrestling if I stayed in Kuwait.”